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‘Smashing, Crashing, Forcing the Fight’
John L. Sullivan by Robert E. Howard
Reading from pages 120-21 of A Word from the Outer Dark
This simple, direct, driving, and not very pleasing to read at ease poem, seems literally to have been written as a barroom toast to the hard-drinking father of modern boxing, the first American celebrity. Each of the six, six-line verses, consists of three rhyming pairs of lines, with the sixth line the same for each.
Verse 3, lines 1 and 2:
“Old John L.’s in town today
He’s hitting it down the Great White way.”
Howard obviously loved boxing, the only type of story he normally used humor in as well as an activity he himself engaged in.
John L. Sullivan, early on known as The Boston Strong Boy, literally walked into bars in towns he was touring and would bluster that he could, “Lick any son-of-a-bitch in the house.”
In this way, early on, he often drank for free. And after attaining his celebrity, as the poet points out, he would sometimes buy rounds for fans—a type of paying it back that has had few imitators since. In the poem the ethnicity of his fallen foes and even the dubious ancestry of a bartender named Jimmy are extolled
My favorite verse in this poem is the last, a portion I would not normally quote out of courtesy, but in this poem addresses the passage of honor through the field of Time and is timely I find:
“The world moves on and the ring moves too,
Old fighters have long given way to new.
But here’s a health to the olden days,
To the wild old, mad old, bad old ways,
When a fight was a fight and not a sell,
And tilt your glasses to old John L.”
I would like to dedicate this review to my eastward friend, Big Ron, hoping all is well with him and his.
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