Archive for October, 2012

Appropriately, I think, given the book’s dual subject, I write about the great boxing trainer Emanuel Steward in Fighters & Writers in connection with another author’s work. In the essay “A First-Class Sport” (which takes its name from a comment made by Teddy Roosevelt), I consider how Steward and others used boxing as a way to help youngsters:

This desire to aid children’s development through boxing is common among both trainers and cops. In his memoir, Serenity, Ralph Wiley recalls his early days as a sportswriter on the boxing beat and visits he paid to the New Oakland Boxing Club, where he met a police officer representing the PAL who worked with young fighters. “Boxing breeds respect,” Jerry Blueford told Wiley. “I don’t care if any of these kids ever become pros, or even good amateurs for that matter. I’m trying to get them into something they can work at. Off the streets. If they leave here in a couple of years and rob a bank, at least they didn’t rob it while they were here.” In a section that harkens back to Roosevelt’s remark about tough neighborhoods, Wiley describes visiting Detroit’s Kronk Boxing Club, in “the bottom of the rundown bunker of a recreation center on an otherwise barren lot of the decayed inner city.” Wiley calls the place “a haven of sorts for the children of Detroit” and he cannot help being impressed by its principal, trainer-manager Emanuel Steward, because of “how Emanuel had overcome long odds, and helped his young men overcome long odds, just to be strong and functional.”

Wiley refers to the original Kronk location on McGraw, where Steward taught Tommy Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas, Dennis Andries, Steve McCrory, Milton McCrory, Michael Moorer, and so many others, not the later location on West Warren, which according to reports started being dismantled almost immediately after Steward’s death on October 25.

Detroit still needs the kinds of havens Steward provided.


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Writing about the second staged exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley exclaims: “This is what a debate should look like — two well-matched heavyweights pounding away at each other, unable to knock each other down, but determined to keep slugging.” He then proceeds, rather lamely, to say, “In the end, who won probably depended on who you wanted to win going in.” (No need to read more of his analysis to know for whom he was rooting…)

Slate’s sampling of newspapers’ coverage of the event features headlines like “No Pulling Punches in Feisty Debate” (Las Vegas Review-Journal), “They Came out Fighting” (New Hampshire Union Leader) and “Obama, Romney Come out Swinging” (Richmond Times-Dispatch).

In his New Yorker blog, John Cassidy manages to liken Obama to both Jake LaMotta and Muhammad Ali before saying, “Enough with the boxing metaphors.” He doesn’t mean it, however. “Truly, though, it’s hard to avoid them,” he continues.

The problem is precisely how easy it is to rely on such clichés. Rather than actually saying something insightful, pundits just reach for the most obvious comparison from sports. Presidential debates are contests between two opponents, and so are boxing matches. Really? You don’t say…

Perhaps it would be worth trying a little harder.

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Thinking about the season’s presidential and vice-presidential debates, I find myself consistently returning to a line from George Orwell’s Diaries. In 1936, while gathering material for what would become The Road to Wigan Pier, he went to see a politician speak and wrote afterward: “it struck me how easy it is to bamboozle an uneducated audience if you have prepared a set of repartees with which to evade awkward questions…” With both awkward and not-so-awkward questions, candidates simply say what they planned to say, and some listeners actually do, somehow, believe what they hear…

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Eric Hobsbawm’s obituaries invariably mention the historian’s “Age of…” series — The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, The Age of Capital: 1848-1875, The Age of Empire: 1874-1914 and The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991. Those books do make an impressive set.

It was his essays, however, that I found myself returning to, having recalled Hobsbawm insightfully remarking on subjects I also chose to address. Open Letters Monthly, for instance, published (under a title I never liked) something I wrote about jazz festivals in which I cite Hobsbawm’s 1994 essay “Jazz Comes to Europe.” A piece I composed concerning Labor Day (forthcoming in Cream City Review) is informed by another essay collected in Hobsbawm’s Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion, and Jazz.

The Guardian reports that Hobsbawm submitted a manuscript to his publisher a few months before his death. It was a collection of essays.

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Suzanne Burns, a fine Oregon writer, has a new collection of poetry coming out soon. Her publisher, Night Bomb Press, is offering free shipping on orders of Ghost Wife placed before November 7. Here’s where to go for the deal: http://www.nightbombpress.com/preorders.html.

I met Suzanne a few years ago at the Wordstock book festival, at which we both reading (simultaneously). Having since read her earlier work, I’m now eagerly looking forward to the new one.

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