Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Daytona 500, NASCAR, Tom Wolfe, and American Literature

This afternoon, weather permitting, a grandstand crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands will be joined by tens of millions of television viewers as NASCAR begins its new season with the Daytona 500, a race often considered the sport’s Super Bowl. Along with the first major league baseball players reporting to spring training camps this weekend, “speed week” at Daytona represents the unofficial beginning of the new spring season for many sports fans across the country.

The initial Daytona 500 race occurred at the speedway on February 22, 1959 in front of a crowd of about 40,000 and the prize money totaled less than $70,000. Now, fifty years later NASCAR rivals all other sports in attendance and riches, with awards for the Daytona 500 approaching $20 million and the winner receiving nearly $2 million.

Forty-three cars, each one whose design matches the aesthetics one might find in modern works of art, will race—bumper-to-bumper, side-by-side, sometimes three or even four wide—at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour. A quote often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though its origin is disputed by many, declares: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” Whether or not Hemingway spoke those words, the statement’s message of admiration for individuals who literally place their lives on the line as the ultimate test of sport seems clear. Nowhere else in sport does the risk of one’s life become so apparent, and at Daytona the danger exists for the full 500 miles as the racers never escape from one another, tense and focused for hours, always only one mental slip or one mechanical defect away from tragic disaster, from death.

As I noted in a previous post marking last year’s Daytona 500, “Cars, Culture, and Contemporary Poetry,” the automobile has been an essential fixture in American literature throughout the last century. Still, over the years, among the various sports NASCAR has been somewhat ignored by American literature. While many poets and novelists have focused upon other sports—such as baseball, football, golf, tennis, boxing, etc.—in their works, thus far rarely have serious authors examined stock car racing. Although I have written poems about the sport, I have found few others who have included the sport in their material. Only the movies, though usually unsuccessfully, have attempted to portray NASCAR more completely a number of times. Perhaps with the sport’s newfound explosion of popularity during the last decade and a fan base now extending beyond its traditional southern roots into a nationwide phenomenon, as chronicled in the recent book by NASCAR reporter Liz Clarke (One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation: Villard, 2008), more writers will find inspiration for literary works in its dramatic actions and the personalities of its actors.

Nevertheless, Tom Wolfe long ago showed himself as one author who recognized early the engaging characteristics of the sport and the appeal evident in some of its characters. In a classic essay first published in the March 1965 issue of Esquire as “Great Balls of Fire” and later included in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby (1965), Wolfe depicted the “good ol’ boy” culture of the South and the sub-culture of moonshiners wishing to outrun Alcohol Tax agents that fostered a desire for fast cars, leading to the first races and the birth of NASCAR.

In his article, recently designated by Esquire as one of its seven greatest stories, Wolfe spotlighted Junior Johnson as an epitome of the sport’s figures, an initial hero for fans and now a NASCAR legend. However, much of Wolfe’s piece emphasized the depth of old boy southern culture tied to the sport, perhaps limiting its appeal for many elsewhere who felt excluded from that particular social sector or who saw the culture as foreign to their own lives. Nevertheless, in the last few decades NASCAR has expanded its appeal to all sections of the nation and grown in popularity more than any other sport, including among women—as evidenced by the book from Liz Clarke. Additionally, if anything demonstrates the distance between those early days of racing taking place in the segregated South described by Tom Wolfe forty-five years ago and the contemporary situation in which we find ourselves, Junior Johnson himself made news in 2008 when he formally endorsed Barack Obama for president and issued a statement encouraging others to support the candidate as well.

Therefore, as the nation turns its eyes toward Daytona International Speedway today, a half century since its first 500 race, I offer this brief excerpt of poetic prose from Tom Wolfe’s important and influential piece with the hope that other authors of fiction and poetry will soon discover this sport as a source of inspiration:

The roar of these engines is impossible to describe. They have a simultaneous rasp, thunder, and rumble that goes right through a body and fills the whole bowl with a noise of internal combustion. Then they start around on two build-up runs, just to build up speed, and then they come around the fourth turn and onto the straightaway in front of the stands at—here, 130 miles an hour, in Atlanta, 160 miles an hour, at Daytona, 180 miles an hour—and the flag goes down and everybody in the infield and in the stands is up on their feet going mad, and suddenly here is a bowl that is one great orgy of everything in the way of excitement and liberation the automobile has meant to Americans. An orgy!

The first lap of a stock-car race is a horrendous, a wildly horrendous spectacle such as no other sport approaches. Twenty, thirty, forty automobiles, each of them weighing almost two tons, 3700 pounds, with 427-cubic-inch engines, 600 horsepower, are practically locked together, side to side and tail to nose, on a narrow band of asphalt at 130, 160, 180 miles an hour, hitting the curves so hard the rubber burns off the tires in front of your eyes. To the driver, it is like being inside a car going down the West Side Highway in New York City at rush hour, only with everybody going literally three to four times as fast, at speeds a man who has gone eighty-five miles an hour down a highway cannot conceive of, and with every other driver an enemy who is willing to cut inside of you, around you or in front of you, or ricochet off your side in the battle to get into a curve first.

Readers will find the entire essay by Tom Wolfe at an Esquire web page celebrating it as one of the magazine’s greatest stories. Also, all are invited again to read my previous article at “One Poet’s Notes” last year on the Daytona 500, the culture of cars, and contemporary poetry.


Bruce Oksol said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am impressed.

I would never have imagined a poet with an interest in NASCAR!

This is almost as incongruous as Edna St Vincent Millay's passion for American intervention in the second great war.

I have not searched exhaustively, but your site still seems the best for poetry.

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paulsmith198914@gmail.com said...

I have found the entire essay; thanks so much for sharing! I'm also happy to know that all are invited again to read your previous article at “One Poet’s Notes”! Kindest regards,

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