Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Big Smoke: "The Manly Art of Self-Defense"

[The Big Smoke reading group]

"The Manly Art of Self-Defense," from Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke, offers an account of a "professional" fight involving Jack Johnson. In this poem, the audience witnesses Johnson as an early fighter. Matejka's presentation of Johnson points out the secrecy surrounding the sport.

In the poem and among the people, “self-defense” is the code term for prize fighting, and the visiting opponent or challenger is the evening's "instructor." Ironically, Matejka's Johnson is a young fighter in the poem, and from the first-person perspective, Johnson is learning from his experienced opponent/instructor. Johnson recounts the final lesson of the visiting instructor, Chrysanthemum Joe, in the poem's last two stanzas: "He told me, A man that can / move like you should never take a punch."

Beyond the presentation of Johnson's opponent as his instructor, what other example of covert language or multiple uses of words and phrasings stood out to you from the poem? Why or how so? 

--Jeremiah Carter

20 comments:

Julian Shaw said...

In " The Manly Art of Self-Defense" it was clear from the start that the narrator didn't take Joe as an actual prize fighter. He mentioned the fact that Joe was in a red costume, and that his overall appearance was mediocre. An important moral of the reading, in my opinion, is despite how people appear on the outside, you shouldn't judge them because you could very well learn something necessary for your life from them. Towards the end, the narrator discovered new ways to defend himself, but initially judged how Joe looked in relation to his profession which goes to show that how a person looks don't define anything about them or what they are capable of.

Deonte Young said...

In the poem "The Manly Art of Selfish-Defense" when it was stated that "Sheriff Thomas enjoyed the fisitic science and suggested we spar to pass time." he mentioned sparring twice in the same sentence to show how much others enjoyed this manner of self defense

Isaiah Person said...

Isaiah Person.
The narrator thought poorly of Joe by his appearance even though he has beat some of the best like Jeffries. Joe ended the fight with the narrator in three rounds and almost got arrested for their illegal activities.

ricky wells said...

In the poem "The Manly Art of Self-Defense" Chrysanthemum Joe is a boxer who teaches self defense, because he can't become a prize fighter in Texas. Is Chrysanthemum Joe a white or black man? What did the author mean by "A man that can move like you should never take a punch"?
Ricardo Wells

Nicholas M. said...

In "The Manly Art of Self-Defense," the narrator did not take joe as a serious prize fighter. He described Joe as someone who looked like he would rather be at a poetry recitation. As the old saying goes, don't judge a book by it's cover. You should not make judgements based solely on appearance.

Evan Townzen said...

"I was up quick, but the rangers / stampeded the ring, six-shooters gleaming / in the lights."

It brought to mind a picture of a modern time western standoff. this line defines poetic in my opinion. I picture two men standing facing one with two pistols shooting rapid fire.

The author, at least I would assume, really means that he reeled back a little and then took punch on top of punch before tying up with the opponent.

Robert F said...

I liked how he referred to their fight as a "meeting". This stood out to me because they made it seem nonchalant, but of course meeting meant brawl in this poem. Also the narrator judged a book by its cover, and that got him knocked down. The good thing the narrator does is point out, even when you fail there is something to learn from the experience.

Robert F.

Christian Watts said...

The poem stated, " Jeffries once kept a grizzly as a pet, so what does that say about Joes disposition?" This question makes a statement in it self saying, if you have a certain pet, it can reflect your strength. However, Joe proved that pets and size do not matter. The game required skill which he had.
Christian Watts

Darien Wilson said...

Besides the misjudgment of the "instructor" based on his appearance,something that stuck out to me was when the author said the sheriff "suggested" that they spar, as if he was forcing them to fight again. Yet, this time more brutish barbaric with no ring nor gloves.

Dross84 said...

Devon Ross
In the poem "The Manly Art of Self-Defense" When the narrator described how hard Joe hit his previous contender he made his strength seem somewhat unbelievable and much beyond what his physical appearance would allow. It made it seem like Joe's self defense was so much better than the narrator himself.

DariusR said...

In the poem, "The Manly Art of Self-Defense", the changes in how Joe was portrayed throughout the poem stood out to me. He went from seeming like he was a push over, to knocking people out despite his diminutive frame. Then the transition of foe, to friend, to mentor happened before you realize it, starting with them having drinks after the fight.

Triston said...

Triston WIlson
In the poem "The Manly Art of Selfish- Defense" he says "Right- hand leads, snake- strike lefts-- all while working to duck the other man's fists." I dont know why this phrase stands out to me but it grabbed my attention. It seems like the he's getting instructions on what to do when he fights but also giving instructions on how to protect himself. I would assume this phrase was used to explain why the instructor told him "A man that can move like you should never take a punch."

Anonymous said...

Lucas Reincke said...

In "The Manly Art of Self-Defense," I feel a big motif in this poem is that you should not judge a book by its cover. Joe was described, essentially as a "pretty boy", and then decimated a much larger and more revered fighter in Jim Jefferies. Maybe Joe tried to use his appearance as a false sense of security for the other fighters to give himself an advantage over them. That I cannot be sure of. However, in relating this back to us as a society, we must look deeper than just appearances and the surface because there is more than meets the eye with each individual we meet.

Travon Wilson said...

In the poem when the fight was ended in the third round and the sheriff suggested they should fight again, basically for amusement. And Joe was talking to him during the brawl with no gloves, no ring,Joe saying you should never get hit the way that you move.

Deandre Howard said...

In the poem, the word "instructor" and "instruction" stood out most to be due to the dual meaning. It seemed to be a code for prize fighting, but it also seems like it took on it's actual meaning. Joe was "teaching" the narrator.

"Joe instructed me during those long, gloveless brawls. Right-hand leads, snake strike lefts--all while working to duck the other man's fists. He told me, a man that can move like you should never take a punch." ( The Big Smoke, 9-10)

DeAndre H.

Wole Abraham said...

In the poem "The Many Art of Selfish-Defense" the statement that stood out to me the most was when the author talked about Jefferies having a pet grizzly bear. This stood out to me the most because I feel that he said it in fear. Only a strong man can keep a strong pet.

Barry Ford said...

The phrase that stood out to me the most was at the end of they day, Joe and the narrator were at the hotel and were "suggested" to spar for fun just to kill some time. Sheriff Thomas took advantage of their abilities for his amusement. Things like this can be risky sometimes because the fight could escalate and one of them could have gotten injured. The good thing about this scene was that Joe gave the narrator some confidence by saying, "A man that can move like you should never take a punch."This shows that Joe feels that the narrator has some serious skills in boxing.

Rodrick Robins said...

"I was up quick, but the rangers/ stampeded the ring, six shooters gleaming/ in the lights."


This was a great metaphor used by the poet. It illustrates just how fast the instructors fist were flying toward the first persons face. So fast that they seemed like bullets. This passage does something bigger though. It illustrates how many 1970's Texas Blacks viewed law enforcement as opposition and overpowering.

Tameah Foley said...

"Joe was a dandy dressed up as a prize fighter. A sport with blond waves, a little too comfortable in his bright red costume."
This part stood out to me because Johnson judged Joe by his apperance, he was a short blond guy in a "costume". The fact that he uses the word costume shows that he sees Joe as a comic figure instead of a fighter.

Quentin Wilson said...

In the poem the word instructor stood out the most to me. They also talked about how Joe wasn't respected as a prize fighter. The narrator ended learning new ways to defend from this fight.