Robert D. Denham
[Originally published in Pembroke Magazine 37 (2005): 34–51]
During the spring of 1985 I picked up from the Bull’s Head Bookshop in Chapel Hill a copy of the 23½ anniversary issue of a parody journal, Uneeda Review: “Like a Hole in the Head,” said to be edited by J. Parkhurst Schimmelpfennig. It contained a clever spoof of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism—”Prefatory Statements, Prolegomenon, and Acknowledgments to Atomization of Criticism” by Northcote Fricassee. The satire projected Frye as examining the archetypal import of the conventions of baseball. Tucked away in the back, the list of contributors revealed that the authors of Uneeda Review were William Harmon and Louis D. Rubin, Jr.: “They both,” said the note, “live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a small village located along both sides of U.S. 15–501, where the principal sports are basketball, bird-watching, and money. Both teach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a proprietary institution owned by Dean Smith.” The managing editor of Uneeda was listed as Bertha V. Nation Schimmelpfennig and the editorial assistant Hulga Fudge.
While I knew something about both editors, we were not acquainted. About Bill Harmon—poet, critic, and chair of the English department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—I had a bit of special knowledge: I was aware that he was a baseball fan, had grown up in Concord, NC, and was one of the “whiz kids” at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. In editing Northrop Frye’s correspondence, I had run across several letters that passed between Harmon and Frye, in which Harmon was trying to track down a reference to Joyce in Frye’s book on Eliot. Having myself grown up not far from Concord—in Mooresville, NC—I used to watch the Mooresville Moors and their famous class D slugger Norman Small play baseball in the old North State League. And as a child I had been a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies—also known as the Whiz Kids in 1950, when they won the National League pennant. In the 1960s I had studied at the University of Chicago, and so was familiar with the Hutchens era, with Hyde Park, and with Jimmy’s, a university and community pub on 55th Street. I knew as well that he had been the dissertation advisor of a friend of mine from college days—Elizabeth Mills, now chair of the English department at my alma mater, Davidson College. Armed with this knowledge and with my collection of the translations of Frye’s books, I decided to engage in a bit of high jinks by writing to the editors, acting as if I were Frye. I used his “University Professor” letterhead from the University of Toronto. Harmon replied, and what follows is the correspondence that passed between us over the course of several months. I’ve included a few notes in square brackets for those not as familiar with baseball lore as Harmon was. Several other more or less opaque allusions are also identified. At the time I was running a letterpress printing operation—the Iron Mountain Press—which produced broadsides and chapbooks from handset type.
♦ ♦ ♦
May 25, 1985
University of Toronto, Massey College
Dear Professors Harmon and Rubin:
I am of course grateful that you chose to reproduce selections from my Atomization of Criticism in your most recent issue of Uneeda Review. Even though the book celebrated its silver anniversary three years ago, it has, quite frankly, not sold very well; but I should like to think that the publicity provided by Uneeda will go a long way to increase sales.
I do remain, however, somewhat chagrined that you neglected to indicate at least in a note that the Prolegomenon is actually a propaedeutic to one of the central insights in my theory of modes. I am speaking of course about my account of romantic comedy, the central point of which I quote in full:
There is certainly no evidence that baseball has descended from a ritual of human sacrifice, but the umpire is quite as much a pharmakos as if it had: he is an abandoned scoundrel, a greater robber than Barabbas; he has an evil eye; the supporters of the losing team scream for his death. (Atomization of Criticism 46)
I trust that in your next issue you will publish this letter so as to make the connection between the Prolegomenon and the theory of modes clear to your readers. Aware that your readership is an international one, I “should like to relieve,” as Jim Konstanty once put it, your overseas subscribers of the burden of translation. First, the felicitous French:
Bien que l’on n’ait certes jamais prouvé qu’un rituel de sacrifice humain soit à l’origine du base-ball, on n’y rencontre pas moins, en la personne de l’arbitre, un exemple parfait de pharmakos: c’est un triste personage, un brigand pire que Barrabas [sic], avec le mauvais oeil, et les hurlements des supporters de l’équipe perdante réclament sa mise a mort. (p. 63)
Next, the guttural German, which captures the tone perfectly—though I have had to change the sport to make the point clear to your Teutonic readers:
Man kann ganz gewiß nicht behaupten, daß Fußball sich vom Ritual des menschlichen Opfers herleitet, und doch is der Schiedsrichter [referee] so sehr ein pharmakos, daß man meinen könnte, es sei tatsächlich der Fall: er is der ausgestoßene Bösewicht, ein größerer Räuber als Barrabas [sic], er hat ein Teufelsauge, die Anhänger der verlierenden Mannschaft fordern seinen Tod. (p. 51)
[Here I quote the passage in four other languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Serbo-Croatian.]
Finally, begging your forgiveness for my poor orthography, or I should say ideography, the Japanese version, which reads as smoothly as a Jones to Hamner to Waitkus double play. [Here the Japanese is reproduced.]
I am, as I say, grateful for your giving my work the wide circulation it deserves, the typo on p. 38, line 3 [“desparation”] notwithstanding. But let me finally talk plain. Your having reproduced the introductory matter to Atomization of Criticism without proper permission violates copyright law. My barrister, who suggests that we settle out of court, will be in touch with you shortly. If in the meantime, you should like to contact me, you may do so by writing me at Emory & Henry College, where I am spending the summer as Anatomizer-in-Residence. Please address all correspondence in care of the publisher of my next book, The Coda to the Great Code: Proprietor, Iron Mountain Press, Emory & Henry College, Box D, Emory, VA, 24327.
(Herman) Northrop Frye
[Jim Konstanty was the stellar relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Willie Jones, Granny Hamner, and Eddie Waitkus were the Phillies’ third baseman, shortstop, and first baseman.]
♦ ♦ ♦
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of English 9 July MCMLXXXV
Thanks ever so much for whatever it was you think you sent to me and my steamed colleague in re. Un. Rev.
Given the universally notorious inability of any Canadian whatsoever—and that includes Basil the Blacksmith and the Kafka of Saskatoon—to understand the merest iota of baseball in any way, shape, manner, form, or league, you did okay, even though you did overlook the Pythagorean (or Pytraynorean) injunction: Stay entirely away from bean balls.
And what about Chapman’s homer? Hell, even Mahler’s getting into the act, what with the double play in the third movement of his seventh symphony (“The Lugubrious”).
You neglected to thank us for avoiding the Fish-Frye controversy jokes; you were right, however, to notice that Jakubinskij, Jakobson, and Jameson all mean the same thing, which is bit in Russian, i.e., daily vita or life.
By the way, who does your Serbo-Croatian? There’s evidence that it’s the same guy who does Yul Brynner’ s hair. Cf. The Pitcher of Dorian Gray vs. The Catcher in the Rye. Like they said when John Wayne passed on: Bury the great Duke with an Umpire’s lamentation.
Yours for a fruitful All-Star break,
Woollylamb Whore Moan, B.B.Q.
And, oh, by the way: John Crowe Ransom’s father went to Emory & Henry.
[Umpire’s lamentation = parody of Tennyson’s line in “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington”: “Let us bury the Great Duke / With an empire’s lamentation.”]
♦ ♦ ♦
University of Toronto, Massey College
c/o Arn Mtn. Pray–us
Emory, VA 24327
July 19, 1985
Thanks kindly for your reply to my letter of 25 May. I remember with pleasure our correspondence of more than ten years ago (your letter was dated 8 July 1974) about the source of Joyce’s reference to Eliot as “The Bishop of Hippo.” I believe I replied that I came upon the epithet when rummaging around in the Joyce manuscripts at Cornell. I can see from your “Pelagian Georgics” (p. 9) that you’re still getting some mileage from the line.
I must say I was disappointed by your slur about the inability of Canadians to understand baseball. In The Modern Century, which was addressed to a Canadian audience, I used the example of my fellow countrymen’s knowledge of the sport to illustrate a point about the active response of mass culture (see p. 21). This, of course, brings me to my late colleague Marshall McLuhan, who was also a baseball fan. I pheel certain that, having been a whiz kid yourself, you are phamiliar with his early Phreudian essay “The Phallic Right- and Left-Phielders of the Philadelphia Phillies Whiz Kids—Del P’Ennis and Dick Sizzler—and their Sublimated Erotic Relation to Center-Phielder Rich E. Assburn.” Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a meta for?—as Marshall used to say.
As for Chapman’s homer, when I first looked into it I discovered a number of baseball archetypes. As did Keats, who, in referring to the “watcher in the skies,” clearly has the center-fielder in mind. Cf. “Hit or Myth” by Herald Blum and “The Far Field” by Theodore Rut Key.
It is true that in Atomization I had to delete all references to the Pytraynorean injunction, but I have treated the issue in a separate monograph, “The Pi Trainer: 3.14 Reasons for Ducking Dizzy Dean’s Fastball,” Pi Are Square 19 (1974): 16-34.
How can it be, if I might be a bit immodest, that two of Canada’s best critics—perhaps even the two best—don’t hail from North Carolina and don’t live in Ithaca but are baseball fans who taught at Toronto?
You might be interested in seeing my “The Comedy of Errors as a Precursor of the New York Mets.” Cf. Whitman’s “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night,” written after having played a particularly exasperating game against the Newark Newts.
As Denny McLain, quoting Shakespeare, said to Jim Bunning, “From you I have been absent in the spring.” But there is no reason we should not get together in the fall, so please make plans to be my guest from the World Series between the Blue Jays and the Expos in Toronto. Warm regards to J. Parkhurst, Bertha V., and, of course, Hulga.
Woollylamb, who made thee?
[Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, and Dick Siler were the Phillies outfielders. Pie Traynor was a Hall of Fame player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Denny McLain and Jim Bunning were well-known pitchers.]
♦ ♦ ♦
The fire & Pete Rose are one!
(The author of THE ANATOMY OF THE GREAT COED may need to know that. Cf. The Bishop of Harpo—& the Gaucho Marx of the Pampa [arrow pointing to “Borges” in the verse that follows],
You’re on— if the W. Series should ever be strictly Canadian.)
Is Emory far from Chapel Hill? I have family in Va. & may be visiting some time.
Telegraphing Patriotic Punches
The ocean like a rat
was one-stepping through blues
but I was busy, as I often am,
drafting an emergency telegram
to A.R. Ammons:
the day he died was studying
one of the many treatises
called The One
and the Many,
which I found out
by making the big mistake
of opening a book
by this Borges,
so take it all
with a grain of salt
and a good fence to boot,
south of the border
being what it
is, and all.
N. Frye, by the way,
still swears up and down
that Canadians can understand
baseball, Fat chance, Bert Lance,
[Here Harmon included his poem “Exit Menu.”]
♦ ♦ ♦
University of Toronto, Massey College
Dear Liam Heremon (cf. Finnegans Wake 446.25)—
Re: Peter rose. As I understand the tradition of St. Pete, he was hanged and rose not, though I am aware of what Sade et al. say about the member rising at the moment of execution. Antonomasia aside, you’re right in identifying Pete with fire, for, as I’ve said many times, at the anagogic level everything is potentially identical with everything else. Cf. 4 Zoas.
Re: baseball: I suspect I’m one of the few Canadians who remember Normal Small smashing 60+ home runs each year for the Mooresville Moors in the late 1940s. I mention this because the publisher of The Great Cod tells me Mooresville is not too far from Concord. Were you there, perchance, with your peanuts and Coker Kohler cheering Norman on? There was a legion of civic choruses, so to speak, for old Norman.
Where’d you learn your baseball, anyway? From Bernie Loomer expounding on the theology of the sport in the Swift Hall Commons at Chicago in the 1960s? Small world, ain’t it? Or as Borges would say, reality favors symmetries and slight anachronisms. As for Gaucho Marks of the Pampers, “a diferencia de otros campesinos, eran capaces de ironia” (see “Los gauchos,” 1. 9).
And then there’s Fred Chappel Hill, who wrote: “The pitcher hitches and hitches / And then the hitcher pitches.” Hoyt Wilhelm, no? Speaking of ole Fred, whose Tzingal puts him clearly among the archetypal writers, I’ve enclosed one of his broadsides [“Narcissus and Echo”] and other Pomes de terre [by John Hollander, Robert Morgan, et al.] which my publisher thought you might like, Tarheel camaraderie and all. He, i.e. my publisher, says, incidentally, that he’d like to print a broadside of one of your poems, provided you can send him one less in the mode of sixth-phase irony (opaqueness) than “Exit Menu.” And make it closer to haiku than epic. He, i.e., my publisher, seems to be serious about this.
Long live the Queene,
Oh, yes, Emory & Hank is right off 1-81, exit l0a, near Abingdon. My publisher would love to have you visit. Please find enclosed a photocopy of my appearance in Marvel Comics’ The New Defenders (July 1984).
[Said photocopy was enclosed. The superhero named “The Beast” encounters Frye and says, “Professor, I just had to tell you that your book on Blake was one of the most brilliant pieces of criticism I’ve ever read!” Legion of Civic Choruses = the title of one of Harmon’s poetry collections. Fred Chappell = widely published North Carolina poet, novelist, and critic. Hoyt Wilhelm = a knuckleball relief pitcher]
♦ ♦ ♦
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of English
2 Aug. ‘85
FROM THE DESK
OF HORATIO THRIFT
For Immediate Release
Professor Harmon has asked me to convey the following:
Lord: the North State League, circa 1950, rated “D.” I think George Bamberger, later to make something of himself, played for the Concord team in that League. There were the Concord Weavers, the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms, the Hickory Rebels, the Mooresville Moors (?), the Salisbury Pirates (or “Parts,” as we said—the same we who call the Baltimore team the “Coats”); I forget the rest. There must have been 8 teams. Concord’s stars were Stinky Davis, Willard Mauney (pronounced “moony”), Ginger Watts, Zippy Zunno, oh … any number of English-as-a-Second-Language types from Puerto Rico, teaching us kids exotic obscenities (pleonasm?). Earl Kelly doing the play-by-play—I guess it was just announcing. I worked one summer on the Scoreboard, which was outfitted with sheet-metal numbers—always scarce, so that in the later innings we had to go back and remove the score rectangles from the early ones. We had four or five zeroes, four or five ones, fewer twos and threes, one each of four and five, and that was about it. Sometimes when a shower began at 9 p.m. or so there would be a popping as one of the big light bulbs exploded and rained fine glass dust on the hapless outfielders.
I guess it was semi-pro. At least most of the players had other jobs, driving Coca-Cola trucks etc. Watts used to have a picket-type fence around his house in Mt. Pleasant—a fence made of bats; tired, I guess. Tired and true, as the undergraduates say.
Boy, those broadsides made my day! I’m going to have the Hollander thirteener [“Sparklers”] framed, as soon as I get $30 together in one pocket. Some of the others make nice housewarming presents or things to lure the Great Coeds when Tootsie Rolls fail.
As for the fate of my opacities vis a vis broadside a la king . . . apo sio pe sis! -t-bloody-mesis, I don’t know. Stuart Wright did one of a poem of mine a few years ago, very nice—a graphic-visual poem anyhow. To be frank, I think I think I think (etc.) a sort of discursive opacity is nice in a work where the graphic-visual is foregrounded. Where babble was, doodle shall be, as Sigmund Twaddle asseverated. Well, I’ll think about it. The broadsider of Eiron Mt. is chap name of Denim?
(I just got back from TX, so chaps and denims are on my mind.)
The Uneeda Review has made no money whatsoever—not even a Canadian dime. (What can you say about a culture whose most distinguished invention is Anne of Green Gables? See tribute to I.M. Montgomery in Light Year ’86.
Not since A.B. Happy Chandler has there been a baseball commissioner whose name I could pronounce. “Kennesaw Mountain Landis” is hard for me. Maybe Happy’s unique.
[aposiope sis and tmesis = figures signifying a certain silence in musical compositions. Light Year ’86 – an anthology of light verse]
♦ ♦ ♦
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of English 6 Aug 85
The Frye and the Rose are one. That’s Pete Rose, and I guess they’re all on strike.
Here, for Iron Mountain Press’s consideration, are two never-published villanelles and a sweet suite of Prose Poems, so-called—some to be published in New Letters, Epoch, Partisan Rev., some never seen before by hide or hair. I think “. . . Tvam Asi” would make a terrific broadside, leading to movie ri—hum, I was going to write “rights” but hung up (apo sio pesis in pieces) among that & “rites” and “wrights”—O Lord—movie rights and TV series (long-running, luxuriant with residuals) to revive the surviving platters (one’s dead, maybe more) with photo & ceremony to lay cornerstone for my new Center for the In Depth Study of Rock and Roll.
[Harmon included a photo of The Platters.]
♦ ♦ ♦
University of Toronto, Massey College 8/8/85
Can’t seem to follow the injunction of the penultimate line from “Exit Menu” [“Leave me alone alone”].
Agree that “there are two kinds of people in the world” [a line from “Exit Menu”]:
urged the crisis
Among the Dionysians are chaps like Stephen Icarus Dedalus, who would circle the sun to create the rarest villanelles and so win the lustre of the world’s esteem. To put it in the form of a mandala, he wants to square the circle, like so:
C I R C L E I C A R U S R A R E S T C R E A T E L U S T R E E S T E E M
See, it all works out, as Leopold Bloom says. Agree with Hugh Kenner that, as we wander the critical path of this modern century, the natural perspective to take on such fools of time as Stephen Hero is to see that what they really want, by some myth of deliverance, is to return to Eden, where they think they will discover the stubborn structure of the great code, not realizing, as the well-tempered critic does, that the real spiritus mundi is to be found in the bush garden. That is to say, those with a genuinely educated imagination will renounce the fearful symmetry of Stephen’s creation and recreation, affirming instead those divisions on a ground that constitute the proper fables of identity in a secular scripture. There are fifteen books in all of this, if I had time to write them. I don’t quite know what to say about the Apollonians, as I’ve never been much of a systematizer myself. Somebody once said that the two kinds of people in the world were eirons and alazons. Some bomolochos made that remark in Jimmy’s University Tap on 55th St. We’d wandered over there after my lecture in Mandel Hall in the late ’60s.
My publisher says he’s glad you liked Hollander’s treizain. Says it was later published in Pyres of 13, I think it is: I sometimes have difficulty with my publisher’s Southern accent. My publisher would like to get some back issues of Uneeda, but the Bull’s Head doesn’t reply to his inquiries. He wonders if you’d be willing to trade for some Iron Mountain Press chapbooks. Says he hopes you’ve got beyond just thinking about sending a poem, that he’s got some new Palatino he’s eager to try out, and that, though he can’t afford the kind of hand-made paper Stuart Wright uses, he’s got some nice Ingres Fabriano.
Warm regards to Dean Smith, Lenny Rosenbluth, the Moreheads, and Jesse Helms.
♦ ♦ ♦
Am, alas, unmasked. Alazon no more. Denham me asi.
“. . . Tvam Asi” it will be, recreated in the workshop of Ulro ASAP. I’ll send you 20% of the edition in lieu of royalties, of which probably won’t be any. I tend to agree with Kenneth Patchen: “People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a bunch of cheap son’s of bitches,” yet I end up giving most of the broadsides away. (Stuart Wright’s $40 per is a bit steep, don’t you think?) I’ll ask you to sign, say, fifty or so for the archives and spatial (as my mother, who’s from Mooresville, says) friends.
So if you’re ever up this way, drop by and we can chat about Jim Konstanty, the Hi-Toms, Prospect Presbyterian Church on the Concord Road (I lived in the manse there for five years), Hyde Park, Kunaplis (where I used to sell roastin’ ears door-to-door with my uncle), your letters to Frye, Doug Moe (whom I tried to guard one night, playing for Davidson at Chapel Hill in ’57 or ’58), Lewis Reuben (how’d you ever link up with an ex-Hollins type?), the hermeneutical mafia (or the gang of five, if we include Derrida), etc.
You can add the following to your frygeana ephemera. It might better than Tootsie Rolls too. Or Cheerwine.
I have the impression of late That a mirror has doubled my fate, Am I N. Fricassee Or Tat Tvam Asi? My fore seems with aft to conflate.
♦ ♦ ♦
13 Aug. “Spiritus” Tues.
“Chap named denim” = Denham. Not:
How hard is the lot of the Houyhnhnm! His levis take twelve yards of douyhnhnm; To soothe his duodenum Wants 4 qts. of laudanum— Less than that's lethal, like vouyhnhnm.
+ chaps + Ralph Lauren’s “Chaps” cologne, etc. etc. etc.
If “How hard” won’t suit on a broadside, how about that “. . . tvam asi”? or my favorite hendecasyllabic piece:
Czechs polka; Poles don't polka; Poles mazurka.
(Cf. Turks calling turkeys “Indian birds,” and whoever saw a Scott schottisch?—That’s some word, that word “polka dot”—even stranger than the pure brute onomatopoeia of
Libby Mills here (just finishing Ph.D. diss. on Dickinson & Ammons is old friend of chap denim—embracing both NC and TX, an odd NX and PLX (no SX!).
[Sometime in October 1985 I printed a two-color broadside of Harmon’s “. . . Tvam Asi” from handset type at the Iron Mountain Press in an edition of 200. And with that our epistolary caper ended.]