Sunday, February 19, 2012


Last week Al Filreis posted a link to Jacket2 of Paul Blackburn reading one of his baseball poems, "7th Game: 1960 Series," and it reminded me of a post I made back in 2008 on poetry and baseball, which I'll repost below.

After that double play against the Nationals to clinch the National League East gonfalon (pennant), it's time to rewrite Franklin P. Adams's "Tinker to Evers to Chance" (spoken in the forlorn voice of a Mets fans):

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Rollins to Utley to Howard."
Trio of Phillies, and fleeter than birds,
"Rollins and Utley and Howard.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Met hit into a double--
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Rollins to Utley to Howard."

One of the great things about the original poem is how the meter mimics the rhythm of a double play. "Howard" throws off the dactylic meter, but it still turns...two.
Why are there more poems written about baseball than, say, football, basketball, or soccer? There are several anthologies devoted to poetry and baseball, as well as journals such as Cosmic Baseball Association and Elysian Fields Quarterly. Jack Spicer loved baseball and wrote many fine poems based on the sport. William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore also come to mind as poets who loved the game and wrote fine baseball poems. There are also excellent baseball novels, including Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

But what's the connection between baseball and poetry? Is baseball more "poetic" than, say, football? Is there a connection between American poets trying to locate a national identity in literature and the poem addressed to baseball, "America's sport"? And if the rumors are true about football replacing baseball as America's sport, will there suddenly be more football poems?
My own sense of the connection between baseball and poetry came into focus after overhearing a conversation at the Royal Tavern in Philadelphia, Game 3 of the Phillies-Brewers NLDS on the TV over the bar:
Guy 1: Baseball's a thinking-man's sport.
Guy 2: Yeah, you don't have to watch every play.
Guys 1 and 2 were trying to persuade Guy 3 of the intellectual virtues of baseball. I'm not sure how thinking and not paying attention go together, but there's something between these statements that has to do with the poetry of baseball as what happens not only during plays, but also between plays. Here, for example, is a favorite baseball poem, from Paul Blackburn's "17.IV.71," that gets at this sense of a "between-state" in baseball that may lend itself to poetry:

Top of the 8th, after
four fouled off Gentry, still
2 and 2, a plastic bag
blows over home plate, Dave
Cash of the Pirates steps
out of the box, steps
back in, after speeding the plastic
on its way
with his bat, fouls
two more off, then 3 & 2, then
infield bounce to the shortstop, out at first.

The poem reads like a play-by-play commentary on the radio, including all the jargon of pitch counts and so on, but the field of attention isn't simply on the "play," or putting the ball into play (the pitch, the swing, the fielding, and so on). Instead, there's a play of attention between official play ("four fouled off," "fouls/two more off," "bounce to the shortstop, out at first") and unofficial play of a plastic bag blowing "over home plate" and Cash speeding it "on its way/with his bat." Blackburn was a master of the music and rhythm of language. Here, his description of this unofficial play is paradoxically like someone not watching every play: attention in inattention, attention to the unintended and unscripted events that happen between plays. And maybe this is what's "poetic" about baseball--attention to all that happens between plays, like poetry attentive to all that happens between words.

A couple of other things to note: The structure of Blackburn's poem mimics the temporal cadence of Cash's at-bat. And note the linebreaks--that long last line, for example, where the ball's put "into play," and the indented lines that measure pauses in play (and "in play" in the poem), mimicking, for example, Cash stepping out of the batter's box, then back in.

Another favorite baseball poem--Robert Kelly's
"A Pastoral Dialogue on the Game of the Quadrature."
The symmetry of the field (quadrature) and the rules (trinity motif in first, second, third bases; three strikes; three outs; nine innings), on the one hand, and the asymmetry of play itself (endless adjustments, replacements, changes; the caprice of weather), on the other, create a tension not unlike the tension in poetry between structure and chance, and what happens between words.

*A final note on baseball and the imagination: According to the Baseball Almanac, Gary Gentry wasn't even pitching on that windy April day at Shea Stadium. The Mets lost 2-0. Steve Blass pitched a complete-game shutout for the Pirates, Dave Cash went 1 for 4, as did Roberto Clemente.

So much for poetry as factual document. Then again, there is no record in the Baseball Almanac of a plastic bag blowing across home plate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Cecilia Vicuna
Thursday, October 13, 8:00 pm, TUCC 222
Poet and artist, born in Chile, she performs and exhibits her work widely in Europe, Latin America and the US. She is also a political activist and founding member of Artists for Democracy. Since 1980 she lives in New York and Chile. The author of 16 books, her poetry has been translated into several languages. QUIPOem, The Precarious: The Art & Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña, edited by Catherine de Zegher, was published by Wesleyan University Press.

Alice Notley

Thursday, November 3, 8:00 pm, TUCC 222
Paris-based Alice Notley is the author of more than 20 books of poetry including The Descent of Alette (1996) and Mysteries of Small Houses (Penguin, 1998). She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Poets: Anna Windman, Mark Moore, Gregory Weber, Diana Allinger, Madalean Gauze, Julian Galette, Steven Wagner, Kaitlyn Dougherty, Sean X Naughton, Shawn McCourt, John Kennedy, Elisabeth Joyce, Maryan N. Captan, Jen Markert, Ben Norris, Dave Thomas

Monday, April 26, 2010


Join us for a Temple poetry reading & open mic

Wednesday, April 28, 4:00-6:00 p.m.
Temple University Main Campus, Anderson Hall 821

Featured poets:

Devin Cohen
Emily Gleason
Elizabeth Kim
Justin McGoldrick
Hannah McMinn
Adler Roseau
Brandon Wilkins
Andrew Yang

Free poetry, pizza, & refreshments!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Thinking about yesterday's poetry-class lunch . . . poetry and eating are linked in the social rituals of many cultures, and many poems have come together in the presence of food as part of prandial rituals and entertainment. There are whole anthologies devoted to poetry and food, and I'm sure an anthology could be put together focusing on just one course (soup poems, entree poems, dessert poems), or the act of cooking, or the companionship--"with bread"--of the table.

A Cookie Poems anthology could include Cookie Monster's poem (above), which gets interesting for me at the very point where Cookie Monster breaks from the uninspired constraint of cookieless verse, teaching us that hunger has its own rhyme and reason.

One of my favorite cookie poems:

Lines For The Fortune Cookies

I think you're wonderful and so does everyone else.

Just as Jackie Kennedy has a baby boy, so will you--even bigger.

You will meet a tall beautiful blonde stranger, and you will not say hello.

You will take a long trip and you will be very happy, though alone.

You will marry the first person who tells you your eyes are like scrambled eggs.

In the beginning there was YOU--there will always be YOU, I guess.

You will write a great play and it will run for three performances.

Please phone The Village Voice immediately: they want to interview you.

Roger L. Stevens and Kermit Bloomgarden have their eyes on you.

Relax a little; one of your most celebrated nervous tics will be your undoing.

Your first volume of poetry will be published as soon as you finish it.

You may be a hit uptown, but downtown you're legendary!

Your walk has a musical quality which will bring you fame and fortune.

You will eat cake.

Who do you think you are, anyway? Jo Van Fleet?

You think your life is like Pirandello, but it's really like O'Neill.

A few dance lessons with James Waring and who knows? Maybe something will happen.

That's not a run in your stocking, it's a hand on your leg.

I realize you've lived in France, but that doesn't mean you know EVERYTHING!

You should wear white more often--it becomes you.

The next person to speak to you will have a very intriguing proposal to make.

A lot of people in this room wish they were you.

Have you been to Mike Goldberg's show? Al Leslie's? Lee Krasner's?

At times, your disinterestedness may seem insincere, to strangers.

Now that the election's over, what are you going to do with yourself?

You are a prisoner in a croissant factory and you love it.

You eat meat. Why do you eat meat?

Beyond the horizon there is a vale of gloom.

You too could be Premier of France, if only . . . if only. . .

--Frank O'Hara

What makes this poem work for me is its formal constraint and innovation: the poem captures the tone, syntax, and declarative rhetoric ("You will," "You are," "You have," and so on) that you find in fortune cookies and replaces the vague/ abstract adjectives and nouns of fortune cookies ("love," "wealth," "happiness," and so on) with specific people, places, and things.

The deflations give the poem a humorous tone: not simply fortune ("you will meet an x, y, z person") but also misfortune ("you will not say hello"). And these are sassy cookies that ask tough questions: not "You will find out who you are" but "Who do you think you are, anyway?"

Try writing a poem using whatever fortune you opened at yesterday's lunch-class as the first line of your poem, or turn the fortune upside down: not "you are an ambitious person" but "you are not an ambitious person" or "you are an ambitious person when . . ." Or misread your fortune: "you are an amphibious person" or "you are an ambiguous person." Or replace the pronouns: "we are an ambitious people." Or turn fortune into a question: "Are you an ambitious person?" Talk to the talking cookie.

Bon appetit!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009


The "I remember" poem was by far one of the most interesting poems to write and prepare for. Brainard’s book was an interesting read as well as very delightful at how honest it was, sometimes to the point of too honest. When i originally started to write my poem it was going to be about my grandmother that passed away. I finished the entire poem and when i read through it I decided that it was too emotional and there was no way I could discuss something like that in class. So I wrote a different poem and focused on everything I could remember from when I was ten, because for me that was one of those ages that was fun, full of childhood memories, yet an age where you learn a lot of new things. My only diffculty with writing the first and second version of my poems where knowing how much info to put in it and when to draw the line. Otherwise i truely enjoyed going back and sorting through all my memories.

(The site was down starting around 8pm and it kept giving me an error when i tried to post. I have been trying literally every ten minutes since then and this is the first time it actually went though, I have no idea why and this has never happened to me before. I apologize for the lateness I understand if I get no cerdit I'm just upset that it happened like this. )