The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” is a short poem in free verse, its one-dozen lines divided into three unequal stanzas, forming an argument with two premises and an inescapable conclusion. The title of the poem both identifies the poem’s locale and suggests the cyclical, seasonal, almost ritual quality of the football game which is the poem’s central focus. In the bleak industrial Midwest of James Wright’s poetry, the stylized violence of the gridiron takes the place of the traditional harvest festival celebrated by more peaceful, agrarian folk.

Wright wrote “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” in the first person, and it is typical of many poems that he wrote, not behind the mask of a fictional persona, but in his own passionate voice. Wright was an advocate for both the confessional style and the poetry of personality, which were in vogue in the 1960’s. It is quite logical, therefore, to identify the speaker of this poem with Wright himself, especially since Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, and grew up in that working-class community watching his father and others being brutalized by grueling factory work.

The first stanza of “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” takes place in the Shreve High football stadium, where the first game of the season teases Wright “out of thought,” much as John Keats is put into a reverie by his famous Grecian urn. As he sits in the stadium and observes the men around him,...

(The entire section is 472 words.)