Beware the Coach with An Artistic Temperament

High school football just went gothic. After Marcellus High’s junior varsity squad lost a game, head coach Jim Marsh ordered the team bus to stop at a local cemetery. Exactly what happened next is still subject to dispute, but some are claiming Marsh used this visit to the abode of the dead as the backdrop for a teachable moment. According to the Post-Standard:

The sources said Marsh, also an English teacher at the high school, ordered the team bus to pull over near the cemetery. He then asked the roughly two dozen players to get out and lay on the graves.

The players rested there for several minutes while Marsh preached about the importance of playing hard, and how those buried underneath them would cherish the opportunity to trade places with the players and fight to win.

Anyone who finds this shocking ought to re-read the very first sentence — the one where Marsh is unmasked as an English teacher. That explains it all. No one with any kind of literary or artistic bent has any business working at nuclear facilities or coaching sports. The combination of elements is just too volatile. Would you entrust your daughter’s swim team to Anne Sexton? Me neither. It might be fun to see Robert Lowell throwing chairs in the manner of Bobby Knight, but only for a minute or so, and only from the safety of the living room.

I don’t claim to know for certain which authors Coach Marsh teaches, or in which direction his personal tastes run. But all that business about sprawling on the spoilt earth points very strongly in the direction of one early American poetaster– a proto-emo by the name of Edgar Allan Poe. In particular, it evokes “Annabel Lee,” the last poem he completed before dying mysteriously, and in considerable squalor, at the age of 40.

Poetic souls may fit badly inside football coaches, but they’re worthy subjects for study in their own right. With this homage to Mr. Poe, I shall attempt, by the force of my own pen, to pry my way into Coach Marsh’s dark and fascinating headspace:

It was many and many a week ago
When Brian‘s Song came on TV,
I was tanning well into a case of stout
When a notion took hold of me:
The Reaper’s shadow concentrates the mind
Of halfback, tight end or QB.

The next practice I assembled the squad
And cried out: “You guys, take a knee!
“I’ll show all you no-necked philistines
The only path to victory,
Edgar Allan Poe wrote the playbook here,
In a lay called ‘Annabel Lee’.”

Yes, indeed, I heard their whispering:
“Is coach drunk or into PCP?”
But I read every line from first to last
Of love turned to grief by the sea.
And the dense fools sniggered, behind their hands:
“Dude sounds like a freak – tee hee hee!”

Their puerile minds were a cross to bear;
I warned them: “Memento mori.”
“Behind death’s black shade there are no time outs,
Nor field goals, touchbacks or TDs.
(When next term comes and we tackle Dante,
You’ll learn all about penalties).”

Sophia’s spirit settled over the dolts;
They began nodding solemnly.
“Hells, yeah,” “True dat,” “Damn skippy,” they concurred.
“The coach always makes sense to me.”
I blessed them, choking back tears as I roared:
“GO WIN ONE FOR ANNABEL LEE!”

But the brutes played me false — they lost the game!
Final score: 30-23.
Like Charon with ‘roid rage, I drove our bus
Right up to the cemetery.
And bade them stretch out on the fresh-dug graves
Athletes can’t die too young for me.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/hermit/ Stephen Taylor

    This really is an astonishing piece of news. You poem is first rate. :-)

  • http://www.hermitofbardstown.com Stephen Taylor

    This really is an astonishing piece of news. You poem is first rate. :-)

  • http://www.thecrescat.blogspot.com The Crescat

    “No one with any kind of literary or artistic bent has any business working at nuclear facilities or coaching sports.”

    Really? I’m not seeing the problem.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

    “No one with any kind of literary or artistic bent has any business working at nuclear facilities or coaching sports.”

    Really? I’m not seeing the problem.

  • jkm

    “Would you trust your daughter’s swim team to Anne Sexton?” had me exploding with laughter in Starbucks. (The answer is no, but possibly the author of The Awful Rowing Toward God would have something useful to offer the crew team.)

    Love your poem.

  • jkm

    “Would you trust your daughter’s swim team to Anne Sexton?” had me exploding with laughter in Starbucks. (The answer is no, but possibly the author of The Awful Rowing Toward God would have something useful to offer the crew team.)

    Love your poem.

  • Melody

    “GO WIN ONE FOR ANNABEL LEE!” — I love it!
    Makes me think of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy”, too. Oh, wait a minute; “The paths of glory lead but to the grave…” is probably not the take-home message he intended.

  • Melody

    “GO WIN ONE FOR ANNABEL LEE!” — I love it!
    Makes me think of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy”, too. Oh, wait a minute; “The paths of glory lead but to the grave…” is probably not the take-home message he intended.

  • Luna R.

    Hahahahaha! Brilliant Poem!

  • Luna R.

    Hahahahaha! Brilliant Poem!

  • Holly in Nebraska

    Wow! Can we insist on Poetry Thursdays from now on? You’ve been holding out on us.

  • Holly in Nebraska

    Wow! Can we insist on Poetry Thursdays from now on? You’ve been holding out on us.

  • NY Mom

    I am embarrassed to admit I and my siblings graduated from this school. Long ago enough to have known it in more sane times, mind you, but this story makes me wonder about how the obsessive need to win at sports can so thoroughly disorient full-grown men. Skaneateles and Marcellus are age-old athletics rivals, but one hopes to God that these kids someday have the opportunity to leave the confines of their sweet, dear, but achingly provincial town, and realize greater and far more meaningful victories. Without the maudlin drama, thanks.

  • NY Mom

    I am embarrassed to admit I and my siblings graduated from this school. Long ago enough to have known it in more sane times, mind you, but this story makes me wonder about how the obsessive need to win at sports can so thoroughly disorient full-grown men. Skaneateles and Marcellus are age-old athletics rivals, but one hopes to God that these kids someday have the opportunity to leave the confines of their sweet, dear, but achingly provincial town, and realize greater and far more meaningful victories. Without the maudlin drama, thanks.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Well, the coach lacks common sense, but I don’t think it has anything to do with having an artistic or literary bent. I happen to have both a mechanical engineering degree and a degree in English literature. My career is in engineering but I dabble in creative writing. I don’t think it’s incompatible to have an literature degree and work at a nuclear facility, though that’s not my field of engineering. It’s the coach as an individual who must inherently not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, not the fault of his educational background.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Well, the coach lacks common sense, but I don’t think it has anything to do with having an artistic or literary bent. I happen to have both a mechanical engineering degree and a degree in English literature. My career is in engineering but I dabble in creative writing. I don’t think it’s incompatible to have an literature degree and work at a nuclear facility, though that’s not my field of engineering. It’s the coach as an individual who must inherently not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, not the fault of his educational background.

  • Anonymous

    I was speaking with tongue in cheek, and actually paying Coach Marsh a compliment. What he did was off the wall, but in a way that showed a kind of poetic imagination. As you can see, in the poem, I make him a kind of prophet without honor.

  • lindenman

    I was speaking with tongue in cheek, and actually paying Coach Marsh a compliment. What he did was off the wall, but in a way that showed a kind of poetic imagination. As you can see, in the poem, I make him a kind of prophet without honor.

  • Sarah the Sede

    You haven’t been reading Max’s work very long, have you. ;)

    Also, Max, I agree with Holly up there. Poetry Thursdays. Yes.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, but she has. In fact, the Crescat is a fine blog in its own right == check it out!

  • lindenman

    Ah, but she has. In fact, the Crescat is a fine blog in its own right == check it out!

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Oh yes. Sorry if I came across as critical. I didn’t mean to. I did like the poem, by the way. ;)

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Oh yes. Sorry if I came across as critical. I didn’t mean to. I did like the poem, by the way. ;)


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