Sunday, November 7, 2010

Extra Innings!

More Baseball Poems,
All Newly Published,
and All About, or Inspired by . . .

The 2010 San Francisco Giants!

Well, not only could this be the season (as last week’s blog post – click here – suggested), it was the season of a lifetime! The Giants won the World Series, for the first time since moving to San Francisco in 1958. A delirious downtown to civic center “ticker-tape” parade took place –

Cody Ross, Giants outfielder
(riding in the parade, Wednesday, November 3, 2010)

– and also pretty special, at least for poetry-reader me, is that the following chapbook appeared –

Adios, Pelota!
edited by John Sakkis, designed by Andrew Kenower
([no place]: [no publisher], 2010)

[5.5" x 8.5"]

– a 36 page collection or anthology of 22 poems (by 21 Bay Area poets) that are about or were inspired by the 2010 Giants. The chap states, on its colophon page, that it is
In celebration of the San Francisco Giants defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series, printed at the start of Game 1 2010 World Series, San Francisco Giants vs. Texas Rangers, October 27, 2010.
The colophon also states, “Go Giants!” and how great that the poets here in the Bay Area, or some of them, caught the vibe this post-season!

And how grand (slam, natch) that the chap was put together so quick, in the few days between the end of the National League playoffs and when the World Series began (some of the poems make reference to those games)!

And how perfect that the chap’s printed with black ink on orange paper, exactly correct given the Giant’s colors!

And how cool that the chap’s title, Adios, Pelota! – in English, “Goodbye, ball!” – is the phrase often used by Giant’s radio announcer Jon Miller when a Latin-born player hits a home run. That phrase here is especially apt because just days before the chap was published Juan Uribe, the Giant’s infielder from the Dominican Republic, had hit an eighth-inning home run that provided the winning margin in the game against the Phillies that sent San Franciso to the World Series).

I can’t single out all the poems I like in Adios, Pelota!, but let me give a big cheer to Larry Kearney, whose untitled poem works in the name of Whitey Lockman and Sal Maglie, two Giants players from their New York (i.e., pre-San Francisco era), and includes the delicious poem-ending lines:
the ground rolls out
like birthday cake.
That sounds like a hell of a celebratory way for a game, or season, to end.

And permit me to give a big cheer as well to Kevin Killian, who nicely brings into his poem “Devotion” some of the more worrisome aspects of the Giants’ season (including “how little / how insanely little” pitcher Barry Zito gave back compared to the money he pocketed) before he celebrates the “new beard energy puffed” that hit the team. Killian wonders how that energy came about, and answers the question allusively, by setting out Willie Mays’ 1961 statement,
“I don’t compare ‘em, I just catch ‘em.”
That quote, I think, both reflects Mays’ beautiful in-the-moment-no-time-for analysis mind-set and suggests that explanations for what the 2010 Giants did are neither possible nor desirable.

“The Catch”
Game 1 of the 1954 World Series
Willie Mays

Speaking of great catches, Jackqueline Frost’s untitled minimal poem, spread across two orange pages of Adios, Pelota!, looks in its entirety something like this –
                  hal•le•                                                        lu•jah
– and also deserves big applause for how it captures and expresses a fan’s kind-of-divine joy in the team’s wins. I found it completely convincing and fun. I’d like next year to hear a full stadium take up those syllables, with the indicated break, as a post-win chant!

I also like Zack Tuck’s “Dear Nate Schierholtz,” an epsitolary prose poem about going to his first major league game and deciding that the Giant’s reserve outfielder named in the poem’s title “would by my guy, my player . . . .” Maybe the best phrase in the poem is one about those who are “holding nets in hopeful expectancy of opal fire,” which concerns, I do believe, the people in kayaks, canoes, and other boats who wait for home run balls in McCovey Cove, that part of San Francisco Bay on the other side of the right field wall at AT&T Park (see photo immediately below). I like the idea of splash hits – as home runs in the water are called at the park – as “opal fire.” It suggests the special forces that have to align if one is to get a ball in the cove.

McCovey Cove
“holding nets in hopeful expectancy of opal fire”

For my bat ‘n ball ‘n glove, the best poem about baseball itself in Adios, Pelota is “Left Field,” by Keith Shein. The poem focuses on Pat Burrell, the Giants left-fielder, who is a power hitter who when he connects almost always pulls the ball to left.

Pat Burrell, at the plate, July 2010

The first lines of Shein’s poem focus on Burrell at the plate, particularly on what happens with he swings and misses. As it turns out, Burrell had a particularly miserable World Series, tying a major league record by striking out nine times in five games. As such, I hereby swear on Cooperstown itself that Shein gets this exactly right:
When Burrell is at bat,
his eyes narrow as if piecing
a puzzle. After a swing

and miss, he stares at his bat,
then, with a snap of elbows,
pushes it away, like a man

freeing cuffs from a jacket.
Arms straight, he glares.
To let the bat know

that its business is with
the ball, to let his hands
know they need to say back,
to let the fence know that
he has its measure. Left field.
Shein’s stanza break between “swing / and miss” brings in a whole lot of air, yes, similar to that found between the bat and pitched ball which the hitter has failed to meet? In addition to getting down the details here of what Burrell does at the plate, I like the focus in these lines on the batter’s failure, which is so much a part of the game (see the discussion last week -- click here -- about “Casey at the Bat”). Stein’s poem, however, pivots away from failure in its final seven lines, evoking instead the remembered sound of the home runs to left field that Burrell did hit in 2010 (a total of 18, a number of which put the Giants ahead):
The shots echo out there even

when the bleachers stand empty,
when the roaring ceases,
and the seats tip up like tight

pairs of lips, when the litter is swept
and the lights are off, when even
the gulls are gone.
That very last phrase may require a bit of local knowledge: after every game AT&T Park gets heavily worked over by gulls scavenging good scraps left in the stands. The image Shein presents in these closing seven lines – the empty, quiet, cleaned out, dark, even-the-birds-are-done stadium, with the sound of the well-hit ball resonating in the ethereal ears of the mind – is very poignant, very moving, and exactly the way to end this wondrous season, and this post!

“when the bleachers stand empty”



MW said...

The Schein poem is terrific. As measured as the action it describes.
I wish you had/would give more of the Kearney poem. I don't get, with the little evidence you give, the image being laid out, but I'm sure all would be self-evident, if the lines were surrounded by lines before and after. thanks for this wonderful effort.
Michael Wolfe.

Steven Fama said...

Thanks Michael Wolfe, for stopping in, for the kind comment on Schein's poem, and for your request. Here's the Larry Kearney poem, as it appears in Adios Pelota (remember, the poem presumably was written just after the Giants beat the Phillies to win the National League Pennant, and please note that the poem is untitled):

Whitey Lockman's
still at first, the ground rolls
jump before sleep. White
Lockman looks at his webbing. Philly
alway sucked. Robin
Roberts too. Posey
calls for Sal Maglie.
the ground rolls out
like birthday cake.

Typing it out reminds me of another thing I like about this poem: the way it time travels in the line about Posey and Maglie!