Stickball on 88th Street

Overview

Comic, tragic, colorful, and adventurous, Stickball on 88th Street is a sequence of thirty-four narrative poems that follows its speaker from boyhood to college. It’s a memory book, bound with vignettes of school, family life, and the streets of New York City, as well as Maine and Mexico, culminating with a swan dive in Colorado. It reads like a novel or memoir, with characters, setting, and plot.

Stickball employs an original form, neither free verse nor traditionally formal, ...

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Overview

Comic, tragic, colorful, and adventurous, Stickball on 88th Street is a sequence of thirty-four narrative poems that follows its speaker from boyhood to college. It’s a memory book, bound with vignettes of school, family life, and the streets of New York City, as well as Maine and Mexico, culminating with a swan dive in Colorado. It reads like a novel or memoir, with characters, setting, and plot.

Stickball employs an original form, neither free verse nor traditionally formal, but rather lexical. Instead of meter and syllable counts, the book uses individual words as its units of measure. Each quatrain has twenty words: six each in the first two lines, four each in the last two lines. This form imposes no ponderous regularity, allowing for a swift narrative flow. It was written over the course of thirteen days in August, 1977, and has remained unchanged since then.
 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Willis Barnstone is, like a mature Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, a singer of the secret epiphanies that grace all our everyday lives. We all have shining moments that pierce us in the midst of our commonest pursuits, but for most of us habit, forgetting, or other tyrannies of the quotidian quickly muffle them. But Willis, whose memory is an ocean without a shore, remembers the fleeting intensities most of us forget. And the art of his precise words, the combination of emotion and formal rigor in his poems, gives them life again in ways we can share.”
—Michael Holquist, The Dialogic Imagination

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597094771
  • Publisher: Red Hen Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2011
  • Pages: 104
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

A highly decorated poet and translator, Willis Barnstone has received four Pulitzer nominations, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Emily Dickinson Award of the Poetry Society of America, the W. H. Auden Award of the New York State Council on the Arts, the Midland Authors Award, as well as grants from the NEA and NEH. His work has appeared in magazines including APR, Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, Paris Review, Poetry, The Nation, The New Yorker, and The Times Literary Supplement.

He has translated Sappho, Borges, Machado, Neruda, Mao Zedong, St. John of the Cross, Rilke, and many others, as well as the Gnostic Bible and the Restored New Testament. He taught in Greece during the Civil War, Argentina during the Dirty War, and China during the Cultural Revolution.

Formerly the O’Connor Professor of Greek at Colgate University, he is now Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University. He divides his time between Bloomington, Indiana, and Oakland, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Stickball on 88th Street

 

 

I'm not much good at stickball

and the kids are tough. Somehow

      it's my turn. In

      comes the rubber ball

slowly in a dream like a

planet that won't spin. It comes

      close, a blazing milky

      rubber pea. I swing.

Bop! My childhood skids along windows,

dropping fair behind a manhole. I

      race scared, ripping out

      to second, miles away.

 I must tag the lamppost first,

get by the toughs, not piss       

      in my pants or

      bite my tongue. Why

didn't I dump the marbles when

I got up to bat? They

      rattle in my knicker

      pockets. Second is far

as Maiden Lane. If I slip

I'm out! No one's my friend

      on this block. If

      I make it, I'll

pass semaphore and learn to kip

on the highbar. The boys are

      screaming for me to

      run. For me! I

round second. Two kids are yelling

up the street, after the ball,

      as it bounces toward

      wild yellow taxis thumping

down West End. I fly home

through the mobs of black angels.

      Tonight I'll even snatch

      supper from the dog.

The ball floats home. I’m safe,

standing on the side with guys

      shoving me. I’ll never

      get to bat again.

 

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