Michigan vs. Ohio State. Montagues vs. Capulets. Dodgers vs. Giants. Cats vs. Dogs. Carolina vs. Duke. Darkness vs. light. The list of perennial archrivals goes on and on. But in the summer of 2013, Karen Given ventured to Montpelier, Vt. to witness a rivalry so bitter and all-consuming that it’s a wonder she returned to tell the tale.
This story originally aired on July 27, 2013.
Just 15 minutes before game time, the vast and serene campus green at Vermont College of Fine Arts showed no signs of the annual Writers vs. Poets softball game. There were no bats, no balls, no bases, and no players. Suddenly, Victorio Reyes stormed onto the scene.
“First of all I’m a poet,” he said.
Reyes is in his fourth semester at VCFA. Like the rest of the writing program’s 124 students, he’s only on campus twice a year for two 10 day residencies. He graduates this winter, so this was his last chance to lead the poets to victory.
“There’s two things,” Reyes continued. “One: the United States invests way too much money in sports and too much emotion, okay? That’s the first thing. The second thing? This game is life or death. That’s all you need to know.”
The prose always wins. Always. The poets are just a bunch of…alliterists.
“We might have 50 people in the outfield. It’s just kinda an informal, crazy game.”
“Eventually, will there be bases?” I asked.
“There will be bases, yes,” Crowley said. “There will be bases, there will be a batter, there will be a catcher, you know. But other than that, it’s just sort of a free flowing, everything goes.”
Well, almost everything goes.
“We kinda can’t let it go on for 15 innings,” Crowley said.
The annual game has to be over in time for dinner. After dinner, there’s a reading, and then hours of painstaking writing and re-writing before workshops begin again early tomorrow morning.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever been willing to let it end in a tie, though. Maybe somebody reads a poem and a piece of prose and they decide which is better, I don’t know. You may hear some poetry reading out here in the midst of the game.”
Faculty members are encouraged to play. Previously on the roster: at least one Pulitzer Prize winner and the Poet Laureate of Vermont. But poetry instructor Matthew Dickman had a preexisting injury this time around, so his job was to provide inspiration—of the negative variety.
“Whenever a fiction writer gets to bat, a student, I’m going to sit behind them and talk about how difficult it is to get published,” Dickman said. “How they’ll probably just go back to working wherever they work and their dreams will come to an end. And I’m also going to tell them, I’m not joking around, I kind of hate you. You know?”
The writers were taking a more positive approach.
“Oh, the prose, the prose always wins. Always,” said Connie May Fowler, who describes herself as a novelist, essayist, screenwriter and VCFA faculty member.
“The poets are just a bunch of..alliterists,” she joked.
The prose writers fell behind early, but Fowler stood at the sidelines, assured her team had the tenacity to pull out a victory.
“I mean, we sit for hours and hours and hours to produce one page and they, you know, just sit around and write a couple of lines and call it a poem.”
Most of the pitches didn’t make it over home plate…and home plate wasn’t so much a plate, it was the catcher’s chest protector laying on the ground where home plate should have been.
Every once in a while, the pitcher lobbed in a good one and the batter managed a hit—usually a pop fly that floated over the outfield. And, although the number of outfielders had ballooned to at least a dozen, every single one of those pop flies dropped to the grass.
By the top of the second inning, a total of 16 runs had been scored.
The game began under sunny skies, but just 30 minutes later, storm clouds had gathered. The players were undeterred by showers, but lightning finally forced the teams from the field in the fourth with the poets ahead, 12-6.
It was their first victory in years, and no one was happier than co-captain Victorio Reyes.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Since last year, we’ve been training nonstop for this game. Or talking about training. Or…”
“Writing poetry about training?” I suggest.
“Right. Actually, we didn’t train at all. But the point is my life is fulfilled,” Reyes says. “That’s it, I’m happy.”
Reyes might have been happy, but I wasn’t. The game had ended with nary a soliloquy. No one had hurled a haiku or lobbed a limerick.
“Okay, well, I think in honor of this victory, I will recite Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes,” Reyes offered.
And, as the writers and the poets and the dozens of bystanders ran quickly for cover, Victorio Reyes braved the rain to make sure at least one of my dreams came true.