Tag: baseball

Milton Bracker, “Tomorrow!”

poetry

For baseball’s Opening Day! (which is today, not “tomorrow” but still.)

Hoorah, hooray!
Be glad, be gay-
The best of reasons
Is Opening Day.
And cheering the players
And counting the gate
And running the bases
And touching the plate.
And tossing the ball out
And yelling Play Ball!
(Who cares about fall-out-
At least, until fall?)
Let nothing sour
This sweetest hour;
The baseball season’s
Back in flower!

First and Last: Donald Hall

poetrywriting

I thought it would be a fun experiment to post the first and last poems in a particular poet’s “collected works” edition. I guess in my mind posting the first poem – and by first I mean oldest, and by oldest I mean when the poet was at his youngest – and last poem will show some shift in maturity and sensibility, maybe a shift from optimism to crankiness, maybe the opposite, maybe a shift in formality and prosody, or lack thereof – or maybe it’ll show nothing at all, and that will be fine too. Anyway, the first poet I chose is Donald Hall, because 1) I think Donald Hall is great, and 2) it was the book sitting closest to me. Also the title of the book nicely sums up the project here: Old and New Poems. The funny thing is this book hardly finds Donald at the end of his career – this is a midway-point greatest hits collection if anything. Since this book you could argue Hall has only become more popular – only a couple years ago he was made the poet laureate of the nation.

I find the first poem especially serendipitous as we just got finished with an epic baseball game at the park, and I can see a day like this being remembered from old man “to old man” in the future. It’s also funny that the “youngest” poem in the book is about an old man. The second poem is not actually the last poem – I know first post and I’m already breaking the rules – but the last poem is much to long to transcribe here (yep, almost every poem you find here has been typed by hand by me – hardly any of them exist online). The last poem is the morbidly titled “Praise for Death” and is a glorious thing, so do track the book down if you can. I should note that as these last poems were written in 1989 Hall had been diagnosed with colon cancer and so was looking death squarely in the face, which, cruel as it is to say, usually makes for great poetry. So this is the penultimate poem, and still a bit longish itself. You could probably argue that Hall’s most obvious change is from short form to long form poetry. Let’s see what else we find:

Old Home Week

Old man remembers to old man
How bat struck ball upon this plain,
Seventy years ago, before
The batter’s box washed out in rain.

This Poem

1
This poem is why
I lie down at night
to sleep; it is why
I defecate, read,
and eat sandwiches;
it is why I get
up in the morning;
it is why I breathe.

2
You think (and I know
because you told me)
that poems exist
to say things, as you
telephone and I
write letters – as if
this poem practiced
communication.

3
One time this poem
compared itself to
new machinery,
and another time
to a Holstein’s cud.
Eight times five times eight
counts three hundred and
twenty syllables.

4
When you require it,
this poem consoles –
the way a mountain
comforts by staying
as it was despite
earthquakes, Presidents,
divorces, and frosts.
Granite continues.

5
This poem informs
the hurt ear wary
of noises, and sings
to the weeping eye.
When the agony
abates itself, one
may appreciate
arbitrary art.

6
This poem is here.
Could it be someplace
else? Every question
is the wrong question.
The only answer
saunters down the page
in its broken lines
strutting and primping.

7
It styles itself not
for the small mirror
of its own regard –
nor even for yours;
to fix appearance;
to model numbers;
to name charity
“the greatest of these.”

8
All night this poem
knocks at the closed door
of sleep: “Let me in.”
Suppose all poems
contain this poem,
dreaming one knowledge
shaped by the measure
of the body’s word.

* * *

One thing I notice the older poet writing about more and more is, obviously, death. Hall at this point was older, yes, but not of an age to truly face death – however the world had presented him with this cancer, and thus he was forced to accept death prematurely, only to go on living and writing up until the present day. I can’t imagine the effect this has on a person, but the poetry, just two poems, tells us that the person goes from crisp, somewhat weightless, formal (iambic tetrameter) “poetry’s poetry” based on a simple theme to a more casual and rustic exploration of global, universal themes. Poem not as poem but as container of life. I’ll leave you with that, make of it what you will. My well’s run dry on this post so I’ll be back another time.

John Updike, “Baseball”

poetry

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop’s wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It’s easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody’s right,
beginning with baseball.

* * *

A beautiful and true poem.

Poetry in Baseball

whoopjamboreehoo

Kubel hit for the cycle on Friday night, a feat in and of itself. But the real magic was that his homerun to complete the cycle was actually a grand slam, after the Angels foolishly walked Morneau to load the bases and bring up Kubes. Silly Angels. Watch the score – the Twins were down 4-9 in the 8th, only to rally back and win the game 11-9, thanks to some nice hitting, a “patented Redmond double,” some RBI, and of course Kubel’s slam. This is why I love baseball.

Donald Hall, “The Ninth Inning”

poetry

1. My dog and I drive five miles every
morning to get the newspaper. How
else do I find out, when the Sox trade
Smoky Joe Wood for Elizabeth Bishop?
He needs persistent demonstration
of love and approval. He cocks his
head making earnest pathetic sounds.
Although I praise his nobility
of soul, he is inconsolable

2. when I lift my hand from his ear to
shift: Even so, after the reading,
the stranger nods, simpers, and offers
to share his poems with me. Dean Gratt
confided, at the annual Death
and Retirement Gala: “Professor
McCormick has not changed: A Volvo
is just a Subaru with tenure.”
Catchers grow old catching, which is strange

3. because they squat so much. “The barn is
burning, O, the barn is burning on
the hill; the cattle low and blunder
in their stalls; the horses scream and hurl
their burning manes.” Jennifer remains
melancholic. Do you start to feel,
Kurt, as if you’re getting it? I mean
baseball, as in the generations
of old players hanging on, the young

4. coming up from Triple A the first
of September, sitting on the bench
or pinch-running, ready for winter’s
snow-plowing and cement-mixing, while
older fellows work out in their gyms
or cellars, like George “Shotgun’’ Shuba
who swung a bat against a tethered
ball one thousand times a day, line-drives
underneath his suburban ranchhouse.

5. By 2028, when K. C.
turned one-hundred, eighty-three percent
of American undergraduates
majored in creative writing, more
folks had MFA’s than VCR’s,
and poetry had passed acrylic
in the GNP. The NEA
offered fellowships for destroying
manuscripts and agreeing: “Never

6. to publish anything jagged on
the right side of the page, or ever
described as ‘prose poems.’” Guerillas
armed with Word Perfect holed in abstract
redoubts. Chief-of-Staff Vendler mustered
security forces (say: Death Squads)
while she issued comforting reports
nightly on lyric television.
Hideous shepherds sing to their flocks

7. under howling houses of the dog.
At the Temple Medical Center
in New Haven I wait. My mother
at eighty-six goes through the Upper
and Lower GI again. My mind
jangles, thinking of my sick son in
New York and his sick one-year-old girl.
This afternoon, if the X-rays go
all right, I drive back to New Hampshire.

8. In New Hampshire, late August, the leaves
turn slowly, like someone working to
order—protesting, outraged—and fall
as they must do. The pond water stays
warm but the campers have departed.
By the railroad goldenrod stiffens;
asters begin a late pennant drive
in front of the barn; pink hollyhocks
wilt and sag like teams out of the race.

9. No Red Sox tonight, but on Friday
a double-header with the Detroit
Tigers, my terrible old team, worse
than the Red Sox who beat the Yankees
last night while my mother and I watched
—the way we listened, fifty years back—
sprightly ghosts playing in heavy snow
on VHS 30 from Hartford,
and the pitcher stared at the batter.

– – –

This tremendous poem is but 1/12th of Hall’s huge series, “Baseball.” Each part is an “inning” (why 12 innings I don’t know), but in each inning there are nine stanzas, and in each stanza nine lines, and in each line nine syllables. Incredible, right? This is the only part I could find online, but it’s worth seeking out in book form.

Anyway, this one’s for the 2009 baseball season which is just around the corner.

Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat”

poetry

The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they’d a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

“Phin”

Milton Bracker, “Tomorrow!”

poetry

Hoorah, hooray!
Be glad, be gay-
The best of reasons
Is Opening Day.

And cheering the players
And counting the gate
And running the bases
And touching the plate.

And tossing the ball out
And yelling Play Ball!
(Who cares about fall-out-
At least, until fall?)

Let nothing sour
This sweetest hour;
The baseball season’s
Back in flower!

“Baseball”

poetry

If I may be so presumptuous, I’d like to stick in my own little baseball poem here…

Four-finger fast
on its way home

spin stitch-catch breeze
half-second

ash-thwacked and
heart-walloped
in a parabolic function, going,

a playful sunlit arc –

gone.

The smell of oil, grass,

the broken-hearted pinstripes,

the pant

of breath;

the crowd cheers.

Jonathan Holden, “How to Play Night Baseball”

poetry

A pasture is best, freshly
mown so that by the time a grounder’s
plowed through all that chewed, spit-out
grass to reach you, the ball
will be bruised with green kisses. Start
in the evening. Come
with a bad sunburn and smelling of chlorine,
water still crackling in your ears.
Play until the ball is khaki-
a movable piece of the twilight-
the girls’ bare arms in the bleachers are pale,
and heat lightning jumps in the west. Play
until you can only see pop-ups,
and routine grounders get lost in
the sweet grass for extra bases.

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