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Stickball on 88th Street
     

Stickball on 88th Street

by Willis Barnstone
 

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

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.
 

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“I think Willis Barnstone has been appointed a special angel to bring the ‘other’ to our attention, to show how it is done. He illuminates the spirit for us and he clarifies the unclarifiable… I think he does it by beating his wings.”
—Gerald Stern

"Stickball on 88th Street is a sequence of poems written in the voice of a boy finding his way on the streets of New York in the late Thirties. Willis Barnstone, one of America's major poets and translators, has given us an almost Joycean portrait of the artist coming of age as he moves from pre-adolescence into young manhood. Through his eyes we encounter a mysterious, greater world in the wilderness of the big city. Each poem in this unfolding narrative, lucid and astonishing, humorous or sad, exalted or tragic, takes us from one experience to another: street games, the beginning of friendships, first love, the labyrinth of family relationships, religious questions, fears and joys, all told in a young and wondering voice (a voice subtly informed with the wisdom of the elder poet). The poems are a vivid glimpse into a Depression America on the threshold of a World War and the record of the interior journey of a boy encountering those elements that would shape him into the artist and man he is to become. This is a marvelous book and a testament to the enduring power of love and imagination at the heart of poetry."
—Joseph Stroud

“Willis Barnstone has a problem: he’s too good. Everything he writes, from his invaluable The Other Bible, a compendium of holy texts no writer should be without, through his brilliant translations and beautiful poems, is a breathtaking achievement.
—Carolyn Kizer

“Four of the best things in America are Whitman’s Leaves, Herman Melville’s Whale, the sonnets of Barnstone’s Secret Reader, and my daily Corn Flakes--that rough poetry of morning.”
—Jorge Luis Borges

“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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781597094771
Publisher:
Red Hen Press
Publication date:
10/01/2011
Pages:
104
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

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.
 

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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