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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Poetry Friday--Happy Birthday Joe Louis!

On this day in 1914 World Heavyweight Champion (1937-49), Joe Louis, was born in Alabama. His birth name was Joseph Louis Barrow and he was later nicknamed "The Brown Bomber." Joe Louis, Jr. said of his father,
What my father did was enable white America to think of him as an American, not as a black. By winning, he became white America’s first black hero.

So, where's the poetry connection? Joyce Carol Oates in her book, On Boxing [796.8 OAT] relates this anecdote:
Why are you a boxer, Irish featherweight champion Barry McGuigan was asked. He said: "I can't be a poet. I can't tell stories..."

And yet, another great champion boxer, Muhammad Ali, was known for his little ditties such as this:

Poet Edward Hirsch as stated that poetry has roots in work and work songs. There is a section in his book, How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry [808.1 HIR], on traditional southern black work songs and how they influenced the poetry of black writers such as Sterling Brown.

Hirsch explains,
The work song is a utilitarian form whose main function is to synchronize the efforts of workers who must move together as in a chain gang. A leader provides a strong rhythmic cue with two or three bars which are then answered by the ejaculatory word or words of moving workers. The rhythmic interaction and continual interplay create a call-and-response pattern, making music a participatory activity.

Imagine a boxer preparing for a fight, hitting a speed bag or a heavy bag, developing a rhythm. I can imagine Louis reciting a rhyme or singing a song as he practiced.

If you read Joyce Carol Oates' book you can almost look at the sport of boxing as an artistic experience!
Because a boxing match is a story without words, this doesn't mean that it has no text or no language...the text is improvised in action; the language a dialogue between the boxers of the most refined sort...Ringside announcers give to the wordless spectacle a narrative unity, yet boxing as performance is more clearly akin to dance or music than narrative.

Who woulda thunk it? So, today, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say we celebrate Louis the champion athlete and creative spirit!

Violet Nesdoly/Poems is the place to be if you're looking for even more poetry!


  1. Diane, this post was very interesting, especially the part about poetry's roots in work and work songs. My husband boxed in college and we always watched Ali fight. His words were fluid and filled with rhyme like the short video suggests. Thanks for the new information.

    1. I'm glad you found it interesting. The connection between work and poetry struck a chord with me.

  2. I love how lyrical and positive Ali is in his poem, but found it sad that Ali has to explain that Ban Roll-on is a deodorant to the interviewer. The total lack of response was a bad moment. I find that poetry often surprises people.