Friday, October 31, 2008

Extra: WE DID IT!!!

Oh my gosh, my Phillies pulled it off! They are the 2008 World Series Champions! Their first championship in 28 years, and their second ever in their 120-plus year history. How sweet it is! It's also the first by any Philly pro sports team in 25 years (unless you count arena football). I'm really happy for that whole team, who seem like a great bunch of guys who really work together as a team. Despite their problems getting runners on base home, despite some early offensive slumps by guys like Burrell and Howard, they put it together with great pitching, timely home runs, and eventually, clutch hitting.
And Charlie Manuel just out-coached Joe Maddon. When Charlie opens his mouth, he’ll never be mistaken for a college professor, but he’s a baseball lifer (46 years in the business), he knows the game inside-out, his players would take a bullet for him, and right now, he seems like the smartest guy in the world.

Some of the great stories of the series:
1. Former Phillie and baseball great Jim Thome visiting Manuel , with whom he has a “father-son” relationship.

2. Country superstar Tim McGraw spreading the ashes of his dad, pitching legend Tug McGraw, on the pitcher’s mound before Game 3.

3. Ryan Howard’s bat finally coming alive.

4. Cole Hamels continuing his undefeated post-season streak.

5. Brad Lidge: unbeatable and perfect.

6. Chase Utley’s brilliant throw to home in Game 5, saving the win and possibly the series.

7. 45-year-old Jamie Moyer tossing a gem in Game 3 and coming full circle from young Phillies fan attending their last victory parade in 1980, to being in the parade himself in 2008.

On the down side:

1. Game 4, the longest rain delay in history (46 hours). In retrospect, the game should never have started that night, and at the very least it should have been halted before the 6th inning. Those guys should not have been made to play baseball in those conditions. A bonehead move by the commissioner and the powers that be.

2. I'm so glad I don't have to hear four things on Fox Sports any more:
a. The Phillies' subpar stats with runners in scoring position,
b. "Feliz is in the lineup more for his glove than his bat" (I think his series-winning hit shut them up about that),
c. The “Rocky” theme played after every Phillies half of the inning, and most of all:
d. The “curse of Billy Penn” and the 25-year championship drought!

3. Tampa Bay Rays, you guys are a talented bunch of young players, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from many of you in the future. But I’ve gotta tell you, you just might have the ugliest park in major league baseball.

4. And a big sarcastic "thank you" to those Phillies fans the other night who reinforced the stereotype of the Phillies fan - loud, drunken, obnoxious, profane, mercilessly insulting to anyone who's not a Phillies fan (including members of the Rays players' families in the stands during the Series), and disrespectful of public and private property (my friend's 78-year-old aunt's car was trashed, for example). You must have been very proud of looking like totally out-of-control morons on local and national TV. Thank you - it makes it that much harder for a sportsmanlike, respectful, law-abiding Phillies fan like me to get any respect elsewhere.

I think the fans redeemed themselves today, though, when some 1.5 million(!) of them converged on downtown Philly to see their champs parade down Broad Street to the stadium area. There were very few incidents and the weather was perfect. The only down side was that the public transit system (which the media encouraged everyone to take, rather than drive in) became a state of gridlock for hours. But the city and vicinity are in a state of euphoria right now, because as Queen sings, “We are the Champions”!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Candidates' Debate II and Another Conference

In my last post I mentioned my son the professor was invited to attend the Presidential debate at Hofstra University, where he works. Well, he invited us to join him, and my wife and youngest son went. They didn't get to sit in the hall, but they were in a viewing room with a big-screen TV right next door. It was a lively event, and though they didn't meet the candidates, they had a swell time. (My older son got access to the press tent, and met Mitt Romney and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog - either of which would have been a better running mate for McCain, by the way.)

My big event last week was attending a writing conference, "Push to Publish" at Rosemont College, near Villanova University outside Philadelphia. It was sponsored by Philadelphia Stories, a very good (and free) lit mag in the area. It was a good day - I attended three workshops: one on chapbooks and how to get them published; one on poetry craft and what editors consider a "good poem"; and a session on the pro's and con's of enrolling in an MFA program in writing. There were also "speed-date" sessions, 15 minutes each, with a variety of editors and agents. I got to meet Conrad "Bill" Weiser of Philadelphia Stories and Rosemary Cappello of Philadelphia Poets, another good local journal. I also saw some friends and acquaintances who were on the panels, including Eileen D'Angelo of Mad Poets Review and Peter Krok of Schuylkill Valley Journal. I schmoozed with some fellow writers too, of course, including a gentleman with a heavy German accent who teaches geology at Penn and is working on a book of essays in a pop-science vein, sort of like Isaac Asimov or Stephen Jay Gould.

Or should I say, "Get going, Phillies!" They're tied one game each with the Tampa Bay Rays (I keep wanting to call them the "Devil Rays", but they dropped the "devil" a few years ago. Probably some evangelists raised a stink.) Anyway, they need to start scoring guys on base if they want any chance at winning this World Series. They were lucky to get a pitching gem in Game 1 from Hamels, Madson and Lidge, but in Game 2, they just couldn't put it together. Rollins and Howard are in major post-season slumps, and even Burrell and Utley could be playing better (though Utley hit a two-run homer to help win Game 1). Here's hoping they get in the groove again when they return Saturday night to Philly.

Music: WXPN, my favorite music station, finished their fifth annual 885 countdown - this time the theme was "885 Essential XPN Songs" - not necessarily the greatest songs ever performed, but the best songs that represent the alternative-music spirit of XPN, as voted by listeners. (We were invited to send a ten-song list, and all the votes were tabulated. In the end, eight of my ten songs placed in the top 100,and two in the top 10, including the #1 song.) Here's their list, if you're curious - you'll find it interesting that the Beatles did not place a song in the top 100.

Poem of the Week/Month:

...but who's counting?
I wanted to offer a poem that tied in with one of the above topics, but failing that, I dusted off an oldie that was published in the journal which I now help edit, Up and Under, the QND Review. (By the way, we are now accepting submissions - check the website here.)
So here's the poem:


It’s a miracle this leaky old boat
has made it so far.

Long as we have ploughed
through whitecaps and whirlpools,

everything the pissed-off Poseidon of life
could throw at us,

your rudder-steady hand has navigated
past Scylla and Charybdis,

and so many lesser hazards.
And the sirens, oh the sirens.

If it were up to me,
we would be dashed upon the rocks.

We will make it through this voyage,
Even if you have to lash me to the mast.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Going to the Candidates' Debate....

Yeah, that's the old Simon and Garfunkel lyric, and actually, I'm not going, but my eldest son is, as a faculty representative at the next presidential debate at Hofstra University, where he teaches. He also was a member of a panel who presented the results of a political poll to the Washington Press Corps last week. (It was sparsely attended because, as luck would have it, it was the same day the "Bailout
Bill" was initially defeated.) But as his grandmother used to say, "I'm real proud!"
As to the debates so far - well, I won't get too political here. I've already made my choice, but suffice to say that (a) I'm disappointed that neither candidate has any designs on considering a national health care plan, and (b) Sarah Palin is the worst VP running-mate choice since Ross Perot's boy Jim Stockdale. (Remember him? - the guy who said during his debate, "I don't know what I'm doing here!")

Poetry: Well, I did attend the Dodge Poetry Festival this year, and it was great as usual. As planned, I hung out with my Quick and Dirty buddies, and though it was rather dismal weather-wise, it was a literary feast for anyone who's into poetry. To witness a panel conversation with five U.S. Poets Laureate (Maxine Kumin, Robert Hass, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser and the current Laureate, Charles Simic) was alone worth the price of admission. And the Saturday night "concert" and Sunday "matinee" were super as well. Besides the previously mentioned Laureates, I saw Lucille Clifton, Franz Wright, Mark Doty, Jane Hirschfield, Edward Hirsch, Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, Joy Harjo, Coleman Barks, and two poets whose workshops I took at previous conferences at Rutgers, Chris Abani and Thomas Sayers Ellis. There was good music too, courtesy of the Paul Winter Consort and the Andean music group Yarina, both of which have become "house bands" of the festival. I also got to see a poet friend, BJ Ward, read as one of the lesser-known "Festival Poets". He's excellent and a crowd-pleasing reader, so he got an enthusiastic ovation from the audience. Maybe he won't be "lesser-known" much longer. I didn't participate in any of the open readings this year - I was more involved in soaking it all up.

Other poetry news: Thick with Conviction just put up their October issue, featuring three of my poems, of which one, "Old Man at Bedtime", won their "Best of Issue" award. I'm pretty chuffed about that. That balanced the letdown of learning that I wasn't a top 10 winner in this year's Writer's Digest competition. They haven't published the honorable mentions yet, though, so I hope I at least got one of those. (I did place 10th in the 2005 competition and got honorable mentions in previous contests.)

Music: Not much new stuff since last time, but I decided to subscribe to the Paste Magazine Digital VIP program. For a nominal monthly fee, I get a digital version of one of the best music and media magazines out there these days, plus a monthly album download by an up-and-coming artist, a full-length music sampler, weekly live music downloads, and a quarterly video download. My cup runneth over! I just signed up this week and I've downloaded three albums worth of music I still have to hear.

Poem of the Month: I'm going to break with tradition here, and instead of featuring one of my own poems, I'll present one by BJ Ward. I was going to use a baseball poem of his, "Upon Hearing that Baseball is Boring to America's Youth", in honor of my beloved Phillies, who are about to take on the Dodgers for the NL championship. But instead I'll offer his wonderful Pushcart Prize-winning poem:

Roy Orbison's Last Three Notes

12 mph over the speed limit on Route 80, I realize
the way I know the exact size of my bones
is the way I know I am the only one
in America listening to Roy Orbison
singing “Blue Bayou” at this precise moment,
and I feel sorry for everyone else.
Do they realize they are missing
his third from last note?—Bluuuueee—
and how it becomes a giant mouth I’m driving into—
“Bay”—pronounced bi—becomes the finger
pointing back—biiiiiiii—and all the sealed up cars
greasing along this dirty, pot-holed clavicle of New Jersey
don’t know this “you”—constant as my exhaust smoke—
yooooouuuu— and the beats underneath, more insistent
than the landlord knocking on the door—horns, drums, guitar, bass—
my Toyota Corolla is now one serious vehicle,
and the band and I are all alone, filling it up—
Roy and me in our cool sunglasses up front
and his musicians barely fitting their instruments in the back,
driving into the blue—bom bom bom—pulling ahead
of the pollution faster than New Jersey can spit it out—
Bye—boom bom—his leggy background singers must be jammed
in the trunk because suddenly I hear them and suddenly
we are Odysseus and his boys bringing the Sirens with us,
and the cassette player is our black box
containing all essential details in case we don’t make it,
but I know we’re going to make it because
Roy, my cool copilot, turns to me and says,
like the President says to his top general
after a war has been won, or like Morgan Earp
on his deathbed said to Wyatt when vengeance
was up to him, or like Gretchen Honecker
said when I knew I was about to get my first kiss,
Roy turns to me and says, “You—”

[From Gravedigger's Birthday, North Atlantic Books, 2002. Used with permission of the author.]