Today in Steubenville, OH, a man shot and wounded the judge who was overseeing a wrongful death lawsuit again him. The shooter, who was killed, was the father of a Steubenville High School football player who, when he was 16, was convicted of raping a 16 year-old girl.
James Wright, a poet whose work was well known in the 1960’s and 70’s, was born in Martin’s Ferry, WV. Martins Ferry is next door to Steubenville, OH. It is (and was) coal country, and both towns and the area generally have always been stressed economically. Wright’s most famous poem (it’s brief) is titled “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, OH.” It is about high school football. It is about poverty and despair and violence. It is about how the brief moments of high school glory can help folks (young and old) to momentarily forget.
I hope you will take a few moments to notice and work through how the news story plays off the poem, how it enriches the poem, how it makes life still more sad.
AUTUMN BEGIN IN MARTINS FERRY, OH In the Shreve High football stadium, I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville, And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel, Dreaming of heroes. All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home. Their women cluck like starved pullets, Dying for love. Therefore, Their sons grow suicidally beautiful At the beginning of October, And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.