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Contemporary Ohio Poets Extension Activities:
The Poetry of Sports

Overview
This activity contains additional poems by contemporary Ohio poets to supplement the lesson that begins on page 129 of the Ohio Reading Road Trip Instructor's Guide. This activity, "The Poetry of Sports," explores poems that are written from the perspective of fans of professional sports but that are not merely about basketball and football. Each poem also addresses identity-the speaker's and the community's.

Getting Started

Lesson Objectives
After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Explain how a poet chooses words in a precise way to create a specific meaning in a poem

Grade Level Indicators
In meeting the lesson objectives, students will:

H. Use available technology to compose text

Time Required
This activity will require approximately one 45-minute class period to complete.

  • "Cheap Seats, the Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959" - 25 minutes
  • "Between Pittsburgh and Cleveland"- 20 minutes

Resources Needed
Book containing the poems: I Have My Own Song For It: Modern Ohio Poets, published by University of Akron Press

Activity

"Cheap Seats, the Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959" by William Matthews

Begin by asking students to discuss sporting events they've attended.

  • What is it like to be part of the crowd during a very exciting game?
  • Do you or someone you know attend games on a regular basis, and if so, do you experience a sense of community among the crowd?
  • Do you think it is possible to feel "alone in a crowd" at a large gathering like a sporting event?

Tell them that the speaker of the poem they are about to read feels this way and that they will be asked to imagine what that is like. Provide context by telling them that, when it was built in 1949, the Cincinnati Gardens was the seventh largest stadium in the United States. All kinds of great sporting events have been held there. The NBA Cincinnati Royals basketball team - now called the NBA Sacramento Kings - played at the Gardens in 1959. A history of the Cincinnati Gardens can be found at http://www.cincinnatimightyducks.com/THEGARDENSFILE/HISTORY.htm.

Ask: Would you expect the poem to be different if it had a more general title, such as "In the Bleachers" or "Sitting in the Stands"?

After students have learned all vocabulary words, read the poem aloud to them. Then give students time to read it on their own. Finally, ask one student to read the poem aloud again.

Begin by asking students to imagine themselves in the scene described in the poem.

  • Direct them to the first four lines of the poem: "The less we paid, the more we climbed. Tendrils / of smoke lazed just as high and hung there, blue, / particulate, the opposite of dew. / We saw the whole court from up there."

    Have them point out descriptive words that help them visualize the scene. (If the image of the smoke confuses them, tell them that, in the past, smoking cigarettes in public places was quite common.) The smoke helps us remember that the poem is set in an earlier time period, which may be why the poet included this detail. Remind students that the higher seats in the bleachers may be far from the court, but they do allow the spectators to see the crowd below them. As the speaker says, "We saw the whole court from up there."

  • We might expect the speaker to talk about the game and the players next, but instead, the next sentence reads: "Few girls / had come, few wives, numerous boys in molt / like me." Why do you think the speaker focuses on the crowd, not the players here? (Possible answers: The speaker is also concerned with the people around him; because the seats are high in the stands, it is more likely that his eye would land on them first, before the basketball players.)

  • What does "the opposite of dew" mean? Ask for student suggestions and explain this as specifically as you can. This image becomes more interesting as we think about it. Dew is a form of moisture that condenses on outdoor surfaces in the cool early morning air, so "the opposite of dew" might be something dry that floats or hovers in the air, possibly indoors, in warm temperatures.

  • In line 7, the speaker says, "and two nights out of three, like us, they'd lose." The speaker also says, "But 'like us' is wrong." What does the speaker mean by these statements?

  • How old do you think the speaker is? Can we get any clues from the image of "numerous boys in molt like me"?

    If students are having difficulty with the concept of teenagers being "in molt," then review the definition of molt and provide examples of shedding and things that are replaced through the process of shedding. For example, young children lose their "baby teeth," which are then replaced by permanent teeth. Birds shed their downy feathers just before they grow the kind of feathers they will have for the rest of their lives. In both cases, the children and the birds are in transition, becoming members of the adult community to which they belong.

  • Direct students to lines 10-14 of the poem: "And 'we' is wrong, for I knew none by name / among that hazy company unless / I brought her with me. This was loneliness / with noise, unlike the kind I had at home / with no clock running down, and mirrors." These final lines of the poem deal with the idea of being "lonely in a crowd." Use the lines to explain your understanding of this phrase.

    The last sentence is ambiguous. When we remove the clause "unlike the kind I had at home / with no clock running down," it reads, "This was loneliness with noise and mirrors." Do you think "mirrors" is meant to be understood as an actual mirror, or could it be a metaphor?

    If students have difficulty understanding that "mirrors" is a metaphor, then begin by ruling out the literal: mirrors aren't often found in sports arenas. Ask students, "What are some things a mirror might represent?" Some possible answers are vanity, similarity, honesty, deceit; tell them about the phrase "it's all smoke and mirrors," and encourage them to connect "smoke" here to the smoke that hangs over the crowd.

    Additional questions to aid in understanding might include:
    • Could the "numerous boys" remind the speaker of himself?
    • Could it be that he is seeing himself in the people around him?
    • Could this be why he liked to go to see basketball games at the Cincinnati Gardens?

Vocabulary

hazy: adj., characterized by the presence of mist; lacking distinction or clarity; vague, indefinite, confused

laze: v., to pass time idly or lazily

molt: n., something that is dropped in shedding that will be replaced by new growth, such as feathers or skin

particulate: adj., of, pertaining to, or composed of tiny pieces or fragments

surge: v., to rise, roll, move or swell forward in, like waves

tendril: n., a threadlike, leafless organ of climbing plants, often growing in spiral forms, which attaches itself to something else, like a wall, in order to support the plant

"Between Pittsburgh and Cleveland" by William Greenway

Use the same style of discussion to explore this poem. Where practical, compare and contrast it with "Cheap Seats."

  • The first stanza gives a sense of the setting, somewhere between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, as a place that is quite bleak. The setting of the poem in wintertime may add to the bleakness of the poem. Ask students to find evidence that the poem is set in winter.

    The metaphor in line three compares the "empty steel mills" to "ice-bound ships." Ask students to explain this metaphor by thinking how the buildings might look from a distance. If the buildings are not being well-maintained and their parking lots and other grounds are not being plowed during the winter, snow and ice would gather there. Also, it is hard to think about "ice-bound ships" without thinking of the Titanic. Perhaps the speaker wants readers to make this connection because the closing of the mills was likely devastating to those involved and their families. He may want us to know the impact of the mills' closing.

    Note: Unlike the speaker in the William Matthews poem you've just read, the speaker here does not see the people around him as following the sports teams and thinking about their lives in light of the teams they follow.

  • In stanzas 2 and 3, find examples of what the people are like in the place described in the poem. The poem seems to say that living or "getting through the day" is a major concern for them.

    In the last two stanzas, it seems like the sadness of "We're not going to rally / or regain the momentum" has given way to a new emotion: that of hope and a sense of strength. The speaker ends with an idea about running up hills because it is something difficult to do: "They say, we know this hill / can break bones. / We want to see if it will."

While the images in the poem seem bleak, can you interpret the poem as something positive, or even as a tribute to the people in that town? Use as many examples from the poem as you can to explain your answer.

Vocabulary

fell: n., an upland pasture, moor or thicket found in Scotland and northern England

momentum: n., a moving force

rally: v., to bring into order again; gather and organize or inspire again

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