Poetry in Motion
Like most of the planet beyond our borders, I've been watching a good deal of the World Cup. Despite the hornet's nest drone of the ubiquitous vuvuzelas and the fact that soccer players tend to react like they've been trepanned with a soup spoon whenever an opposing player so much as gives them a hard stare, I've been enjoying it.
I've found that a soccer match is basically ninety-odd minutes of exquisite boredom laced with just enough flashes of athletic brilliance to keep me watching. Though aficionados will tell you that all the noodling around that goes on at midfield is a breathtaking combination of ballet, chess, and the art of seduction in kneesocks and cleats, I, myself, am skeptical.
All that is to say, I've had plenty of time to ponder the affinities between poetry and sport, but I didn't want to write about how both poetry and team sports seek to bring order to chaos. I didn't want to say that to make a poem and a doubleplay look seamless takes an awful lot of work. I didn't want to claim that both mediums are about moments that seem to float loose of time until some force--gravity or the buzz of a housefly or a middle linebacker with a bad contract and absolutely no love in his heart--slams them to the ground. I'm not even sure I wanted to say that poetry and sport both value precision and economy of motion, or that both aim for the grand statement and a sort of cathartic release of stored energy. I didn't want to say that tension is what makes them tick.
What I realized is that those syrupy streams of cliché that you hear whenever athletes, broadcasters and fans talk about sports aren't necessarily a sign of unintelligence or lack of originality. I found that it's just nearly impossible to think about sports without lapsing into gobs of rote wisdom. You see, sport really is about taking it one game at a time. It really isn't about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. It is about dancin' with the one what brung ya, and leaving it all on the field, etc. etc. etc. There is just something unexpressable about acts of physical genius, which is why I think you hear so many athletes thanking "the man upstairs" for helping them crush the spleen of some hapless quarterback, or hit a ball really really far. There is just no way of explaining what goes on when the incessant roil of consciousness ebbs and the world is reduced to physical sensation and action, and I think it is those fleeting moments of clarity that athletes and poets, each in their own way, seek.
July 14 - August 25 Lonestar College-CyFair Branch Library will host Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience, a traveling version of the exhibit by the same name at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Below are a few books of poems inspired by sports from the Harris County Public Library Collection.
American Sports Poems / Selected by May Swenson & R. R. Knudson
The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads about the Mighty Casey / edited by Martin Gardner
At The Crack of the Bat: Baseball Poems / compiled by Lillian Morrison; illus by Steve Cieslawski.
The Baseball Anthology: 125 Years of Stories, Poems, Articles, Photographs, Drawings, Interviews, Cartoons, and Other Memorabilia / edited by Joseph Wallace, et al; foreword by Sparky Anderson
Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888 / Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Casey Back at Bat / Dan Gutman; painting by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Extra Innings: Baseball Poems / selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illus. by Scott Medlock.
The Fastest Game on Two Feet and Other Poems about How Sports Began / Alice Low; illus. by John O'Brien
Good Sports: Rhymes about Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More / by Jack Prelutsky; illus. by Chris Raschka
Hoop Kings: Poems / Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Hoop Queens: Poems / Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Jump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems / Mel Glenn
Opening Days: Sports Poems / Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illus. by Scott Medlock
Rimshots: Basketball Pix, Rolls, and Rhythms / Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Sports! Sports! Sports! A Poetry Collection / Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illus. by Brian Floca
Sprints and Distances: Sports in Poetry and the Poetry in Sport / compiled by Lillian Morrison; illus. by Clare and John Ross
That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems / Paul Janeczko: illus. by Carole Katchen
Way to Go! Sports poems / Lillian Morrison; illus. by Susan Spellman
For a more thoughtful discussion of poetry and soccer: Footy Verse by Rosie Schaap
Please, send suggestions for future post, treatises on the beauty of soccer and your favorite sports clichés via the comments button. Thanks for reading.