Tuesday, April 1, 2014

National Poetry Month—Let's Hit Some Baseball Poems Out of the Park

Marianne Moore revels in the moment as she throws out the First Pitch of the NY Yankee's  1968 home opener.

It’s National Poetry Month Again!  If you have been visiting here for a while, you know what that means.  If you are new, here’s the scoop.  Every day all month I will feature poets and their poems.  I aim to be as broad and inclusive as possible to style, subject, period, gender, race, and neglected voices.  I don’t want just a parade of the usual dead white men, but a lot of them did write some damn fine poetry, so they have their place here to.  As always, selections follow my own tastes and whimsy.  Yours may be different.  But I am open to—eager for—suggestions, especially for contemporary writers.  I do not subscribe to dozen of little magazines or prowl the internet for poetry posts.  I often only stumble on new and unknown poets and I am sure I miss some great stuff.  Please feel free to turn me on to some—or be bold and submit your own.  I don’t and can’t promise to use everything.
Since this is also Major League Baseball opening week, I thought we’d kick things off with a few poets take on the beloved national past time.  Poetry doesn’t always have to be hearts and flowers or deep and heavy.  Sometimes it plays!
Let’s start with the second most famous baseball poem.  The first, of course, is Ernest Thayer’s Casey at the Bat, written in 1888.  But I’ve posted that one in previous years.  Twenty-two years later Franklin Pierce Adams was a sports writer for the New York Evening Mail.  One day he found his daily report on the New York Giants fell just short of filling the space allotted for it on the sports page.  Rather than adding a new paragraph as padding, Adams, secretly a Chicago Cubs fan, dashed off a few lines explain to heartbroken New Yorkers how their team had fallen.  It was quickly picked up and went the old time newspaper version of viral.  Adams polished it up and added a title for a collection of his sports verse.  It is the only poem ever written that is credited/blamed for the election of two players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Baseball’s Sad Lexicon

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance

—Franklin Pierce Adams
Lest you think that baseball is only for boys, I remind you that modernist poet and editor Marianne Moore was absolutely devoted to the New York Yankees of her adopted home town.  Moore had a long an honored career and was mentored of the likes of Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, H.D., T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound; was the long time editor of The Dial; and the discoverer mentor in turn to writers like Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, and James Merrill.  Moore considered it the highlight of her life to be invited to throw out the first pitch for the Yankees on opening day 1968.  The standing room only crowd cheered wildly as the elderly poet in her famous tri-corn hat tossed out the ball.  In 1961 Moore evidenced her adoration with this poem that practically names everyone on the roster of that legendary team in pinstripes.

Baseball and Writing

Fanaticism?No.Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement—
a fever in the victim
—pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited?Might it be I?

It’s a pitcher's battle all the way—a duel
—a catcher’s, as, with cruel
puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate.(His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston—whose \ catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat
—when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied.We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, “We”;
robbed by a technicality.

When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
the massive run need not be everything.
“Going, going . . . “Is
it?Roger Maris
has it, running fast.You will
never see a finer catch.Well . . .
“Mickey, leaping like the devil”—why
gild it, although deer sounds better—
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
one-handing the souvenir-to-be
meant to be caught by you or me.

Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
He is no feather.“Strike! . . . Strike two!”
Fouled back.A blur.
It’s gone.You would infer
that the bat had eyes.
He put the wood to that one.
Praised, Skowron says, “Thanks, Mel.
I think I helped a little bit.”
All business, each, and modesty.
Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer.
In that galaxy of nine, say which
won the pennant?Each.It was he.

Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
by Boyer, finesses in twos—
like Whitey’s three kinds of pitch and pre-
with pick-off psychosis.
Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners—even trouble
Mickey Mantle.(“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!”
With some pedagogy,
You’ll be tough, premature prodigy.)

They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees.Trying
indeed!The secret implying:
“I can stand here, bat held steady.”
One may suit him;
none has hit him.
Imponderables smite him.
Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
require food, rest, respite from ruffians.(Drat it!
Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow’s milk, “tiger's milk,” soy milk, carrot juice,
Brewer’s yeast (high-potency--
concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez--
deadly in a pinch.And “Yes,
I’'s work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you’re doing it.”
Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
if you have a rummage sale,
don’t sell Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
O flashing Orion,
your stars are muscled like the lion

—Marianne  Moore
Former Poet Laureate of the United States Robert Pinsky touched on another aspect of America’s love of baseball—what it meant for fans, especially young boys, to see players who looked like them triumphing on the field.  The long, sad story of baseball’s color line and what it meant to Blacks when Jackie Robinson finally broke it has often been told.  But way back nearly at the beginning Michael “King” Kelly did the same thing for the Irish in a game dominated by WASP farm boys and former clerks.  In turn there were icons for the Italians—the DiMaggio brothers, JewsHank Greenberg, LatinosRoberto Clemente.  New Jersey born Pinsky became a transplant to California where he found just such a hero to speak to him.

The Night Game

Some of us believe
We would have conceived romantic
Love out of our own passions
With no precedents,
Without songs and poetry—
Or have invented poetry and music
As a comb of cells for the honey.

Shaped by ignorance,
A succession of new worlds,
Congruities improvised by
Immigrants or children.

I once thought most people were Italian,
Jewish or Colored.
To be white and called
Something like Ed Ford
Seemed aristocratic,
A rare distinction.

Possibly I believed only gentiles
And blonds could be left-handed.

Already famous
After one year in the majors,
Whitey Ford was drafted by the Army
To play ball in the flannels
Of the Signal Corps, stationed
In Long Branch, New Jersey.

A night game, the silver potion
Of the lights, his pink skin
Shining like a burn.

Never a player
I liked or hated: a Yankee,
A mere success.

But white the chalked-off lines
In the grass, white and green
The immaculate uniform,
And white the unpigmented
Halo of his hair
When he shifted his cap:

So ordinary and distinct,
So close up, that I felt
As if I could have made him up,
Imagined him as I imagined

The ball, a scintilla
High in the black backdrop
Of the sky. Tight red stitches.
Rawlings. The bleached

Horsehide white: the color
Of nothing. Color of the past
And of the future, of the movie screen
At rest and of blank paper.

“I could have.”  The mind. The black
Backdrop, the white
Fly picked out by the towering
Lights. A few years later

On a blanket in the grass
By the same river
A girl and I came into
Being together
To the faint muttering
Of unthinkable
Troubadours and radios.

The emerald
Theater, the night.
Another time,
I devised a left-hander
Even more gifted
Than Whitey Ford: A Dodger.
People were amazed by him.
Once, when he was young,
He refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.

—Robert Pinsky

I encountered Canadian Kevin J. Taylor on The Renaissance Group, a Facebook page where artists of various types share their work.  He shows that no mere boundary separate North Americans in their love of the old bat-and-ball game.  Born in East Vancouver, Taylor has published Seize the Stage which he describes as a little book on creating poetry; Ka-BOOM! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia; and has three published collections including Letter to the White Imbongi, Souls Arriving, and Between Music and Dance.  Information on ordering Letter to the White Imbongi can be found at http://poetkevinjtaylor.tumblr.com/.   Like James Earl Jones’s famous monologue in the classic baseball fantasy flic Field of Dreams, Taylor touched on the timeless intergenerational, almost magical element to the game.

The Game

With bat and ball and gloves in hand and on our way
we’d pass by old man Finch where when he’d sit and watch the world
one of us would wave. Most times he’d look,
he’d say— Ever tell you boys about the game?

He stole our breath away, sure, a hundred times.
We were fielders for him, basemen, catchers and every ball
split seconds from extra innings in mid-flight-
from-outfield-to-second-base-and-home-plate night games.

Peanuts, beer, hotdog vendors shouting,
with every other voice, shouting!
Out! You buncha losers! C’mon cmon cmon! Safe!
Allow the call or fault it, either way.

We were ball-card heroes, just the same,
with bat and ball and gloves in hand and on our way.
—Kevin J. Taylor
©kevinjtaylor 2014

1 comment:

  1. Found in "Carolina Baseball: Pressure Makes Diamonds" by J. David Miller and Ron Kule:


    There is a song baseballs sing,
    in college it's called the ping!
    in the Majors it's the thwack!
    at the crack of the bat;
    college or Majors,
    when the ball takes flight, man...
    it's a beautiful sight!