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Poet Myra Shapiro.

Poet Myra Shapiro talks with our Book Critic Maureen Corrigan about her life and work. Her first collection "I'll See You Thursday" was published in 1996 by Alley Press.

20:45

Other segments from the episode on April 27, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 27, 1998: Interview with Tim McCarver; Interview with Myra Shapiro; Review of Cheri Knight's album "The Northeast Kingdom."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 27, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Baseball for Brain Surgeons
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.

Tim McCarver knows baseball from the inside and out. From 1959 t 1980, he was a major league catcher playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Montreal Expos, and the Boston Red Sox. During those 21 years, he distinguished himself on the field and ended his career with a .271 lifetime batting average.

Not long after he retired from baseball, McCarver was hired by the Mets as a member of their broadcast team. Now, you can also catch him doing analysis for the game of the week, the all-star game, and Fox Television.

As an announcer, McCarver is known for his candor, his ability to turn a clever phrase, and his deep understanding of the physics and psychology of the game. He also writes about baseball and has a new book: "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans."

I asked Tim McCarver what it was like to go from playing to talking about the game.

TIM MCCARVER, BASEBALL ANNOUNCER, ANALYST AND AUTHOR, "BASEBALL FOR BRAIN SURGEONS AND OTHER FANS": It's a different ballgame from upstairs. Not only do you have -- do you have obviously nothing to do with the game or the outcome of the game, you see the game differently.

Often, the dugouts of Major League Baseball fields are the worst places to view a baseball game when you're -- when you're looking to see if an outfielder is playing straight away; if an outfielder is shading a hitter to pull; or if he's shading him the other way. Sometimes your focus is confusing when you look at it from the dugout.

When you look at it from upstairs, the view of the game is different. You see -- you see more an overall -- a team concept.

MOSS-COANE: Now, as a broadcaster, you work standing up. Are you just too antsy, too excited to sit in a chair during a game?

MCCARVER: I squatted for 21 years.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: So, you're happy to stand up.

MCCARVER: And so, I'm finally standing up in life. You know, I caught from the time I was 10 years old. I turned professional when I was 17, out of high school. And then I caught professionally for 21 years. So, that's 28 years or 29 years on your haunches.

And I was a fast runner when I broke in. I was not a fast runner when I retired because the ordeal and the grueling position of catching takes its toll primarily on the ankles and the knees, and you don't really have a chance to stretch your legs out as much as you would like to.

But -- I did a lot of stretching the last five years of my career, but it's still a very, very difficult position. And that, I think, is one of the reasons that I stand up when I broadcast.

MOSS-COANE: Well, you talk about the importance as a catcher of -- when a runner's coming home, of standing on home plate.

MCCARVER: Mm-hmm. Of blocking...

MOSS-COANE: Of blocking home.

MCCARVER: ... the plate.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

MCCARVER: Of putting -- I see a diminishing number of catchers blocking home plate. The last catcher that was terrific at doing so was Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's now a coach for the Dodgers and I think will be a major league manager some day.

But I've talked to Mike extensively about that. And the catchers that put their weight on their -- on their left leg when receiving throws from either left, center, or right field can ward off base runners in that fashion if you put your leg on -- if you put your weight on your right leg as an example, you can have your left leg in the baseline. But when the -- when the runner slides straight in, and these guys are going full-speed, and you're standing still, they can spin that left leg out of there. And that's why it's very important to keep the weight on the left leg.

But there are a number of catchers who don't do that. They make swipe tags with that catcher's mitt and I think it's the wrong way to go about it. And unfortunately, I see more and more of that today -- the swipe-tags at home plate -- instead of guys who just hang in there and take their punishment.

An interesting story -- back in the early '70s, and I've said this during the broadcast many times -- the Met broadcast -- that Tommy Agee actually stuck in my shinguards two different times, to give you an idea of the force that a runner has when he comes into a catcher.

MOSS-COANE: And by that you mean his -- his cleats...

MCCARVER: His spikes.

MOSS-COANE: ... his spikes were in your shinguard?

MCCARVER: His spikes were actually in my shinguards and it loosened the spikes from the shinguards. I had to take the shinguards off. But that gives you an idea of why -- why a lot of catchers have knee problems and stuff like that because of -- you know, Tommy Agee was a 215-pound, six-feet-two with thighs like most players' waists. He was big. He was fast. And that's a perfectly clean play.

And interestingly, Tommy Agee told me about three years ago that the guy who taught him how to do that was a catcher, John Roseboro of the Dodgers.

LAUGHTER

Catchers shouldn't teach runners how to slide into the...

MOSS-COANE: And that comes from a former catcher -- our guest today Tim McCarver. He's now a baseball analyst. He played in the major leagues for 21 years and he's just written a book called Tim McCarver's Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans.

Well let me get to the -- the pitcher-catcher relationship, because as you write about it, it seems that it's the job of the catcher to handle the pitcher and to, I think as you say, to keep them honest. You're also quoted as saying that the catcher's job is to cut through the crap, which I assume is to keep it to the kind of essence of baseball.

You caught for both Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. How -- how different were they? And how did you handle each of their personalities? And they're very different personalities.

MCCARVER: Yeah. Very different. Bob Gibson, perhaps the most aggressive, dynamic personality that I've ever run into in my life, on or off the field. He was also a very gifted athlete. He played three years for the Harlem Globetrotters in his early days while he was still a young pitcher out of Creighton University in Omaha. He was very difficult to handle when I was young. Bob found me very difficult to handle, too, and we clashed.

And now, I think Bob -- I consider Bob Gibson one of my top five friends in life. You become very, very close to the pitchers, but just because you're close friends doesn't mean that -- that pitchers snapping at catchers or catchers snapping at pitchers doesn't happen all the time. In 1965, there were -- it was a one-one game in the eighth inning at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and there were two men on -- second and third.

We elected -- "we" meaning Bob Gibson -- elected to pitch to Roberto Clemente. He hit a fast fall on the outside corner, as Clemente could do. He hit it about a 38-hopper through the hole on the right side, two runners scored. And that made the score three to one Pittsburgh.

Well, Bob Gibson went to back me up, and as he's going back to the mound, he said -- and no expletive deleteds or anything like this -- and no profanity, but there was profanity when he said: "you've got more than one finger back there," which meant that I could call for something other than a fast ball.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

MCCARVER: And I said: "you've also got a head on your shoulders and you can shake me off if you like, also." And we were arguing to the point where both of us dropped our gloves between home and the pitcher's mound and almost came to blows. And I didn't speak to him until his next start.

MOSS-COANE: Well let me ask you, too, about the trepidation you used to feel when you had to go out to the mound to talk to Bob Gibson, 'cause he never wanted to hear anything you had to say.

MCCARVER: No, he didn't. Bob was never intimidated by anybody -- by managers, by opposing hitters or anything. I went out to the mound to try and slow him down, because I was encouraged to do that by our manager Johnny Keene (ph). Well, Bob used to like to work very rapidly. They called him "Rapid Robert," as a matter of fact. Rapid Robert Gibson was called that because he worked so quickly.

And sometimes, he would actually go into his windup before I put the signs down -- meaning he threw everything for the most part at the same speed. But he loved to work fast. Well, I went out to the mound and I said "Bob, I'm out here to slow you down." And he said: "get on back behind the plate. The only thing that you know about pitching is that it's hard to hit."

LAUGHTER

I didn't like to hear that. Johnny Keene continued to try to encourage me to slow him down, and I told John that, look, he doesn't want to be slowed down. If you want to slow him down, you slow him down. Don't be telling me to do it.

MOSS-COANE: You also say some interesting things about Steve Carlton and his ability to concentrate. And that when he was pitching, he essentially made the batter disappear; that it was you and he playing this rather sophisticated game of catch.

MCCARVER: That's -- that was one of Steve's lines before the game. He would say: "Timmy, let's go play some pitch and catch."

MOSS-COANE: Right.

MCCARVER: It was almost as...

MOSS-COANE: Forget -- forget the batter, right?

MCCARVER: Forget the batter. The batter was almost like some alien that had plopped down with a piece of wood in his hands and if -- the obvious inference there is that if Steve makes his pitch, nobody's going to hit it. But Steve Carlton was ahead of his time as far as his imagery was concerned.

He would sit in the clubhouse and he would visualize the outside two inches of the plate and the inside two inches of the plate, with the theory that if he did that, he would stay away from the middle 13 inches of the plate.

And you know what? He didn't throw too many balls down the middle of the plate.

MOSS-COANE: That's interesting.

MCCARVER: The plate's 17 inches wide, but only four inches are the pitcher's -- the outside two and the inside two.

MOSS-COANE: And he said he rarely ever heard the crowd. I know he rarely ever acknowledged the crowd.

MCCARVER: He wore earplugs.

MOSS-COANE: Right. Just to be able to focus that kind of attention to what he had to do, I assume.

MCCARVER: Either focus on keeping the crowd out of his ears or me.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: I'm curious about something that you write about, which is the catcher trying to influence the umpire, and even making comments as the pitcher is pitching the ball, hoping somehow to, I don't know, I guess, put some sort of influence into the -- into the umpire's brain. Did you do that a lot?

MCCARVER: I think all catchers try to persuade the umpire through body movement, through the movement of the mitt, or through something that could be said while the ball is on the way to the plate. For instance, if -- if on an 0-2 pitch or a 1-2 pitch -- one ball and two strike pitch -- you are sitting outside the strike zone, and you know that the pitcher is going to throw to your glove outside the strike zone -- say, two inches off the outside part of the plate -- as the ball is on its way, by saying: "yes, sir," you would perhaps influence an umpire to call the pitch a strike, even though the pitch is two inches outside, because primarily the pitcher is hitting your mitt and the umpire doesn't think that you would sit up in an area where the pitch is not a strike, because normally you wouldn't do that.

But since you're ahead in the count, you have the luxury of sitting outside the strike zone and perhaps either having the umpire call the ball a strike, or having the hitter swing at a ball, and perhaps hitting it off the end of the bat and thereby keeping the ball off the fat part of the bat.

So there are ways to influence umpires, but most of the umpires know the tricks. I think the younger the umpire, the more influenced he is; the older the catcher, the more he can influence an umpire...

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: Right.

MCCARVER: ... which makes kind of -- you know, makes all the sense in the world.

MOSS-COANE: As a catcher, can you actually see the ball come in?

MCCARVER: Are you kidding? You better be able to see it.

MOSS-COANE: Well, and I guess by that I mean I know you see it, but I'm -- what I mean I guess is see it in all its detail or...

MCCARVER: Absolutely. You can see the seams on it. You can see the -- number one, you know the movement of the pitch.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

MCCARVER: You perhaps have caught this pitcher, in Gibson's case, in Carlton's case, I caught them nine or 10 years and you're talking 35 to 40 starts a year. In those days, there were four-man rotations, so you -- 35 to 40 starts a year and in every game, they threw anywhere from 110 to 135 pitches.

So, you know these pitchers very, very well. You know what they're pitches do. Now obviously, they're not going to do the same thing all the time, but they do have -- they have tendencies. Bob Gibson's slider was a big slider, for instance. Steve Carlton's slider was a tightly wrapped spin.

Bob Gibson's slider coming in with the seams as they rotated was more of a quarter or half-dollar spin. That's normally -- and what I mean by that is that the seams spun in a loose fashion and the appearance was that you could fit a quarter in this spinning fashion or in this -- the spin of the baseball, because of the seams.

And what that meant was it was loosely gripped. Steve Carlton, on the other hand, had a slider whose spin was so tightly wrapped that the spin looked like a dime -- that you could fit a dime on the tightly wrapped slider.

Now, normally speaking, the dime spin on a slider is the best pitch to throw because it has more movement. But in Gibson's -- in Gibson's case, his slider was so erratic and unusual that it actually served better for him because of its erratic movement. It would back up occasionally. It would slam -- it would break a foot, sometimes. When he struck out Willy Horton (ph) to end the first game of the 1968 World Series, for example, he set a major league record for strikeouts in a single World Series game -- 17.

MOSS-COANE: Wow.

MCCARVER: It was a remarkable accomplishment and Willy Horton, to this day, I can still hear Willy Horton go: "umph." He thought the ball had hit him and the ball was a strike over the middle of the plate. That's how much the ball broke.

MOSS-COANE: We'll talk more with Tim McCarver after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

Tim McCarver is our guest and his book is called Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans. And he's a baseball analyst for TV and played major leagues for 21 years.

You grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. You were one of five children. And it actually was your sister, I understand it, that really taught you to play baseball. Is that true?

MCCARVER: My sister Marilyn was perhaps the best athlete in our family. Of the five children, four were boys. I was the next to the last. My sister was the next to the oldest. And all of my brothers were right-handed throwers and hitters. I was a right-handed thrower, but at four years old, you don't really realize whether you're going to be a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter.

And she used to take me and roll groundballs to me, from about 10 feet, and I would swing at these ground balls left-handed and became very adept. I never really knew how to hit right-handed because she wanted me to be different. And sure enough, I had an inclination to hit left-handed and that's why I do everything else right-handed, but swing a bat 20 years ago and swing a golf club now.

MOSS-COANE: Do you think she was right to do that at a very young age?

MCCARVER: I thought she was left to do that.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: But did it turn out that that was good advice for you?

MCCARVER: Oh, I think so.

MOSS-COANE: Yeah.

MCCARVER: I mean, I think left-handed hitters in baseball have a decided advantage. My broadcasting partner Ralph Kiner says that the reason left-handers have an advantage is that they're closer to first base. Very simple, really.

MOSS-COANE: Interesting, interesting. Now, you started in the majors right out of high school. How ready were you at the age of 17 to be a professional baseball player? How much did you know about the world?

LAUGHTER

You laugh.

MCCARVER: The farthest...

MOSS-COANE: I guess not much, right?

MCCARVER: ... the farthest west I'd ever been was West Memphis.

MOSS-COANE: Truly?

MCCARVER: And I'm saying that seriously. I didn't travel that much as a kid -- didn't have the money to travel anywhere. But I was -- I was as green as green could be. Nine days after I graduated from high school, I started my career in Keokuk, Iowa.

And later that year, I was to go to Rochester and I joined the major league club, the St. Louis Cardinals, in Milwaukee. And my -- I think from an illiterate -- I couldn't talk real well until I was about seven years old. I was "tongue-tied," as we used to call it.

And I could not pronounce my S's. I would...

SOUNDBITE OF LISPING

... for my S's. S's came out as "th." And the -- I was a huge baseball fan because my sister, and we used to listen to Harry Caray of the Cardinals in Memphis only 290 miles away. And the name that was easy for me to pronounce was -- was Hank Aaron. And I guess if I had an idol, Monte Irvin (ph) and Hank Aaron -- they were easy for me to pronounce. So I came up thinking that Hank Aaron and Monte Irvin were my favorite players, without knowing their credentials.

Well, as I was sitting on the bench in Milwaukee for my first game in a gray Cardinal uniform, Aaron came up and I -- I yelled "come on Henry." Well obviously, I'm a St. Louis Cardinal -- a member of the St. Louis Cardinals -- and Alex Grammis (ph) came over. He was a shortstop for the Cardinals in those days. And he said: "up here, son, we root for our own teammates, not for the other guys."

LAUGHTER

It was very embarrassing. But I was very green. I spent parts of 1959, '60 and '61 with the big team. And then in 1963, I was with the Cardinals to stay for a number of years.

MOSS-COANE: Were there initiations or hazing for you or things that...

MCCARVER: Oh, yes.

MOSS-COANE: ... to sort of get you into adulthood, I guess?

MCCARVER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I did not have a part in my hair 'til I was 23 years old. I wore a crewcut and I think my first -- my first road trip as a major league player, I had on wingtips -- brown wingtips -- yellow socks, gray slacks, this off- kind of an orange-red ban-lon shirt that was in style in those days, and a plaid sportcoat.

MOSS-COANE: Oh, I bet you thought you looked just great, too.

MCCARVER: Oh, I was styling, let me tell you. And Bob Nieman, who was an outfielder, called me "bush." And for about two years, that name hung with me and "bush" is obviously a connotation of that -- is that you're a "bush leaguer," which was a denigrating term, but I didn't realize the significance of the term because I was too green to understand. And it was all done in fun and not only did I allow it, but I was kind of proud of that name.

MOSS-COANE: Hmm. Well final question to you: what's your favorite time in a ballpark?

MCCARVER: During the game -- when the game's going on. I -- you know, I love the game. I love the nuances of the game. I love to watch the things that are away from the ball.

I think one of the great exercises that fans could perhaps enjoy at a baseball game is like you may zero on an interior lineman in football -- a pulling guard, for instance -- instead of the guy with the ball -- is to divert your attention away from the ball and look what the center fielder's doing when he's playing the count, for instance.

By that, I mean if the batter is ahead in the count, the center fielder would play him more to pull. If the batter is behind in the count, because he's in a defensive posture, he would play more to hit the ball the other way.

Andy Van Slyke was particularly adept at that particular defensive positioning. Things of that nature -- that's the beauty of the game. There's so much to the game than just home runs and shutouts and no-hitters.

Those are the glamour parts of the game, sure, and I love those. But the game has so many other nuances that make baseball a -- such an enjoyable sport that I could obviously go on and on and on. And that's why it's been such a part of my life for 39 years.

MOSS-COANE: Sure, sure. Well, I appreciate you going on and on with us today on the show. Thank you very much, Tim McCarver.

MCCARVER: I enjoyed it, Marty. Thank you.

MOSS-COANE: Former major league catcher Tim McCarver works as a baseball analyst. His new book is Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane
Guest: Tim McCarver
High: Fox sports commentator Tim McCarver talks to Marty Moss-Coane about his new book "Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans." McCarver is also a commentator during the New York Mets season for WWOR. He played major league baseball from 1959-1980 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox. He also wrote "O, Baby, I Love It!."
Spec: Sports; Baseball; Cities; Philadelphia; Media; Tim McCarver
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Baseball for Brain Surgeons
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 27, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: I'll See You Thursday
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

MARTY MOSS-COANE: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

The career of poet Myra Shapiro offers hope to people who tell themselves that they'll really start doing what they want to do with their lives after they retire.

Born in the Bronx, Shapiro returned to New York in her 50s after raising a family and working as a teacher down South. In New York, she began writing and eventually publishing her poems. Shapiro's first book of poetry, "I'll See You Thursday," was published in 1996.

Recently, she talked with FRESH AIR book critic Maureen Corrigan.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: When I knew you only as my friend Carol's Aunt Myra, the thing that fascinated me about you was your decision to make a radical change in your life by moving to New York and becoming a poet -- rather late in life. But let's begin at the beginning.

Like a lot of wonderful poets and writers, you were born in the Bronx. What kind of impression did those early years in the Bronx make on you?

MYRA SHAPIRO, POET: Well, I feel that we are the product of the time and place we're born to. We're also -- who we are, we're shaped by the culture we're born to. And in the Bronx, I was born into a political family.

It was during the Depression. I was a first generation American. And what I felt -- something that stays with me through now, probably, all of my life will, is this sense, this feeling of hope; that we take responsibility and we can make the world a better place. That was life to me. From my bed I heard it.

CORRIGAN: When you say that you can make the world a better place, what -- what were your parents active in? Were they socialists?

SHAPIRO: This was my extended family.

CORRIGAN: Mm-hmm.

SHAPIRO: We lived, several generations, in one house. The center of our family was my aunt, my Tante Annie and her husband, their two children -- my cousin Sophie to whom the book is dedicated, who always knows what side she's on. That -- that was considered a great virtue. And then, their children.

We would show up at the house, sometimes in the middle of the night. My parents were just struggling -- my father, trying to make a living. And it was this other house that I thought of as my family, along with my mother and father. I didn't really make the separation.

And it was socialism, Marxism -- whatever it was called at the time. I was a child. I just knew there were meetings, there were rallies, there were songs, there were jokes, there was lots of food on the table. I mean, tea -- constantly cups of tea; people were coming. And what there wasn't much of was quiet.

CORRIGAN: One of the poems in your volume I'll See You Thursday is called "Family Jokes." And when I read that poem the first time, it really struck a chord in me. It also reminded me of so many other autobiographies and autobiographical writings written by first generation Americans recalling their family and almost the coping mechanism that their family relied on to make it in this country.

I wonder if you would read that poem for us?

SHAPIRO: I'd be glad to. It starts with an epigraph from Genesis. I'll just say a little bit about that. It always struck me that so early in the Bible -- this is Genesis 21 -- it's Sarah who says: "he hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me." And I though it was just -- I think it's just wonderful that we -- we have attention paid to laughter in the Bible.

And I think it's especially wonderful, because Family Jokes comes from a time when I was very, very young and I think that hearing laughter in the next room was what was important to me. I was totally confused by the jokes I heard, and only now as an adult that I've asked members of the family to help me recall them -- do I get the punchline. But laughter, laughter.

Family Jokes.

They always liked a good joke
Even a bad one
The one about the 80-year-old man
Who takes a young wife
A fatal marriage, his neighbor warns
Fatal, schmadel, he replies
If she dies, I'll take another

Jokes are what they had
My folks, who scared me so with troubles
And loud arguments
In the middle of my mother's unfulfilled desires
My father's failures, working day and night
To make a living
You call this living?
Came the joke, the breather
The sun to warm us

The moon was sex
A mystery you needed to deflect by making light
A young man asks a young girl
If she'd like to take a walk in Prospect Park
And then he's getting fresh with her
She protests
What do you think I am? A prostitute?
He says who's talking about money?

They laughed. Immigrants, they bundled loss
I don't know when my mother coupled sorrow with sweet impudence
To coin her favorite exit line
If I live and be well
I'll see you tomorrow
If not, I'll see you Thursday

CORRIGAN: That's a wonderful line. Is that your mother's own line do you think? Or is that...

SHAPIRO: Yes.

CORRIGAN: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Yes, she always said that. And of course, we heard it so often. I can remember thinking "corny." I can remember rolling my eyes. And in fact, when she was dying -- she was ill for a period of months -- I remember catching myself when she started to say it and she couldn't, and I couldn't complete it. And well, that's another story.

CORRIGAN: I think you catch some of that impudence and the ruefulness and the tragedy and the humor -- one of -- again, one of the things I love about your collection is that it does seem to wed so many different emotions together, as your title suggests, I'll See You Thursday.

Another thing that you wed in your poetry and in your speaking voice, and I think listeners can hear this, are the accents of the Bronx and of down South, where you lived for 45 years. How did that happen? How did a Russian Jewish immigrant family living in the Bronx make it down South?

SHAPIRO: My father took a job managing a chenille (ph) bedspread factory in this little town, Dalton, Georgia, which is -- was the bedspread center of the world. That was what the sign said when you entered. And so, we moved when I was in third grade. And I thought it was another country, because the language was different and because I came to realize I had to be different myself -- different ways of playing, different food on the table -- not so much in my house, but with friends.

CORRIGAN: And you were nine years old. As hard as that transition must have been for you, I wonder about your mother because I imagine your father was going out to work and you were playing with other children. What was it like for a woman of your mother's generation to move from the Bronx down South? Was she happy with the move?

SHAPIRO: Do you know, no one ever asked me that before. And so it -- if I were home alone right now it might touch off another poem. My mother -- what would it have been for her? I don't know. The only thing that I sense is that life was not as chaotic, because my father had a steady job; because we had a house -- our own house -- and she wasn't part of this extended family. And maybe that could have been more peaceful. She probably missed them, but the fact of a household that's your own and that has a degree of certainty may have brought a measure of peace that she needed. I don't know.

CORRIGAN: Did she and your father seek out other -- other Jews down South?

SHAPIRO: That's what happened.

CORRIGAN: How did they make a home for themselves?

SHAPIRO: That's what happens in fact. In the -- in small towns, I know in the South; maybe all over -- that even when people are not part of an organized religion, let's say, in larger cities where they can satisfy all kinds of things within themselves, the community in the South, especially at that time, tended to put you in a certain place and that's where then you found your own.

In this case, it had to do with the small Jewish community that was at that time enough families to begin a little synagogue in an old house. And it was the first time I'd ever been to a religious service. It wasn't part of our life in New York.

MOSS-COANE: We're listening to FRESH AIR book critic Maureen Corrigan in conversation with poet Myra Shapiro. Shapiro's book of poems is I'll See You Thursday. More after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Let's get back to FRESH AIR book critic Maureen Corrigan, talking with poet Myra Shapiro.

CORRIGAN: I wanted to get to how you came to write this book -- this first book of poetry, in your 60s. You were in the South -- the '50s and '60s, raising a family, teaching, also working as a librarian. How did you come to start writing poetry?

SHAPIRO: I don't know. I don't know. Certain things happened. It was the 1970s. The women's movement had happened and I think that I wouldn't have written poetry if it hadn't been for the women's movement. Because I couldn't get it through my head that I could harness my own power. And I wasn't dumb, but there was a lack of awareness. I would read poems by Randall Jarrell (ph). He was a person who was able to enter -- write poems in the persona of a woman.

Now, I remember "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," but in particular there was a poem called "Next Day" in which a woman is going down the aisles of a grocery store from, as he said, maybe -- I would have to recall it -- from All to Joy to here are the names of the detergents.

That had happened to me, not in the grocery store, but I was home minding our first baby and watching television, and a commercial showed a woman in this gorgeous coat, putting pink Dreft -- it was a detergent -- in the washing machine. And then leaving the house to go out wherever she was going. Oh, I thought -- oh, I would buy pink Dreft somehow. I don't know. Don't ask me how we get hooked on these fantasies, but they release us. And until we can release ourselves, maybe that's all that we have.

And until the women's movement, I found a way -- going back to school, so that I could read and have permission to do that regularly. Went back to school one day a week -- save my household money and got a babysitter; went back to school. For 11 years, I was a junior in college, afraid to finish because what would I have after school.

And when the women's movement came along, it gave me a vision of after school. And I could complete my senior year and become a teacher. That's what I thought would fit. And I did that, and I taught for years, until my children were older and our younger child was ready -- our younger daughter ready to go off to college.

And again, not consciously, but some knowledge I must have had about having the house to myself and the solitude that I'd need for writing was also around the time my mother died. I've often wondered whether that had anything to do with it. But that -- that emotional -- that hurt of my mother's death prompted me to write, and I wrote again and I wrote again and then I realized I wanted to keep doing it.

So, I cut my teaching down to part-time. And when my daughter went off to school, I was writing full-time. And I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

CORRIGAN: Who did you show those first poems to?

SHAPIRO: I went to a conference for women writers. I saw an ad -- maybe it was in Ms. magazine. I don't remember. And it was a conference in Oneonta, New York. And I guess -- and that was my first writing workshop.

Grace Paley (ph) happened to be a guest; Audrey Lord (ph) -- I mean, this is -- when you -- when you're -- I have this kind of, maybe -- I don't know what to call it, but this belief that when you're on your path, you're going down, and there -- let's say there are gates. And the gates open -- the gates -- somehow you have the key. So, the gates open.

When I decided to come to New York because I wanted a community of other writers, I -- people said: "oh, well, you just think it's easy to do that -- finding an apartment in New York" -- all of that. I bought the Village Voice and the second apartment I looked at was the sublet that I -- became mine. In every case, it's been a -- what? -- oh, a being on my gyroscope, this writing poetry when will and desire become one.

CORRIGAN: What's so striking to me about the change you made -- to realize yourself as a poet and to move to New York to be, as you say, within a community of poets, is that you managed to make that change within a marriage, which I think is especially difficult.

It seems from reading some of your poems that you thought at times that the marriage wouldn't survive that change. And one of your poems that I like a lot is called "In Greenwich Village on Halloween We Talk of Love," because it seems to wed a recollection of a scary patch in your marriage with this goofy backdrop of the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village.

Would you read that one for us?

SHAPIRO: Yes.

In Greenwich Village on Halloween
We talk of love
Dearest H
You'd have roared and carried on
Hearty laugher than you are
You would have clapped to see such happiness

A high-heeled man in a silver sheath
Threw chocolate kisses
A woman wrapped paper leaf uncurled
Became an undulating tongue of green snake
And an old man who leaned as if to kiss my cheek
Coughed gold dust in my face
All night I sparkled

But what I started to say
Before the parade got underway
Had to do with love
The way I love you
Waiting for the hoopla
I told my friend I love you as the shore, the wave

Set to marry in December
She wanted to talk of love
What we do that's lasting
I said I love your going out
And I know you're coming back
As simple as that

As putting on your robe
Don't laugh
To be a nun, parading with a book
With women friends in sisterly devotion
Always knowing there's another
A man -- you, who gives me something else
Less intensity, touch, release, fun

But weird to think of ordinary love that way
Right there on Bank where we once fought
About our first apartment
So scared we'd separate

CORRIGAN: One of the things I like so much about that poem is that it talks about old love. And by that, I don't mean the people involved are that old, but that love that's gone on for a while. And I can't think of that many poems, novels, essays that talk about love after the big "Reader, I married him" moment, you know.

SHAPIRO: Yes.

CORRIGAN: It doesn't seem to be a subject that many people have tackled in literature.

SHAPIRO: It interests me and I hope that we'll get more poems about people who have stayed together for a long period of time, whether it's old friendship, old marriage -- because people are living longer, so maybe we will.

CORRIGAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Myra Shapiro, I want to thank you so much for being my guest on FRESH AIR today.

SHAPIRO: Yes. Oh, thank you so much, Maureen.

MOSS-COANE: Myra Shapiro talked with FRESH AIR book critic Maureen Corrigan. Shapiro's first book of poetry, I'll See You Thursday, is published by Blue Sofa Press in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Marty Moss-Coane
Guest: Myra Shapiro
High: Poet Myra Shapiro talks with our Book Critic Maureen Corrigan about her life and work. Her first collection "I'll See You Thursday" was published in 1996 by Alley Press.
Spec: Poetry; Books; Authors; Myra Shapiro
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: I'll See You Thursday
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 27, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042703NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Northeast Kingdom
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

MARTY MOSS-COANE: Cheri Knight spent the first half of this decade as the bass player in the "Blood Oranges" -- an interesting, if fairly obscure, rock-pop country band based in rural Massachusetts.

Knight put out a debut solo album in 1996, but it's only on her new CD called "The Northeast Kingdom" that rock critic Ken Tucker feels she's truly come into her own. Here's a review.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "IF WISHES WERE HORSES")

CHERI KNIGHT, SINGER/MUSICIAN, SINGING: I have prayed for better days
But this is not to be
Every time I venture out
You are on all I see

Nobody remembers
That this town once was mine
I never meant to let it
Slip away

KEN TUCKER, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: The bleak sentiments that Cheri Knight embeds in the lyrics of that song, "If Wishes Were Horses," are deep-rooted ones -- skeptical about the chances of lasting love, defiant in the pursuit of it anyway. Knight spends roughly half of her year as a working, touring musician and the other half growing and selling flowers in Massachusetts.

But despite its horticultural imagery, I don't think it was only flowers she was thinking of when she wrote this prickly song "Black Eyed Susie."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BLACK EYED SUSIE")

KNIGHT, SINGING:
In a straight line
I rate the rose
I bent way over and I dug your holes
Now, I hardly remember the cold in my fingers

I hold you in my muddy hands
I dig you with my spade
I've done all a girl can do
To get you in the ground again

Now I got myself a saint
Flower in a golden robe
I am faithful
But I am stained

Black Eyed Susie
Got me working in the rain

TUCKER: You could say that as a singer, Cheri Knight is a good bass player. She has a good solid serviceable voice, often, as on that song, reminiscent of Cheryl Crow's, and at other times rather anonymous. What gives Knight's music its lift is its coiled strength resilience.

When she was playing bass and mostly keeping quiet with her previous band, the Blood Oranges, she was busy making a kind of alternative bluegrass music -- thick with irony and self-consciousness. One of the best things about this solo album is its emotional directness -- its lack of irony, even when a bluegrass mandolin creeps into this fine crack duet with Emmylou Harris called "Crawling."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "CRAWLING")

KNIGHT AND EMMYLOU HARRIS, SINGERS, SINGING:
And I am crawling
With my heart in my hands
I'd be a fool
And I'd crawl back to you
And you'd send me away

Tell me something
Have you always been so cruel?
I know I've got to do something 'bout you
But nothin's
All I can do

TUCKER: This CD was produced by Steve Earle, himself a hardy refugee from the conventionally defined marketing categories of rock and country. It's easy to hear what attracted Earle to Cheri Knight's music. It's formal hard-headedness; it's knowledge of the past. There's a whole song here about the Appalachian Hatfield and McCoy feud sung as revisionist history.

And sometimes like Steve Earle, Knight likes to just cut loose with a little rambling honkytonk.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE NORTHEAST KINGDOM")

KNIGHT, SINGING: Since you been gone
I've been leaving a light on
To make you think I'm home

Since you've been gone
I've been keeping to myself
To make you think I'm alone

Nothing to say
Man, nothin' has changed
So you pass on by

And you think I've been good
But I wandered away for the night

TUCKER: The Northeast Kingdom is one of those CDs destined to be cherished by fans already hip to its author, and praised sincerely but tepidly in reviews that probably won't result in major label attention. But maybe that's the way things should go for Knight at this point in her career anyway. Growing flowers and making music and selling them both sounds like the capitalistic version of nurturing popular art, and may result in even better hybrids in the future.

MOSS-COANE: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Ken Tucker; Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "The Northeast Kingdom" by Cheri Knight.
Spec: Music Industry; Cheri Knight; The Northeast Kingdom
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Northeast Kingdom
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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