'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
CLASSICAL POETRY ALIVE AND WELL
People often lament that the educational system these days has stopped teaching the classics in favor of trendy, touchy-feely subjects. Students rarely study epic poems anymore. Too difficult, too boring.
Well, I’m here to tell you the classics aren’t dead yet. Some kids have taken the time and effort to learn traditional literature, those inspiring verses that have been passed down through countless generations. The other evening at a Torrington Twisters baseball game, I overheard two young lads exclaim in unison: “We want a pitcher, Not a belly-itcher!”
Oh man, I’ve always loved that poem. I remember when I first learned it myself. I was nine years old, and had recently been added to the roster of the Al’s Hardware Cardinals, one of the many memorable franchises in the Clinton Pee Wee League during the mid-1960s.
Our coach, Mr. Davis, was a wise old veteran. I think he was almost 35. Other coaches in the league spent time trying to teach their players skills that are occasionally employed in baseball, such as throwing, catching, and hitting. But Mr. Davis knew better. He understood that we were 9 years old, and the only thing we wanted to do was wear our new red caps and run around making noise. So he helped us to focus our pent-up energy in a useful direction. He taught us traditional, historic baseball poetry.
We were skeptical when Mr. Davis assured us that the opposing pitcher would become flustered if we chanted together, “We want a pitcher, Not a belly-itcher!” (In fact, we were skeptical whether anyone on our team knew the meaning of the word “flustered.”)
But he encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and take a risk. So one day, during a very close game (score: 17 to 16, top of the second), the opposing pitcher threw one inside, causing our batter to jump out of the way. Mr. Davis turned toward us and nodded solemnly. This was the moment of truth. We took deep breaths, all twelve of us sitting on that bench, and then screamed as loud as we could, “We want a pitcher, Not a belly-itcher!!!”
Suddenly, time froze. Everybody in or near that ballpark stopped in their tracks, turned and looked with amazement at twelve grinning Shakespeares-in-training. The adults present smiled knowingly, their memories whisked away to a time long past, when they first learned that inspiring sonnet. The opposing pitcher was flabbergasted. (If we had known the meaning of the word “flustered,” we would have realized that is exactly what he had become. But instead, we had to settle for knowing he was flabbergasted.)
It was a magical moment. Although we came up a bit short on the scoreboard that day (final score: 47 to 32, called after four innings), we had learned an invaluable lesson: words have power.
Later in the season Mr. Davis taught us some advanced, free-verse poetry. My favorite, still to this very day, is the non-rhyming classic, “Hey batter, batter. Hey batter, batter. SWING!”
Lament if you must at the perceived lowering of literary standards nowadays. But I, for one, am ever hopeful. My recent visit to Fuessenich Park proved beyond a doubt that the classics are not dead. In an era often marked by brutish grunts posing as communication, there are still some people who know how to unleash the full power of words.
My evening of joyful discovery was made complete a few innings later when the same two young lads applied a modern twist to a classic form, shouting together: “We’re gonna kick your butt, All the way to Pizza Hut!”
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