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Autumn Begins In Martins Ferry, Ohio

James Wright

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Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio
2002-09-17
Added by: Larry Linder
I once heard Robert Bly say that this poem contains the greatest use of the word "therefore" in poetry.

I come FROM a small, football crazed mill town near Martins Ferry, OH, and find the poem such an accurate portrait of my experiences that I had tears in my eyes when I read it aloud to my wife the first time.

In the opening stanza, in which the narrator enters the Shreve High football stadium, the connection is made between the mills and football. The two are inseparable. The stanza beautifully notes the essential elements of a mill town: the tough, ethnic mix, alcohol, the grit and heat of the blast furnaces, work so physically difficult and dangerous that the night watchman is ruptured and therefore sidelined because he can't do the hard labor anymore.

These men dream of heroes because their own dreams have disappeared. Later in the poem, it is their sons must bear the pressure of these dreams.

In the second stanza, the poem shifts to the family life of these men. These are proud men, men who labor hard and provide steel to a nation. But who can't face their home lives, who are shamed somehow, perhaps because they feel they have failed somehow, perhaps because they can no longer dream.

Their wives, not human, "cluck like starved pullets", common domestic fowls who unintelligibly cluck rather than talk, and starving because the proud husbands either can't or won't give them the love they need, perhaps because of nursing too many beers, perhaps because of poverty, perhaps because of exhaustion. Perhaps because they have live only in dreams. Women whose only activities are pointless housework and producing children.

The rest of the home life mentioned is the sons (the daughters aren't mentioned, perhaps implying they are the clucking, starved pullets of the future and not worthy of consideration). These sons are transformed in autumn to young me suicidally beautiful. Suicidally, meaning they obliterate the self for the team, for their families, and, eventually, since they are of the socioeconomic class that will fight and die in wars, their country. Beautiful is an odd word to use in talking about young men, an adjective usually used to describe women and therefore, somehow threatening as if it discounts their masculinity. In early October, the middle of football season, they "gallop terribly against each other's bodies." Horses, beasts of burden, gallop, not men. In the near future these honored young men will face the same lives of dehumanizing labor that their fathers live. Terribly, implying some kind of terror, perhaps of the future. Perhaps they gallop terribly against each other's bodies to try to forget their bleak futures. Against each other's bodies, implying competitiveness and separateness. Their bodies clash but never merge. Their minds and their souls don't matter, again because their futures are as mill workers and soldiers and they won't be needing their minds and souls.






Martin's Ferry Poem
2003-10-30
Added by: Robert Andrews
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio is a poem that sums up the atmosphere of not only an Ohio football mill town, but also a Pennsylvania one as well. Shreve High football stadium can be changed to any name here in PA. The Pollacks nursing long beers are friends that have played and bled together on fields of football, and suffered pain and loss in the mill. Grey faces of Negroes are men who suffer daily just so their sons can have the chance to play on a college field somewhere and not have to suffer their father's fate. The ruptured night watchman is not only beaten by a harsh life, but also alone. He works at night, while a wife sleeps silently under a grave stone that lists both their names. Under the watchman's name however is just one date, not two like his sleeping wife's.

All the proud father's are ashamed to go home because they know that this field is where they were heroes. It is not a simple "field", but a place where the best memories of a man live forever.
The women cluck about Bingo, car pools, the local gossip, anything at all just so they can escape from the maddening football and harsh labor that hangs over the whole town.
The sons grow suicidally beautiful because they see only two options in their life, football or their father's mill. Their only way to escape is to play football as the Gods write poetry, they do it with a maddening passion.
I absolutly admire this poem for it's pure truth to the details, and it's economic use of words to show an idea on a grand scale

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