Monday, August 11, 2008

More Baseball Poetry

The posting of the Holden poem this morning prompted a comment from writer and longtime ShysterBall reader, Levi Stahl:

I actually wrote on this very topic, baseball and poetry, last October for the
Poetry Foundation. I wish I'd known Holden's poem then.

Levi's article about baseball and poetry can be found here, and it's excellent indeed, so please click through. Added bonus: a pic of Levi accompanies the article. As a bald guy with glasses myself, I can tell you that he is a damn handsome man.

Anyway, all of this had me thinking further on Sara K.'s initial comment about baseball inspiring poetry. Why is this? The game isn't necessarily poetic in and of itself. There are a lot of stops and starts. So much of the game is left brain rather than right. There's a lot of scratching and spitting. But maybe the setting makes it. Games occur on hot languid nights on a field of green, and unfold in just such a way as to ensure ample time for contemplation. This is some pretty fertile soil for growing poetry, no?

But I think Levi -- who has obviously thought about this more than I have -- has a better answer that sees poetry in those stops and starts I initially thought weren't helpful to the cause:
Poetry and baseball encourage us to concentrate on singular moments, and that concentration creates preservation. A pitch, a pause, a pitch, followed by frenetic action—a glowing white baseball disappearing into the night over the Green Monster; Archibald MacLeish’s “sole, clean, clear / Leap of the salmon that has disappeared.” Baseball’s very rhythms are those of poetry, acknowledging that if everything can change in a moment, then attention to those moments is an essential duty.
It's not the rhyme, it's the meter, baby.


themarksmith said...

I see a lot of poetry in baseball. How graceful is a finely tuned swing, throw of a baseball? How cool is the throw around the infield after an out when done correctly? The majesty of a home run? The smooth arc of a curveball? The sun shining on the dewy grass? The chant of the crowd (the Tomahawk chop for example)? The smooth swipe of a tag? A well-done relay? These are amazing things in baseball that have an incredible amount of poetry. But as you said, if you look at the game in total, there isn't much, but it's the moments. Like seeing the trees and not the forest.

Ken Arneson said...

I think one of the reasons that poetry connects with baseball is the same reason that radio connects with baseball: the game takes place at the speed of language.

Basketball, hockey, table tennis (yes, I once heard table tennis on the radio in Sweden)--these sports are too fast for the speed of language.

I play soccer twice a week, and there are few things as deeply satisfying to me as a well-timed pass that slices through a briefly open passing lane, but I can't easily translate the beauty of that into words. There's too much going on at once to capture it all.

Alibi Ike said...

Baseball also gives fans a chance to set around and talk, thus allowing musings, contemplation, and poetry.

For more baseball poetry, check out BARDBALL.COM, where we're trying to resurrect the spirit of Ring Lardner, et al, with daily baseball doggerel.

Alex said...

That's a great point Ken, and really well put. I also like the quote from the original post: "if everything can change in a moment, then attention to those moments is an essential duty." That's exactly what I try to explain to my friends who don't like baseball, but I can never find the words for it.

Levi Stahl said...

Thanks for the link, Craig, and for the kind words, everyone. I'm glad you thought well of the article. I really enjoyed writing it and thus being given an excuse to think more seriously about a connection I'd mused on casually for years.

Craig Calcaterra said...

No problem, Levi. I very much enjoyed your piece.

Luke said...

Craig, it's surprising, because I went to the San Diego Symphony last week mostly because A) the tickets were free to military and B) the theme was "Baseball Goes Pops" and was narrated by Dave Winfield. Anyway, they were saying that more songs had been written about baseball than about anything but Love and something else...can't remember what right now. Songs are poetry, agreed? Anyway, definitely worth checking out, if for nothing else than the ACTUAL VERSION of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", which I never knew existed and was awesome...

(not to mention Dave Winfield did a great "Casey at the Bat" narration)