Thursday, March 26, 2009

Casey at the Hoop?

Try as it might to resist the media frenzy surrounding the annual NCAA basketball tournament, Poetry & Popular Culture can't help but feel a little bit seduced by March Madness and the strange poetry—or poetic justice—that somehow underwrites the science of "bracketology" even if the poetry of March hasn't been as celebrated as the poetry of October has. It was with the joy of serendipity, then, that folks in the Poetry & Popular Culture office happened across Season 4, Episode 2, of Northern Exposure which originally aired October 5, 1992 under the title "Midnight Sun."

In this episode, the town's doctor—Joel Fleischman, a New York-trained Jewish physician who gets stuck paying back his med school bills by serving in the small Alaska town of Cicely—experiences 24 hours of sun for the first time and goes "light looney" when his biological clock can't adjust to the absence of night. Randy and manic, Joel takes over the head-coaching duties for Cicely's woeful community basketball team, the Quarks. One "night" when everyone else is asleep, he sits behind the microphone of the town's radio station KBHR and, with the music of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" playing in the background, announces he's begun writing basketball's long-awaited epic, which he's titled "Casey at the Hoop." Here's the text of that scene, spoken as the station's regular host Chris dozes in the corner:

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our nation is consumed by lethargy or enamored of the status quo, but why not ask a few hard questions of our legislators? For instance, "Why, sirs, is it engraved in steel that baseball is our national pastime?" Now, I understand the need to perpetuate exemptions from our antitrust laws. I mean, it serves the selfish interests of a few Steinbrennerish elitists, but why should hundreds of millions of citizens be deprived of a new and better candidate? The answer, my friends? Basketball! That’s the true American sport. Oh, and I’m not saying that baseball doesn’t have a claim on our collective psyche. After all, it had a half century jump on basketball, which was invented in 1891 by James Naismith in Springfield, Mass, site of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and which you should all visit as I did with my Uncle Nat and Cousin Lenny when I was 14. I loved it.

Hey, did I mention that baseball is sneaky? Yeah, very sneaky, see. 'Cause it uses poetry to invade our brains and stick to the walls of our unconscious. You take "Casey at the Bat": clever advertising campaign disguised as farmers' doggerel. Well, how is basketball supposed to fight such a folksy appeal to the hearts and minds of the American people? Well, up to last night it couldn’t. But now there is a new weapon. If I may, I would like to recite a few words written at midnight last night. Herewith a sample of an epic to come:

And so, the rubber spheroid arced beneath the brilliant lights
Headed for a hoop of dreams he’d dreamt of all those nights.
The crowd gasped as the ball descended. Would it grant their fondest wish?
There was no doubt in Casey’s mind: he knew it was a swissssh!

"Midnight Sun" ends, of course, when Joel—who has been wide awake for several days—involuntarily falls asleep and misses Cicely's big game, when the Quarks get crushed (as they do every year) by the neighboring town. In returning to his normal sleeping schedule, he also, apparently, never got around to finishing "Casey at the Hoop." Anyone out there want to, well, give it a shot?