Scott Owens, One Day in the Life of the Poet as One-Percenter: A Profile of Tim Peeler
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE POET AS ONE-PERCENTER
If you know anything about poetry in the 21st century, then you know that due to low book sales and other forms of waning popular support, including deep cuts in public sponsorship of the arts, most poets live very moderately, sometimes even desperately. The lucky ones hold down other jobs as teachers, technical writers, editors, “pr-hacks,” whatever they can find, and pursue their writing in narrow corners of time they squeeze out of their “real” lives.
Not surprisingly, then, Hickory poet and Catawba Valley Community College professor, Tim Peeler, despite being the celebrated author of 11 books, is very familiar with how 99 percent of the population lives. Recently, however, he was fortunate enough to experience the nature of life for the other one percent, at least for one day.
On August 15th, Peeler was flown to Boston by the Boston Red Sox. He was feted that evening at the posh Eastern Standard Restaurant inside the equally posh Hotel Commonwealth, two blocks from Fenway Park. The guests in his party included a former Connecticut governor, the public address announcer at Fenway, and Ted Williams’ biographer. The next day he spoke and read his poetry before a room full of Red Sox dignitaries and their guests and was then given a personal tour of Fenway that included encounters with team president, Larry Luchino; Red Sox Poet Laureate, Dick Flavin; renowned former major league pitcher, Bill “Spaceman” Lee; and sportswriter, analyst, and ESPN regular, Peter Gammons. Finally, he watched the Red Sox play the Yankees alongside the Sox owners in their private, full-service suite.
All of this came to be because journalist and coordinator of the Great Fenway Writers’ Series, George Mitrovich, read, enjoyed, and republished one of Peeler’s poems in his weekly baseball newsletter. CBS sports analyst, Dick Enberg’s enthusiastic response to Peeler’s poem prompted Mitrovich to invite Peeler to join him for an outing at Fenway. While Peeler’s poetry spans a wide range of experience, he has published two books of poems about baseball, Touching All the Bases and Waiting for Godot’s First Pitch, as well as several books of local baseball history.
Here is one of the poems he read at Fenway.
Try to tell ‘em Curt,
how you crowned their wallets,
climbed courtroom steps for them,
swallowed that black ball,
a scapegoat out to pasture.
They don’t remember,
the trash you ate,
your greedy headlines,
the slope of your career.
You are a ghost at barterer’s wing,
your smoky gray eyes
are two extra zeroes
on every contract.
Curtis Flood was a celebrated center fielder mostly for the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixties. On the field he was a defensive nonpareil, winning a Gold Glove 7 times and leading the National League in putouts four times. He also hit for better than a .300 average 6 times. Off the field he became one of the game’s most pivotal players’ rights figures when he refused to accept a trade following the ’69 season, paving the way for free agency. Peeler alludes to this legacy in the poem.
And here is another of the poems he read. This one provides a glimpse into the nature of much of the rest of Peeler’s work with its refreshingly accessible Southern everyman tone, perspective, and voice.
WHEN THE FORTY-NINE SERIES WENT CROSSTOWN
Dodgers vs. Yanks,
Cooke Mull knew he had to be there.
First to convince his buddy, George Poovey
to freight him on his furniture delivery to Philly;
from there a night train to NYC.
With Poovey thus ensnared,
they proceeded from quiet Catawba County,
first stop, the liquor store,
second somewhere in Philly
to ditch the truck—then make for the city.
Huckleberries that they were,
they bee lined for the Empire,
becoming separated in the upper twenty—
and Poovey after an hour of wandering,
located Cooke in a bar,
tumultous, in story-telling high gear,
being fed and given drinks
to keep the comedy rolling.
In the Bronx they managed seats,
but Ebbet’s was SRO,
and the boys were packed in the back
of a horrible throng near the roof.
But Poovey who was a man of action,
reached the limit of his affability,
and along with an exaggerated
scratch of his privates,
he moaned like Wolfe’s Gant,
a most heartrending redneck truck driver moan,
calling aloud to the very gods of baseball,
“These crabs are about to drive
me completely nuts!”
And as Cooke always told it,
the crowd around them
parted like the Red Sea,
and they went forward
to a righteous view
of the remainder of the game.
I have been a devoted reader of Peeler’s poetry since the early 90s, when I first encountered his poem “Carolina Trailer Park Take 5: Danny’s Read Dad” in an issue of the now defunct Charlotte Poetry Review that also included a poem of mine. Because of his comfort and skill in writing about the world I come from, I list Peeler as one of the 5 most influential writers on my own work. While his baseball poems may better serve his reputation, popularity, and ascendency to the one-percent (one can dream), I’m still drawn more strongly to his brutally honest portrayals of working-class Southern life, so my favorite of his books will probably always be the much less well-known and practically impossible to find, Don’t Take Me Alive. More work in that vein can be read in his selected volume, Blood River, or in what I consider his second best collection, Fresh Horses, or, on a more tightly-drawn stage in his more recent Checking Out. I had the great fortune recently to preview his newest manuscript, called Rough Beast, which will be published by FutureCycle next year, and I was impressed enough that I asked to use four of the poems in Wild Goose Poetry Review. One of them had already been published, but he let me use the other three. Once that book comes out, I suspect it may supplant Don’t Take Me Alive as my favorite of Peeler’s books. Regardless, the quality, quantity, voice, sense of place, honesty, and irresistible impact of Peeler’s work marks him as undeniably one of the early 21st century South’s most significant poets, and as a member of a much more meaningful one-percent than any determined by money could be.