On the Back Nine

Nothing, no good hits on this
irrelevant and irreverent
nevertheless glorious morn.

Ritual brings them here,
always the same four,
carrying clubs and beer,

spreading foul shots
and fresh cheer
over the warm green.

Far into the back nine
a fox crosses
their fairway in a jig.

A twisted old man in an oilskin
coat chases after the fox,
waves, and disappears.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. johndockus says:

    “A twisted old man” making his appearance at the end of your poem, Joe, put me in mind of this comic short “The Golf Specialist” with W.C. Fields. It never gets old to me. It’s about 20 minutes long. If you have not much time, click to about 7 and half minutes in, and watch when Fields is with the caddie and lovely young woman on the teeing ground. All of it is hilarious, the wordplay, the visual gags. A great routine which I think showcases Fields at his best. There’s poetic rhythm in the best comic routines; one is pulled into a kind of amused hypnosis, being set up for the laughs. “Keep your eye on the ball.”

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      I’ll view the Fields. No time now, though. Samuel Beckett a great fan of Buster Keaton. Buster was in a Beckett film. Buster wanted to wear his regular signature hat. Beckett wanted Buster to wear a handkerchief over his head. They compromised, and Buster wore his hat over Beckett’s handkerchief, the ends of the cloth sticking out at odd angles from under his hat, like matted hair.

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      1. johndockus says:

        I was aware of this connection between Beckett and Keaton, Joe. Maybe you read it too, but some time ago I read “Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett”, by James Knowslon.

        I blew the dust off it, recalling this passage in it: “Alan Schneider, who introduced them in Keaton’s hotel suite, recounts: ‘When Sam (Beckett) and I arrived, Keaton was drinking a can of beer and watching a baseball game on TV; his wife was in the other room. The greetings were mild, slightly awkward somehow, without meaning to be. The two exchanged a few general words, most of them coming from Sam, then proceeded to sit there in the silence while Keaton kept watching the game. I don’t even think he offered us a beer. Not out of ill will; he just didn’t think of it. Or else maybe he thought that a man like Beckett didn’t drink beer.’

        ‘Now and then, Sam – or I – would try to say something to show some interest in Keaton, or just to keep the non-existent conversation going. It was no use. Keaton would answer in monosyllables and get right back to the Yankees – or was it the Mets?…’

        ‘It was harrowing. And hopeless. The silence became an interminable seventh-inning stretch.’

        “Beckett’s respect for Keaton survived this unfortunate meeting. He ended up admiring the sheer professionalism of the actor as, dressed in overcoat, boots, and his old flattened Stetson hat, with a handkerchief hanging down inside it, he did take after take in the sweltering New York heat. But Buster Keaton and he were too different and their worlds too far apart for them ever to become friends. (Before Beckett left, however, he started to read Keaton’s autobiography, My Wonderful World of Slapstick.)

        ———

        When I first read this passage I was overcome with melancholy. From the outside, and as a huge admirer of the genius of them both, one dreams of a great and exciting and profound meeting. Melancholy enters in when the meeting for which one had such high hopes turns out to be so ordinary and even anti-climactic. I always wonder about the more hidden parts of such a meeting between two great artists or persons of such high quality accomplishment. No doubt the whole story hasn’t been told in the quotation I share here. Who knows where Keaton was at that point of his life. He was at his zenith earlier, in his youth, and came to Beckett on the downslide, aching with age, world-weary and experienced, maybe burnt out and largely going through the motions.

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        1. Joe Linker says:

          Beckett’s characters function at times like clowns, entertaining and sad, funny and hopeless, human and disguised – all at once. Here’s Buster here. As for the non-conversation between Sam and Buster, maybe Buster thought they’d enjoy the game more than talking? Something similar occurred when Joyce met Proust: “Yes, said Joyce, I met him [Proust] once at a literary dinner and when we were introduced all he said to me was: ‘Do you like truffles?’ ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘I am very fond of truffles.’ And that was the only conversation which took place between the two most famous writers of their time, remarked Joyce – who seemed to be highly amused at the incident” (79)

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          1. johndockus says:

            Though even more sparse, with no sound, the Beckett short featuring Keaton is reminiscent in some way, in atmosphere, of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The room scenes with Henry anyway. With all the eyes one can’t help but also think of the famous eye slitting scene in Bunuel and Dali’s short surrealist film Un Chien Andalou.

            I think film probably couldn’t truly capture the vision Beckett had in mind. It’s always tricky too when a well-known actor or actress is used. That adds another layer and can complicate readings. Especially for someone like Beckett, whose pared down works move in a world where identity dissolves, life always teetering on the edge of non-being, and characters find themselves lost, always trying to remember, or to forget. That implies to begin with choice of actor or actress who are unknowns or not yet recognizable to the general public. I wonder if Beckett deep down questioned going with Keaton for his short film. Probably did. Yet who wouldn’t give the palm to working with someone whose previous work one so much admires? That’s the quandary.

            I don’t like the description of Beckett’s characters as clowns. That’s too easy. I think they are only deceptively so; they only come into those qualities by accident. That’s one of those rich dialectical tensions in Beckett’s work: the world is a wasteland, nonsensical and absurd, everything appearing to be one great accident, yet Beckett himself is so lean and precise. He gives form to what has no form, somehow; or he searches out form by the strictest economic means, peeling away layer upon layer, striving to find something substantial to hold on to, only to have it wrested away or to be deceived, yet again. That’s the clownish aspect if there is one. It’s a running joke, only it is no joke, because this is life. I think Keaton at his best rises up out of the caricature, what might be considered clown, and touches the human in us. Not only incredible physical dexterity and timing is in his art, the kind of stuff a dancer knows in muscle memory, but that ability to shed the caricature and touch the human in us is his, and Chaplin’s, greatness. That no doubt is what greatly appealed to Beckett.

            As old men, both Keaton and Beckett had marvelous, fascinating faces. All those wrinkles. That deadpan quality, hard to read, is shared by them both.

            —————————

            Anyway, reading Bristlehound’s remark and your reply, and returning to your “On the Back Nine” poem here, I thought of this classic scene from Caddyshack with Bill Murray. This gets a chuckle out of me every time.

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            1. Joe Linker says:

              The clown, or the fool. On Desolation Row, the circus is always in town.

              “Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
              And then he kneels
              He crosses himself
              And then he clicks his high heels
              And without further notice
              He asks you how it feels
              And he says, ‘Here is your throat back
              Thanks for the loan'”

              Beckett had wanted Charlie Chaplin for the Film part.

              Becket was a doodler.

              “If the show isn’t going well, let’s send in the clowns.”

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              1. johndockus says:

                Ha ha, Joe. I can’t top that response. My Adam’s apple was used as a juggling ball and has plopped into my mouth, fastening back into place. I cleared my throat and hummed and sang a few notes and everything seems to be working just fine.

                It’s a positive delight to discover that Beckett was a doodler too. I didn’t know this. I myself have doodles among my more developed drawings. I just really hadn’t thought much about them, though they might be interesting to others. I’ve doodled for as long as I can remember. In school my book covers were covered with doodly drawings. If I answered the phone and was on the line for any length of time, after I hung up doodles would be all over a scratch pad. It’s a kind of automatic writing.

                I’m glad I stuck with this, seeing how golfing and Beckett, and slapstick comedy, and existential tragicomedy, and doodling has all come together, though at this point I may be getting a little annoying to your other readers. “Ah, that Dockus guy again.”

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                1. Joe Linker says:

                  Dockus the Doodler.

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  2. bristlehound says:

    A squirrel’s perspective Joe?B

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    1. Joe Linker says:

      A portrait of the poet as squirrel.

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