Last week in my fiction workshop, one of the writers remarked in her story, “there was joy in Mudville.” Most of the other writers didn’t know what she was talking about. But I did. It awakened for me my earliest memory of a literary experience. I read plenty of picture books and had them read to me, and I pored over the “A” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia (the volume with the entry for “Animals”) more or less every day, but the first poem I remember ever doing its work on me—a poem with just words, no pictures—was “Casey at the Bat.”
We had a book called The Best Loved Poems of the American People, published by Doubleday in 1936. It looked exactly like the one pictured here (which I just bought).
One evening my father sat me on his lap in the chair where he sat to pay the bills and told me there was a poem he wanted to read me. I don’t think he had ever done such a thing before, and I don’t think he ever did again, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
The poem was “Casey at the Bat,” Ernest Thayer’s baseball ballad from 1888. I’m not sure how old I was. I may have been old enough to read a little, but I wasn’t able to read the poem to myself. And I know I was still little enough to be wearing those snug-fitting pajamas made out of t-shirt material that little boys used to wear. I remember the pajamas. And I remember being a tad perplexed when my father started reading:Read More