Two Poets, Two Sports
A week ago, I wrote about a terrific new biography of Jim Thorpe, by David Maraniss.
I was particularly tantalized to read that the great American athlete, while at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, had been friendly with a young teacher named Marianne Moore.
Yes, exactly, the same Marianne Moore who soon moved to Brooklyn and became a
famous American poet into very old age.
Finding Miss Moore in a Thorpe biography touched off my recollection that in 1968 the worldly president of the New York Yankees, Michael Burke (whom I miss to this day), invited her to throw out the first ball on opening day.
The mention of Marianne Moore also touched the heart of the writer, Sam Toperoff, who has been my friend and inspiration since he was a basketball player/scholar at Hofstra College in the late 1950s.
Within 24 hours, I received Sam's email from the Hautes-Alpes department of France, containing references to two poets who won Pulitzer Prizes, 49 years apart – Marianne Moore (1952) and our friend Stephen Dunn (2001.)
“Dear George—After my first book came out, I got a call from the editor to tell me Marianne Moore loved it and wanted to talk with me about it. She invited Faith and me to tea on a sunny Sunday. She lived in a brownstone downtown, very near the Tombs. The fall of 1965, I think. She was, when she opened the door, indeed Marianne Moore, the old lady whose poetry I had studied as a student and taught as a professor at Hofstra.
“Yes, I was intimidated. But the editor had told me she wanted to meet me because she thought me very brave to have endured all I had written about in my book when in fact for me it was just a normal accounting of my lower middle-class family life as I had lived it up to that point.”
(NB: Sam’s first book was “All the Advantages,” circa 1965, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Atlantic Monthly Press.)
Sam recalled how Miss Moore “served tea and cookies she had baked herself. Marianne Moore! All was sort of stiff and formal until somehow the subject of baseball came up — I knew from her poetry she loved the game. Then she went off on the Dodgers. Remember, she had spent most of her writing life in Brooklyn; she had just moved to Manhattan. Well! She loved Pee Wee Reese, spoke poetically about him, how he glided, how effortlessly he played, how good he was for Jackie. Marianne Moore! She also lauded Red Barber for making her life so rich in her Brooklyn apartment. That was mostly what we talked about with Miss Moore that long afternoon — the Brooklyn Dodgers!
“I signed my book for her; she signed her last collection for me. And we went home. Her volume sits on my shelf next to Stephen Dunn.”
Before Stephen Dunn became a poet, he was a zone-busting jump-shooter teammate of Sam, who, on long bus rides into the wilds of Pennsylvania, encouraged Stephen to use the rest of his brain.
My college athlete pals (I was the student publicist) followed Stephen’s fame and also his terrible battle with parkinson’s disease, which rendered him unable to recite his own work in later years, although he wrote to the end.
Sam wrote: “As Steve was dying — I only thought he was ailing, damn it — he sent me a poem called ‘Final Bow.’ That’s when I got the message. Then when his collection came out, this was the poem he used to say goodbye, so he had orchestrated his own exit, the son-of-a-bitch. It’s a superb and funny and serious poem.
“Hell, why don’t I type it, forgive me if I cry:”
In my sleep last night
When the small world of everyone
Who’s mattered in my life
Showed up to help me die,
I mustered the strength
To rise and bow to them
A conductor’s bow, that deep
Bending at the waist, right arm
across my stomach,
the left behind my back.
At first it seemed like the comedy
of aging had revised and old scene--
how, with time running out,
I’d make the winning shot
In my schoolyard of dreams,
Only now I was wearing
an unheroic gown,
apparently willing to look foolish--
for what? What no longer mattered?--
before I lay again down.
---Stephen Dunn, 2021
Sam wrote: “I take that last poem of his as something of a challenge: How to go out the right way.”
Stephen died on his 82nd birthday in 2021.
Sam added: “And yes, I did cry. I love this poem. I love him, his talent, his courage, his exit.”
Larry Merchant writes, in the good old New York Post, about Marianne Moore:
1/24/2023 09:31:50 am
1/24/2023 10:16:07 am
I agree. Amazing story and a beautiful poem!
Alan D. Levine
1/24/2023 10:41:12 am
It's a beautiful day for columns. Let's read two.
1/27/2023 06:51:50 pm
Alan (or should I call you Ernie), Great comment. Thanks for it.
1/24/2023 02:01:20 pm
Thanks, GV, Humanity and Sports, May it not be lost.
1/24/2023 02:16:11 pm
Not Pulitzer stuff, but…
Alan D. Levine
1/24/2023 03:05:41 pm
It just hit me. I think Sam Toperoff got the old Women's House of Detention confused with the Tombs.
1/24/2023 04:46:14 pm
Women authors and/or women in history do not receive the attention that they deserve. There are too many to list here, but some recent books that I have read are; "Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age", "Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray" by Rosalind Rosenberg and "The Women They Could Not Silence: The Shocking Story of a Women Who Dared to Fight Back" by Kate More. Her husband was a minister and did not like that his wife had public views different from him. He had her institutionalized and head of the hospital who she trusted conspired with her husband to keep her there.
1/24/2023 07:20:04 pm
Thank you all, Nos. 1-7.A lot of these are labors of love, this one in particular Jean: the two basketball players, Sam and Stephen, are Queens types, like us. Sam played for Jackson, Stephen definitely for FHHS. Alan (Queens type), you would know all these places, Counselor. Alan, glad you read the Samuel Adams book. Stacey Schiff was at a book-author outing in Nassau a few years ago, good speaker as well as good writer. GV
1/25/2023 02:42:05 am
I read Marannis's Thorpe bio last summer, and, too, was surprised to see Marianne Moore mentioned in it as a Carlisle faculty member. The reference took me right back to the first time I'd heard of her, years before I wrote my first article, years before I entered college or even high school. But it, too, happened to be in a sports, not literature, context -- in a photo in a 1972 book about Yankee Stadium by your (George's) colleague, Joseph Durso. The picture shows the same "first pitch" by Moore that we see in George's article, although taken from a different angle. Her pitch occurred in 1968, and the caption also states that "the 81-year-old beauty ... practiced at home for the ritual in 1968 because 'I have not the best arm in baseball.' " Opposite that picture is one taken in 1958, showing a different notable person throwing a first pitch (or perhaps another promotional pitch) from the mound, wearing a Yankees cap and jersey and wearing a glove: Jackie Gleason. What makes the array of photos in Durso's book so interesting is that so many show non-sports people at the stadium: Pope Paul VI, Billy Graham, Paul Simon (also throwing a first pitch -- lefty), Mrs. Ruth, President Eisenhower, ex-President Hoover, Governor Dewey, General MacArthur, Senator Humphrey, Senator Eugene McCarthy, Mayor O'Dwyer and Mayor LaGuardia.
1/25/2023 05:36:36 pm
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a meaningful (for me) phone relationship with Carl Erskine, I was even in the phenomenal documentary several times about his amazing life. I attended its premiere in Anderson, Indiana, where he grew up and has lived ever since he retired from the Dodgers/baseball. Carl has told me so many behind the scenes stories about my childhood heroes, as well as those who covered the Dodgers on a regular basis.
1/26/2023 09:15:55 am
Peter, great story. Way to light a rocket under Kahn. His book is a classic, not just a sports history but about a time and place, and we were lucky Pop introduced us to the Dodgers...and Ebbets Field,
1/25/2023 08:48:39 pm
Was there ever a more magical imaginary garden than Ebbets Field ... with real toads playing ball there?
1/26/2023 09:22:19 am
Dear Steven Lewis: Oh, but Ebbets Field still exists.
1/26/2023 10:40:03 am
george-my father,mendels grandfather came as a young teenager to america.he was a delivery boy for a brownsviie butcher.walking no bike.he finished his rounds and was walking past this huge building with alot of noise.it was ebbetts field.he saw the sunny green grass and it was love at first sight.we are dodger then met fans ever since.regards,ahron
1/27/2023 09:13:03 pm
Ahron: beautiful note. It would make a lovely short film-- EF had the feel of of a center of the universe. Then comes a young man, weary, maybe dirty from work, yet he explores the noise from the Rotunda.
1/26/2023 12:25:29 pm
Love these Ebbets Field memories.
1/27/2023 09:15:29 pm
Ed: lovely, we need you and Ahron to collaborate. GV
1/27/2023 11:39:35 am
I can understand the reverence that former Brooklyn Dodger fans feel when passing the former site of Ebbets Field. However, as a native of Washington Heights (Fort Washington Avenue and 190th Street) my nostalgia is for the old Polo Grounds.
1/27/2023 11:57:22 am
Alan, Bonjour as we say in Brooklyn. In my baseball journeys from LI, I followed the Dodgers to the Polo Grounds one rainy night in 1948.
1/27/2023 02:14:53 pm
1/27/2023 09:20:08 pm
Alan: fair enough. My first PG game; July 1948. Giant sub Jack Conway ticked LF facade --250 ft HR. Broke my Dodger heart. I loved my two years covering Mets 62-63 -- the PG is real to me. I got residual feel of Giants those years.
1/27/2023 02:44:10 pm
Alan, agreed about empathy. Branca shot permanently emblazoned, as are later photos, it never went away. Saw Pele with Cosmos vs. The Greek National Team, in Jersey arena, (name at time??).
1/27/2023 07:12:26 pm
Thanks to Peter Vescey for what he wrote about Carl Erskine. I just did a Google search and found a nice piece about him in the Times in 2016: Carl Erskine Helps Honor a Childhood Friend https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/sports/baseball/carl-erskine-helps-honor-a-childhood-friend.html
Alan D. Levine
1/27/2023 09:31:11 pm
My first EF game: The day in 1951 that the Giants, playing terribly, fell thirteen and a half games behind the Giants. The visiting team's locker room was at one end of the building, separated from the street by nothing more than pebbled glass windows. Leaving the game, the bellowing voice of Leo Durocher, cursing out third baseman Hank Thompson for a base running mistake, could be heard loud and clear. The Brooklyn fans loved it, laughing and cheering The Lip on.
Alan D. Levine
1/28/2023 10:40:26 am
Whoops. I meant they fell behind the Dodgers.
1/28/2023 10:37:49 am
I remember the old Giant Stadium where the Metrostars played soccer. You could sit fairly close to the field and get a good feel of the game.
1/28/2023 02:06:07 pm
GV, here is an Ebbets Memory. For collaboration, etc.
1/30/2023 09:01:41 am
Ed and others: the green grass is the common bond. Yankee Stadium, last game of 1947, Babe Ruth, ill, in camel's hair coat, addressing the fans. My first time in the real Yankee Stadium. Green grass, Facade, Echoes, and the Babe (my favorite all-time athlete, any sport,)
1/30/2023 04:07:28 pm
“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
Alan D. Levine
1/30/2023 09:17:35 am
I can't wait.
1/30/2023 06:50:54 pm
I see some New Yorkers are working up a faux anger over the Empire State Building being lit up Eagles green for a while Sunday. Really? I thought NYC being an international city allowed us to recognize achievements by other places.
2/4/2023 10:35:11 am
My good friend was a dentist. I always marveled as to how he obtained so much information from his patients when his fingers were in their mouths.
Alan D. Levine
1/30/2023 07:16:03 pm
Gary, Keith and Ron won the Mickey, Willie and The Duke Award from thr BBWAA last Saturday night. Gary paid tribute to his mother and Lindsay, Bob and Ralph.
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.