Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Big Smoke: "Battle Royal"

[The Big Smoke reading group]

Like many of the poems from Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke, his poem “Battle Royal” presents the first-person perspective of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. As the opening poem in the volume, we began to get a sense of who Johnson is, or at least the Johnson that Matekja creatively presents.

In “Battle Royal,” Johnson details the histories of a battle royal from when bears were pitted against dogs to when groups of young black men were placed in a ring together to fight each other for the entertainment of white people. As Matejka’s Johnson notes at one point, “they rounded up the skinniest / of us, had us strip to trousers, then / blindfolded us before the fight.” The sport was dangerous and humiliating.

After reading the poem, what impression of Johnson that Matejka presented stood out to you most? Why?

--HR 

20 comments:

Gerrell Lewis said...

Basically what I got from the poem is that the black males were related to bears. They described how the bears were usually the top of the food chain. They would take there eyes and teeth out to make the fight interesting.
So they figured coloreds or slaves would fight just as hard if hungry. They blindfolded them and made them fight till the last man was standing which was the person who got to eat. Usually this consisted of a bowl of rice.

Gerrell Lewis
SIUE/GAME

Elijah Person said...

At first I thought that the author was referring to black men as bears and their masters as the dogs, a metaphor. I thought that the passage was talking of masters who would put their slaves into fights where only the winner of the blindfolded match would receive a meal. But during class yesterday, Dr. Rambsy stated that the masters wanted their slaves to be healthy enough to work and that was unlikely. Now I believe that these fighters are colored men in general and not ness easily slaves who would be somewhat healthier. Black men fight harder when they are hungry and then are also blindfolded so the fight is more amazing and last longer.

Jordan Dillon said...

Reading the article, the passage the first time only revealed there was a fight going on. Reading a second time, to get a broader understanding, outlined the humiliation Johnson Matejka felt from the constant trouble from masters. I felt the sickness Johnson felt from referring it a "fight", to calling it the "sport", "battle royal". The thought of maybe bringing pain upon your younger brother purposely to please someone who doesn't even care is humiliating enough. This shows the agony Johnson felt with many similar emotions in kind. All they could do was fight or face punishment; an ultimatum of death.

--Jordan D.

Jelani Brown said...

The impression that I have is that when human rights were taken away from people they began to become treated like ancestors like the way the bears were replaced by the slaves as soon as the country outlawed animal fighting. I think this because they were treated the same only in a different sense they had to fight to survive which made the stakes higher,and this gave the slaves a better to fight just like the animals did before them.
-Jelani B

Jelani Brown said...

The impression that I have is that when human rights were taken away from people they began to become treated like ancestors like the way the bears were replaced by the slaves as soon as the country outlawed animal fighting. I think this because they were treated the same only in a different sense they had to fight to survive which made the stakes higher,and this gave the slaves a better to fight just like the animals did before them.
-Jelani B

MyVampire15 said...

From what I read, the author is saying that black men are like bears. They were once great creatures until they were chained, had to fight off dogs, and were forced to fight for food. It goes on to say that the thought of blindfolding "the bears" would make the fight for food much more interesting and therefore, last longer. The thought of fighting without sight, is unsettling because one of your senses have been taking from you. Fighting without sight fighting without hands.

-Emmanuel Green
GAME/SIUE

Rubin Logan said...

What I got from the poem is black men being the most intimidating race like the bear but when blindfolded their less of a threat like the bear without eyes. In this world today black men may have to fight to get to the top or get what they want as if it was a battle royal. I think the overall story is a metaphor of how black men are basically blindfolded in this world and has less of an advantage like the bear with no teeth and eyes.
-Rubin L.

Phillip Goens said...

(PJ)

The impression of Johnson that Matejka presented stood out to me was that he was such a fearless dude. He was fearless because in the poem he compares him to a black bear. Also another part that shows how fearless he was because people would try to take things from him, and he still won.
If you take away a bear's teeth or eyes, its still a bear, and that bear can still fight. Thats what Jonson did.

Joshua Bowens said...

The impression of Johnson that Matejka presented throughout this poem was Johnson was brave, strong, and courageous. Matejka uses a number of metaphors and similes. The most interesting part about the poem was they were thrown in a ring to fight for a meal.

Karis Conner said...

What I understood from this poem on how Johnson was represented was a tough dude. Being compared to a black bear, one of the toughest, dangerous animals shows you are strong. People would try and take things, but that would phase him. When being blindfolded it takes away sight, but you gain strength in other senses.


-Karis C.

Jordan Hardman said...

After reading this poem the first thing that came to me was black men in the past being treated like animals. They were used as entertainment and inferior to everyone else. It was a struggle to survive and since black men were the head of the household they needed to stay alive to protect their family so they were put in a ring to fight for one small meal to probably feed their families for the night.

-Jordan H.

Xavier Morrison- Wallace said...

Matejka was trying to make Johnson seem intelligent. At least hinting that Johnson is knowledgeable at fighting. Since this poem is in the first person point of view, we know that it is Johnson who tells us the history behind the cruel battle royal of the slaves. Johnson is also instinctive just like every other slave because he acted automatically at the offering of a meal and him being attacked from multiple directions which triggered his fight-or-flight response. Although I'm sure that Jack Johnson was forced to fight.

Trion Taylor said...

The impression I get of Johnson is that he is remorseful when reminiscing about these hard times but proud, if this is the right word, that he made it through that situation doing the best he could. Not many people, I imagine, had what it took to make it through but he did and looking back on it fills him with two warring emotions: regret and happiness.

Trion Taylor said...

The impression of Johnson that I got was that he was remorseful while reminiscing about these hard times but proud, if this is the right word, that he made it through. Not many people, I imagine, would be able to go through that so I think that that remembering how rough it was it was fills him with two warring emotions: regret and happiness.

jingolder said...

As I was reading the poem, I saw it as a metaphor. Not only were slaves made to fight to the death for slave owners' entertainment when the slavery was legal, but even after slavery was abolished black males were seen as only physical specimens to be treated poorly and used as entertainment.

-John Hanfelder

jingolder said...

While reading the poem, I saw it as a metaphor. Not only were slaves literally made to fight to the death for the entertainment of slave owners, but were still exploited as only physical specimens to fight each other for the entertainment of whites even after slavery was abolished.

H. Rambsy said...

Curtis B.

The biggest take away from the poem was that they were comparing black men to animals. To be more specific a bear. They mutilated the men to make the fight more interesting. They turned him from a fighter into a beast from the torturing that they put him through.

J.D. Staples said...

What I took from the poem was the comparison of black males and bears. As well as how white men were entertained by black men fighting one another like animals would. I also felt that the black men were used as a show puppet or masters' pet sorta speak.

John Kriha said...

The author is comparing black males to bears. He then describes how the white males would starve them into an animal like state similar to that of a bear for their entertainment. It shows that even in Johnson's time black males are not viewed as equals in society.

Nicholas Rawls said...

The biggest impression that I got from this poem is the idea of how no different a colored is when they end up fighting for food. After all, there are not trying to put people in there to fight like the UFC that we have today. They're putting animals in there to duke battle against each other.

-Nicholas Rawls