Tom Smario is among the most interesting people you'll ever meet. By
day, he works as a casting technician in a Portland area hospital. By
night, he works corners as a cut man in local fight venues. In between,
he writes poetry, having authored a number of books, including "Notes of
A Cornerman", a boxing anthology due to hit the stands in mid-October.
In this interview, I talk to Tom about how he got started in boxing, how he
got started writing poetry, and how he managed to combine the two.
Interspersed throughout is a sneak preview of some of the poems from
"Notes of a Cornerman." If you read along, I venture you'll
like Tom as much as I do, and, I further venture, you'll go out and buy his
Eric: Maybe we could start off with you giving me a little background on
yourself, where you grew up and so forth.
Tom: Well, I grew up in Hayward, California. That's where I got
interested in boxing, in the Bay Area. I came to Portland, Oregon in
Eric: What brought you to Portland?
Tom: [Laughs] Oh, I was young and I needed to get away. I
was 24. And so, I had come through Portland one time to see my brother
who was up at Fort Lewis in Washington and I thought Portland was a
good-looking town. So I came up here and things just clicked. I
came up with my dog and lived out of my van for six months. Then,
through a friend, I got a job at Good Samaritan Hospital, things just rolled
along from there.
Eric: And now you're a casting technician, right?
Tom: Right. I'm at Kaiser Hospital. I've been working there
for about 22 years as an "orthopedic technician". That means I
put casts on broken bones, among other things.
Eric: Did you have to undergo much training before you started working?
Tom: I learned the skills on the job, to be honest with you. I was
with my hands and I just kind of taught myself to do it. [Laughs]
Eric: How did you get interested in boxing originally?
Tom: Well, I was interested in boxing, my God, from the time I was about seven
years old, when they used to have the Friday night fights on. I used to
watch them with my dad. And I can remember, I can remember fights way
back with Dick Geiger and Gene Fullmer, and then I got interested in Jack
Dempsey. I remember about the same time I started reading, I really got
interested in reading about the old-time fighters. Really, I was a
boxing fanatic from the time I was a little kid. My father liked boxing
and I got into it probably from him.
When I was a young, I used to go to the Oakland auditorium to watch the
fights. And the first person I was ever really a fan of was a fighter
named Jimmy Lester. He was a middleweight out of Hunters Point, San
Francisco. My poem "The Fight of the Year" is about Lester and Andy
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Working out at the New Oakland
Boxing Gym, Andy Heilman was doing
sit-ups. Forty-four, forty-five
forty-six his trainer holding his
feet was calling out the numbers.
In the corner a boxer named Snakebite
was cracking jokes on the heavy bag
which wasn't laughing. Dick Sadler
was talking to a fifteen year old kid
who wouldn't leave him alone while he
watched Charlie Shipes hit the speed
bag. Charlie was pure class. Hugging
the heavy bag, Freddie Root was laughing
at something Nate Collins said. Across
the bay, in San Francisco, Jimmy Lester
was becoming more vicious than ever.
The Oakland Auditorium reeked with cigar
smoke mixed with farts and the body odors
of various cultures sitting side-by-side
not by choice but by seat number. So many
of the greats fought there their souls
linger in the dressing rooms and shadow
box in the hallways. In the cheap seats
were kids like myself, delirious with
magic, crazy with dreams and jacked up
on adrenalin. In this corner, from Fargo,
North Dakota is Andy Heilman, Heilman!
the ring announcer bawled. My brother
and father clapped and were lost in the
ovation. And in this corner, from Hunters
Point, San Francisco is Jimmy Lester, Lester!
and the crowd roared and screamed and I screamed
along with them.
* * *
Heilman, a cowboy had fought bulls
in taverns across the Northwest and Plains.
Heilman fought in places so lonely nobody
saw the fight. He had the body language
of a sonofabitch and the muscle structure
of stubborn men who worked sun-up to sundown
bailing hay. Not showy, mind you, but strong.
Jimmy Lester was born for it. Strictly
carnivorous, a predator he could actually
summon the rage of the ghetto and channel
it into the fury of his fists. The chemistry
of his disposition sustained blazing electrons
of anger. Jimmy Lester was the definition of
a bad motherfucker.
* * * *
The first canto exploded like a race riot.
Any fight between a Black man and a White man
can. Both guys brought their armies along with
the artillery of muscle and emotion. Sportsmanship
was abandoned. You could hear cannons going off
and ribs crying out in agony. Only the timekeeper
was in control. Both men became demented with
the orgasmic intensity of the moment. Scuffles
broke out in the crowd. The entire place became
one big fight. Everybody hit somebody and some
people slugged themselves. Heilman threw punches
like a claustrophobic madman with a baseball bat.
Lester fought like Lester was. A man swinging
an axe in wide arcs and roundhouses that tear
meat from the bone.
* * * * *
For ten rounds or ten years or all the time
in the world they could not come to terms.
The judges called it a draw. A wise move.
Regardless of the strategy plotted before the
bout or in the minute between rounds they
remained locked in a bloody street brawl
held with cables covered with soft green
velvet. A civil war among people sanctioned
by the state. They were not two men, two
boxers, they were generations of men with
a history of lousy relations that hated
each other for whatever reasons. Now Lester,
now Heilman tried to kill the other. Damn
sure did. Neither won or lost, nor were
they ever the same men again. ]
Lester was the first fighter whom I ever saw in person when I just said,
"man, I'm a fan." I never missed a Jimmy Lester fight. I
believe he was
rated number one or number two for a while there in the early 1960s. He
was a real rough, rugged guy.
Eric: So, how was it that you started working as a cut man?
Through the hospital somehow?
Tom: No, actually. The first corner I ever worked was when I was
going to Laney College in Oakland. At the time, I was working as a
teacher's aid at the San Quentin Penitentiary.
Eric: No kidding?
Tom: I became friends with a guy in one of my classes at Laney by the name of
Fred Root. It turned out, Freddy was the former middleweight champion of
California. Anyway, I learned Freddy and a couple other local fighters
were boxing an exhibition against some of the inmates up in San Quentin,
which, like I said, also happened to be where I worked. We got to
talking and Freddy asked me to work his corner, which I was happy to do.
And, it just so happened that Nate Collins was also on the card. Nobody
remembers him anymore, but, at the time, Nate had just come off of a big win
over Andy Heilman and was rated probably number two or three in the world, I
believe. Nate needed a cornerman that night, too, as it turned out, so I
ended up working both corners. And, from then on, I was hooked on
And, the inmates didn't do too bad, I might add. Not bad at all.
I recall sitting there watching Nate Collins wrap his hands and in walks a guy
who introduces himself as Baby Cassius. Now, I don't know if that was
his name or not.
Eric: [Laughs] That's a pretty ambitious name.
Tom: And so he proceeds to kind of tell Nate, in a very nice manner,
"You know, I'm a very big fan of yours and I'm going to be boxing
you". Then he says, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't make me
look too bad in front of all these guys, because I gotta live with them."
Nate was feeling pretty confident because, after all, he was a ranked
contender and this guy was, at best, a decent amateur. [Laughs] So
Nate says "okay, I'll take it easy on you, you bet brother".
Then, when the bell rang, "Baby Cassius" came out and really did a
number on him.
Eric: Set him up.
Tom: Yeah, he kind of conned him a little bit. Nate came back from
the first round and said "Take it easy, hell!" After that, he
did a little
So, those were the first corners I ever worked, with Freddy Root and Nate
Eric: What year was that?
Tom: Let's see, that would have been about 1971.
Eric: So you were, what, only 21 years old at the time?
Eric: Out of curiosity, what does a teacher's aid do at a place like San
Quentin? Help inmates get their high school diplomas and things like
Tom: Exactly, same thing a teacher's aid does any place else.
Eric: Let's switch gears a bit. When did you get started writing poetry?
Tom: You know, I started writing poetry when I was very young. The first
time I got interested in poetry, I was a senior in high school and I was
sitting next to a girl who was reading a book, and I asked her what she was
reading. She gave it to me and it was a copy of Coney Island of the
Mind, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I read it, and, really, from that point
on, I never stopped writing poetry. I had to write poetry. I had
Eric: Struck a cord in you?
Tom: It did. I didn't have a choice after that because, really, that
book changed the way I viewed the world. So, I started writing poetry in
1968 when I was 18. And, by then, I had been a long-time boxing fan of
Eric: Boxing and poetry was a natural marriage for you then.
Tom: It was. It was.
Eric: Did you take any poetry classes at Laney or at any of the other
schools you attended?
Tom: I took a poetry class at Chabot College once, but I never took any at
Laney. But, I read a lot of poetry. I went to poetry readings and,
course, living in the Bay Area in those days, there were plenty of
opportunities to do that. You could go to Berkeley or San Francisco
practically every night.
Eric: I imagine it's fairly unusual for people to leave San Quentin and
walk over to a poetry reading on the same day.
Tom: Well, that's true. Although, there are a lot of good poets in
Quentin too. You'd be surprised.
Eric: That would surprise me, alright, but I'll take your word for it.
When you got up to Portland, you hooked up with the fight community up there
somehow. How did that happen? Through Nate Collins or Freddy Root?
Tom: Actually, I hooked up with the fight community here because I went to an
autograph party for Katherine Dunn. Katherine and I had been friends
long before that, but I went to an autograph party for her and I met Mike
Morton. Mike Morton is a boxing manager here in town.
Eric: You call him "Mike Motor Mouth Morton" in one of your poems.
"Back at the hotel
Mike Motormouth Morton
is running on high octane.
Manager, humanitarian and fanatic
with the heart of a sucker
and the soul of a saint." -- from The Manilla Mauler at the Blue
Tom: [Laughs] Right. I started talking to Mike Morton, I
believe it was
about fighters in the Bay Area. And I had recently written a poem called
"Fight of the Year", and I had asked him if I could send it to him,
and he said "sure". So, I sent him the poem and he loved it.
Then, we made an appointment to meet after that, and I told him, I said,
"You know, I really should be a cut man." I said,
"Really, it's my destiny, I have always been meant to do this and I would
be great at it." And basically, that's what happened - he said,
"Well, let's give it a try."
At that time, Mike was managing a fighter named Andy Minsker. And so, I
kind of started working a little bit with Andy Minsker.
Eric: Is that the guy you said in one of your poems was the closest
thing to Willie Pep, or .
Tom: "Prettiest fighter I ever saw"? Yes, that was a
featherweight named Andy Minsker. Oh, Andy was beautiful. Andy was
beautiful to watch.
THE MYSTERY OF WHITE FIGHTERS
It is 1997 and I have
been studying the Sweet Science
for 37 years and listening to all
the fancy so-called boxing experts
and bullshit sociologists that
hypothesize over their beer & coffee
about who was the greatest heavyweight
of all time and modern boxers versus the
old timers or the mystery of white fighters.
Why is it that a white guy can't move
like Ali, Leonard or Ismael Laguna. Blacks
are artists in the ring and whites are
generally sluggers and muggers. Consider
a ballerina and a cowboy. It isn't pretty
but sometimes it works. Remember Marciano?
Ask Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta or Gene Fullmer.
Don't ask Gerry Cooney. My friends ask me
Why can't a white guy dance and jab and pop
pop, pop and move and punch with rhythm. Maybe
they're born without tendons, without music.
Those Dagos, they've got a lot of heart
and Mexicans, you can't kill a Mexican with
an axe, but those Black fighters, where do they
get all those muscles? Remember Dick Tiger?
Emile Griffith, Reuben Carter. Panthers.
They move lithe, they slither wet. They bite
your head off! Ray Robinson! Look out!
Oh sure, we had Willie Pep and next to him
the prettiest white fighter I ever saw was a
featherweight named Andy Minsker. But usually
whites fight dog style. Pit-bulls, mutts
Dobermans, you name it. Straight ahead with
ego, guts, and determination. Relentless. They
can't dance, snake-lick or hand-jive
like Ali or Laguna and they aren't
pretty, you dont want to kiss them
but all fighting dogs chase cats,
panthers or otherwise by instinct
dogs hate cats. Ray Robinson, look out!
Anyway, I worked with Andy Minsker a little bit in the corner for one or two
fights. And then I think it really took off when I hooked up after
with a fighter named Clayton Hires. And, Clayton Hires probably taught
me more about boxing than anybody. Clayton, trust me, didn't need a
trainer for crying out loud. Clayton forgot more than most trainers
Eric: How big was he?
Tom: He was a junior middleweight. I worked with Clayton for four or
five fights and we became very close friends. I learned an awful lot
Eric: How did you learn to be a cut man specifically as opposed to a
cornerman, from your work at the hospital?
Tom: Exactly, I worked in a hospital. So, you know, you see a lot of
blood. In fact, I worked in the emergency room, where you really see a lot of
blood. Sometimes I worked up in surgery too. You see a lot of
blood and you ask people, doctors, how to stop blood. That's what you
I mean, also, when I would watch the fights, when they would do a close
up on a corner, I would always watch very closely what went on. Every
corner I'd see, I'd just kind of mentally take notes. Watch and watch.
So, I kind of learned that way.
Eric: Are you currently doing a lot of cut man work right at the moment?
Tom: At the moment, yes, I'm working with three fighters. In fact, I'm
training a fighter named Saul Hernandez.
Eric: Oh, I didn't realize that you are also a trainer.
Tom: Well, not, not in the sense that a great trainer is a trainer. But,
when there's nobody else around, I'll hold the mitts for him and think like
that. How's that?
Eric: Makes sense.
Tom: But, I don't consider myself a trainer. No.
Eric: Well, now let's talk about your latest book, Notes of a Corner Man.
I just finished reading it and I loved it. Truly, it was just, I
terrific. I particularly liked the poem in which you talk about the
cut that appears on your fighter's .
Tom: Oh, that was Notes of a Corner Man, the title poem.
NOTES OF A CORNERMAN
(Miguel Arrozal versus Eloy Rojas
for the Featherweight Championship
of the world)
My God man, I'm giving him water,
rinsing his mouthpiece and trying
to keep the swelling out of his face.
Man, give me some help here! I can't
do it all! Keep the cameraman, inspector,
referee out of my way! I've got work to do.
I use my endswells on the right eye from the
first round on. A Rojas head butt perfectly
placed raises an ugly mouse under it.
Orlando, trainer, father and overly
emotional forgets his job. So I put
endswell on the eye and try to push
the swelling out. I put Thrombin on
the scrapes on his cheeks then Vaseline
and give Miguel some water to rinse
his mouth out. This in about 45 seconds.
Between rounds I'm talking to myself
but I'm together and organized and
watching the fight while I prepare
for the one precious minute. A recess
from Hell, then the buzzer sounds and
the referee screams seconds out and
I work the three minutes in between.
Miguel attacks and Rojas retreats
for the first six rounds. Miguel,
my friend, little brother, hits the
champion with shots that would bring small
countries down. Rojas, from South of the
border caught them on his elbows and forearms
and on his forehead and face as well.
Rojas caught a lot for six hot rounds.
The champion, his knees buckled three
times and his legs looked like rubber
that was heated. Like Gumby in a frying
pan but still poised and talented.
Miguel Arrozal from the Philippines,
gladiator, burned like a Roman Candle.
He fired straight and roundhouse missiles
and right hands that hurt before they
landed. It hurt watching them. I loved
watching them! He figured he could
knock him out. Figured nobody could
take shots like these. But energy
is spent by the second and what you
have is all there is. Punches require
fuel like bullets use gun powder and
Miguel was burning his up. First the legs
go, then the hands start to come down.
Seventh round comes and Eloy Rojas,
Champion Of The World is still there.
By God, the man had a beautiful defense.
The classic style of elbows tight
against the body and chin tucked under
the left shoulder. Lanky but muscular
and graceful. Reminded me of Alexis
Arguello. Killer with class. Mindset
His jab became like the tongue
of a serpent that licked the eyelids
of Miguel and infected them with South
American poison. Between the head butts,
elbows and snake bites his left eye
swelled completely shut and the right,
with lots of coaxing from me remained
open. The scrapes quit bleeding but
the swelling, his Asian face with its
bony structure and high cheekbones wanted
to balloon up but I wouldn't let it.
Rojas had poison but I had a few Dago
tricks of my own.
Eight, nine, ten. Now the rounds belong
to the champion. Championship rounds.
His punches are more vicious now and he
controls the tempo. A Latin beat to the
imaginary music in his head. He lands
more often and harder. The Roman Candle
is burning out. Still dangerous but fading.
Flickering. Rojas is damn near handsome now.
Everything he does is beautiful. His hair
still looks combed.
I figured its anybodys fight
on the scorecards. Suddenly Miguel
gets a cut above his right eye!
A huge, ugly, gaping gash under
the eyebrow! It's bleeding like
crazy! Oh my God I say to myself,
get a hold of yourself! The blood
is streaming down his face and forming
pools on his chest and leaving droplets
on the floor. Before he sits down,
before the bell was through ringing
I was in the corner waiting for him.
I put PRESSURE on it, then a bit of this
and some of that. It's all legal.
Everything I need, I have it between
my fingers. I concentrate and control.
We dont talk. I work without words
while his father talks to him.
Never in history does a minute go faster
than in the corner of a fight for
the championship of the world when
you are trying to keep a cut from bleeding.
A bad cut! Millions of people watching
on television in countless countries.
Featherweight Championship Of The World!
I've got one minute of a mans destiny
in my hands. His purpose at the tips
of my fingers and I love this guy. We've
spent thousands of hours working and
dreaming of this. So here we are and
now it's in my hands. These strong,
stubby, delicate fingers of mine!
I pray and God hears me. I've still got
PRESSURE on. Pressure is everything!
The buzzer sounds, I put Aquaphor on the cut
and Miguel who never felt a thing jumped
off his stool with a dry cut and the look
of a madman in the one eye that was still
The next two rounds come and go. The
final bell tolls. The bell tolls and tolls.
Miguel, gladiator is glowing with respect,
his face bruised, bloody and swollen.
He's on one side of the referee and Rojas
was on the other. The referee holds the
arm of each one of them. He is ready to
raise whichever arm belongs to the winner.
Then the announcer, Jimmy Lennon Jr.
takes the metallic microphone. He
holds it in his hand like a bouquet
of roses. Suddenly the pandemonium
stops and the place goes quiet. I
hear the ice clink in the guys
drink behind me. The winner and
STILL champion, Eloy Rojas! Ahhhhhhhh!
I can't believe it! In my mind we
have won! In my heart, my heart!
Crazy! The crowd booed and booed.
Mike Tyson sitting at ringside
shakes his head. Thomas Hearns
sitting behind him shakes his.
I reached up and overcome with emotion
grabbed Don King by the lapel of his
expensive tuxedo, pulled his massive
face down to mine, looked into his eyes
and said did we lose that fight, huh,
did we, look at me Don and tell me that
we actually LOST that fight! He did.
He said, Miguel put up a hell of a fight
but he didn't win. We didn't lose, but
we didn't win either. A dream to wake
up from. Our dream, our dream and our
hearts are broken. We went back to
the dressing room and cried. Miguel
Eric: Right, the poem really captures the feeling, the sort of aura that
surrounds a tense, thrilling fight. It really makes the reader
the "intensity" of the event. I could almost see it.
Tom: Thanks. It was, it was an exciting fight. You know, Miguel
such a great fight, and he was such a great fighter and such a fine guy.
Miguel and I became very close over the years, working together and so that
fight meant an awful lot to me.
Eric: What ever happened to him?
Tom: Well, unfortunately, Miguel is still fighting. Just fought the
day, against somebody, whose name I can't remember; got stopped.
Eric: He was something else when he was younger, though.
Tom: He sure was. I'll tell you, he was a strong person. He was
exciting and, when he was on, he was a hard guy to stand in front of.
Eric: I also enjoyed your poem about the Ali-Holmes fight. I saw that
one on closed circuit at the Forum in Inglewood with my dad and uncle.
It was among the most depressing sporting events I ever saw, and your poem
really captured the general "gloom" of the moment, I thought.
THE LAST HURRAH
He grew old
like most of us
and like most of us
it damn near killed him
to admit it. Here he was,
God forbid, middle-aged
destroying the last of our
allusions. It was the end
of the tenth round against
Larry Holmes and they had him
propped up in his corner like
Joe Louis propped up in his
wheelchair. He sat there a
tired beaten old man with
Bundini Brown bawling his
eyes out and Angelo Dundee
who looked sorry to be part
of it. Muhammed Ali sat there
as sad and pathetic as some
of those bums he used to
annihilate three or five
or ten at a time back in
1966 when he was the greatest
athlete in the world. He
used to lead cheers for
himself between rounds and
predict when his opponents
would fall. And they'd fall.
But this wasn't 1966 and they
had him propped up like Joe Louis
in his wheelchair.
Tom: Yes it was. That was a real, that was a very depressing evening.
Eric: When I read that, I thought, you know, I could try a hundred years and I
could never sum it up that well. But that's why you're the poet.
That was a great image - Ali as this shadow of a beaten fighter who is slumped
up against this corner.
Eric: One of the other poems you wrote that I liked a lot was the little jab
you took at the American Medical Association. Or, "left hook"
I think it was?
A LEFT HOOK TO THE A.M.A
In the poverty of the ghettos
in every major American city
boxers are in gyms banging
away at real and imagined
opponents. Not just speed
bags and sparring partners.
The real opponents are loss
of pride and sense of worth.
The circumstances they were
born into and the struggle
to survive and provide and
keep the dream of a future
alive. They labor and the
craft of violence carves
men of stone from the granite
of despair. They climb mountains
in a square twenty-four by twenty-
four. It beats unemployment all
to hell. Across town, the A.M.A.
with their Ferraris and foolhardy
little nurses are calling for a ban
on the sport. As they loiter in
their egos and analyze our bacteria
they issue statements and press
releases about how cruel the sport
of boxing is. The self proclaimed
archangels of America have killed
more people with bad surgeons than
Pol Pot in a bad mood. They like
to feel important.
Tom: [Laughs] Well, you know, doctors live by double standards I think.
Not always, but too often. Boxing, regardless of what it looks like, is
not really brutal. A lot of doctors don't understand a lot of what goes
on and there are a lot more dangerous things in this world than boxing that
doctors never say a thing about. But it, it gets, you know, it gets real
stylish and trendy to jump on the ban boxing band wagon, and, you know, it's
something that doctors have done.
Eric: Personally, I believe if you want to do something, then do it.
Unless you're hurting somebody else then that's your business and that's not
something in which the government ought to be getting involved.
Tom: Well, that's right, I've never viewed boxing as this brutal spectacle.
I've always viewed it as more poetic. It's a chess game, it's a dance.
But, the average person looks at it like two thugs beating each other up in
the street corner and that's just not the case. That's absolutely not
Eric: I think your book makes that point very well. As I'm talking to
I'm flipping through some of the poems I highlighted, the one's I enjoyed the
most. The two you wrote on the Leonard/Duran rematch, I thought, not
only were they funny, but they were dead-on accurate. I loved the line:
"Leonard ate a Panamanian for breakfast."
I sat there in my
twenty dollar seat
as taut as a bowstring
and covered with gooseflesh
every time Ray Leonard
with dizzying speed ran
and jabbed and teased
the great lightweight
deprived of his pride
and power, his ritual
assassination stood there
bound and frustrated like
a dog tied to a fence
howling and straining
against his chain.
LEONARD / DURAN II
Seven jabs in a row,
two perfect left hooks
followed by a silly bolo
and Ray Leonard acting
and dancing around like
a clown turned his fight
with Roberto Duran into
The entire bout reminded
me of chicken soup, or
anything good to eat
like soul food or ham
Sugar Ray Robinson
actually drank blood
before his fights
and Sonny Liston
drank booze. Ray
Leonard ate a Panamanian
Tom: I kind of liked that line myself. "Leonard ate a Panamanian
breakfast." And that's what happened too.
Eric: No question. And also the image of Duran howling and
against his chain, not being able to get his hands on Leonard, was, I
thought, very appropriate. Were you at that fight?
Tom: I was watching that fight on closed circuit. Those were exciting
fights, weren't they?
Eric: Absolutely. I watched them both on closed circuit too, with my dad
and uncle. I was about 15 or 16 at the time. I was at the Long
Beach Convention Center for the first fight and I was at the Forum in
Inglewood for the rematch.
Tom: Oooh. You were around some good crowds then.
Eric: Definitely. It was funny too, I'll tell you, it seemed to me that
fans were divided strictly along ethnic lines as to who they were rooting
Tom: Yes they were. I was in San Francisco, watching on closed circuit
the first Leonard/Duran fight, the one that Duran won. That was very
exciting. Just being in this building with this whole mix of people was, it
was incredible. The whole Latin crowd was delirious and, everybody was
delirious of course. I found that very exciting.
Eric: It makes for a more entertaining evening. You get the feel, the
ambiance much more than when you're sitting in your living room with your wife
Tom: [Laughs] Oh, I thought that was one of, you know, every once in a
while, I think, you see a fighter who is unbeatable. Not often, but I
thought the night that Duran fought Leonard the first time, he was
Eric: He didn't do anything wrong.
Tom: He wasn't going to lose, there was no way in the world that he was going
to be deprived. No matter what Leonard did, this man was not going to be
deprived. I think that was one of the few times I ever thought I saw a
fighter who simply could not be stopped.
Eric: And Leonard did not give it up either. I mean, he .
Tom: Oh no, Leonard, oh no, Leonard doesn't have any dog in him. Oh no,
I don't take anything away from Leonard, it's just to me, that was Duran's
Eric: It was. You could see it. Every muscle flexed, he was on his
the whole fight, and he was really concentrating. He wanted that win.
Tom: The jungle came out of him.
Eric: By the way, who are the fighters these days whom you like the most?
Tom: Shane Moseley right now is one of my favorites. I also happen to be
a fan of Marcos Antonio Barrera. I think he is a great fighter. I
think he got robbed, of course, against Erik Morales.
Eric: Yeah, he did, but Morales put up a great fight too.
Tom: Well, Morales is a great fighter. My God, I'm not taking anything
away from him, it's just that I thought that Barrera did enough to win.
So, he's another one that I think a lot of. I like Johnny Tapia. I
think Johnny Tapia is exciting.
Eric: I gather that you were a pretty big Joe Louis fan?
IMAGINE FIGHTING JOE LOUIS
A violent gust
of wind whistles
past your chin
and for a split
second you relax
before the next
punch which you
never see catches
you as precise
as a needle full
of Sodium Pentothal
moments before surgery
which leaves you
you can't hear
or see or smell
and before you
fall you never
realize you've wet
all over yourself.
Tom: Oh, yeah. Joe Louis, to me, was the ultimate American hero.
Joe Louis was the first truly Black American hero whom people of all races
Eric: Hmm. I never looked at it that way before.
Tom: Before Jackie Robinson, there was only Joe Louis. I mean, Jesse
Owens may have come along a year or two before Joe really became big, but he
didn't unite the whole country behind him the way Joe did. And, besides,
Owens just ran a race that lasted ten seconds.
So, Louis was really the first Black American hero. And, I think that,
far as a fighter, he was, I hate to get into the argument of who was the
greatest heavyweight, but, I don't know, it's between Joe Louis and Muhammad
Ali. I think it's a toss up if you judge them according to their time.
Eric: You could make an argument for either one in my opinion. No
question. I'd personally throw Jack Dempsey into the mix there as well,
but I guess that's not the majority opinion anymore.
Tom: Well, absolutely. And, if Ali would have fought Dempsey back
in 1920, it would have been interesting, wouldn't it?
Eric: Yeah, I think it would have been.
Eric: Now, you've had several other poetry books published besides "Notes
of A Cornerman", is that right?
Other books by Tom Smario:
The Soles of My Shoes (1975)
Luckynuts & Real People (1979)
The Cat's Pajamas (1982)
Spring Fever (1985)
Tom: That's right. Again, I've always written poetry, I've never stopped
writing poetry and I never stopped publishing poetry. So, I've had, I
don't know, I've lost count, how many poems I've had published in magazines
and anthologies. So, I was publishing books even before I was working
the corner. You know, the "The Soles Of My Shoes" came out in 1975
and that was done by a publisher named Gosh Medial, which was a group of
artists here in Portland.
Eric: Oh, so these aren't, obviously they are not all poems about boxing?
Tom: Oh no, "Notes of a Cornerman" is the only boxing anthology, but
it's my baby. It's, it's my masterpiece.
Eric: It sure is.
Tom: I'm in love with this book.
Eric: I don't think you'll be alone. Is this a collection of boxing
that you have written over the years, or did you write them all for this
Tom: I actually started writing boxing poems about 1979. I wrote
Greatest." So actually, this is, you know, this book has been in
the works for a lot of years. I started with "The Greatest" in
1979 and then from then on I have written more and more boxing poems. I
have a lot more than this actually.
Eric: Have you gotten any response from the critics?
Tom: The only response I've gotten from people thus far, has been, responses
like yours, people love it.
Eric: Yeah, I'll tell you, I couldn't express more strongly how much I
enjoyed reading it.
Tom: Well good, I'm happy about that. We'll see what the critics say
after it's published, but I try not to listen to them anyway.
Eric: [Laughs] That probably makes sense. Well, Tom, I
appreciate your time in giving me this interview. I enjoyed meeting you
and I enjoyed reading your book a great deal. I will recommend it
wholeheartedly and without reservation. You have a ton of talent.
Tom: Hey, my pleasure, buddy.
To receive a copy of "Notes of a Cornerman" send $10.00 plus $1.00
for shipping and handling to:
P.O. Box 82582
Portland, Oregon 97282-0582
It is also available on line through www.amazon.com]
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