Source: Brian Auer/Flickr

In honor of the 52nd annual United States Handball Association Championship held in Coney Island, a classic poem of Brighton Beach’s handball sensation Irving Feldman was posted on the World Players of Handball Message Board. Here’s the first stanza:

And then the blue world daring onward
discovers them, the aging, oiled and
well-bronzed sons of immigrants,
the handball players of the new world
on Brooklyn’s bright eroding shore
who quarrel, who shove, who shout
themselves hoarse, who block and don’t
get out of the way, who grab for odds,
hustle a handicap, all crust,
all bluster, all con and gusto all
on strutting show, tumultuous, blaring,
grunting as they lunge. True,
their manners lack grandeur, and
yes, elsewhere under the sun legs
are less bowed, bellies are less
potted, pates less bald or blanched,
backs less burned, less hairy.

The championships were held in People’s Playground on August 5, where 119 people from across the country gathered to play and watch fierce games of one-wall handball. Although the sport is less popular now, it was widely played in the 1950s, during the life of Feldman.

Feldman played at an old beach club in Brighton Beach during the mid-1900s, which featured more than 20 outdoor courts. His poem “The Handball Player at Brighton Beach,” depicts Handball’s Golden Age, a time during which one-wall handball was frequently played in parks and playgrounds across America.

Feldman’s poem describes his journey down to Brighton Beach where he encountered wild and muscular handball players. His adjectives and intense, detailed descriptions pull the readers into the scene, allowing them to sense what the sport of handball was like at its prime.

Click here to read the full text of the poem.

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  • Linede

    well that’s a good poem about sports. 

  • Flefty

    Glad to see my poem, but, hey, I’m still here. I played only on the Coney Island courts, but was a frequent visitor to the B.B. matches in the 70s and 80s when I visited my parents on West 5th Street. I wrote the poem in 1974 and, because it was published in The New Yorker magazine, the local players knew it and even used one if its phrases, “handball heroes.”

    Irving Feldman

    Here is the entire poem (without the errors caused by copying).

     

    THE HANDBALL
    PLAYERS AT

    BRIGHTON BEACH

     

    To David Ritz

     

    And then the
    blue world daring onward

    discovers them,
    the indigenes, aging,

    oiled, and
    bronzing sons of immigrants,

    the handball
    players of the new world

    on Brooklyn’s
    bright eroding shore

    who yawp, who
    quarrel, who shove,

    who shout
    themselves hoarse, don’t

    get out of the
    way, grab for odds,

    hustle a
    handicap, all crust,

    all bluster,
    all con and gusto all

    on show,
    tumultuous, blaring,

    grunting as
    they lunge. True,

    their manners
    lack grandeur, and

    yes, elsewhere
    under the sun legs

    are less bowed,
    bellies are less

    potted, pates
    less bald or blanched,

    backs less
    burned, less hairy.

                                   So?

    So what! the
    sun does not snub,

    does not
    overlook them, shines,

     

    and the fair
    day flares,

    the blue
    universe booms and blooms,

    the sea-space,
    the summer high, focuses

    its great
    unclouded scope in ecstatic

    perspection — and you see it, too,

    at the edge of
    the crowd, edge of the sea,

    between
    multitudes and immensity:

    from gray
    cement ball courts under

    the borough’s
    sycamores’ golden boughs,

    against the
    odds in pure speculation

    Brighton’s
    handball heroes leap up half

    a step toward
    heaven in burgundy, blue,

    or buttercup
    bathing trunks, in black

    sneakers still
    stylish after forty years,

    in pigskin
    gloves buckled at the wrist,

    to keep the
    ball alive, the sun up,

    the eye open,
    the air ardent,

    festive, clear,
    crowded with delight.

     

    • Flefty

      Sorry for the way the post have garbled the poem