Friday, November 26, 2010

cat and mouse . . .

. . . and poetry!

Monica Youn

(Tribeca: Four Way Books, 2010)
[6" x 9" - 69 pages]

Monica Youn’s Ignatz first came to my attention in early August, when in an interview Rae Armantrout said she’d recently received and enjoyed the book. On that, I immediately bought it. For me, it’s usually a smart move to follow such leads when given by poets, especially from those I think write tremendously themselves.

So, for about three months I’ve been reading Youn’s book, intensely. During that time, Ignatz was announced as a National Book Award finalist. Even better for me, on November 12th Youn (who lives and works in New York) traveled to the California College of the Arts (CCA) here in San Francisco, and I was able to hear her read from and answer a few questions about her book.

Ignatz presents an initial challenge, one that will require some to do a bit of work, if learning about a classic piece of American creativity can be called work. The book’s title (a proper name, one that is also repeated in the title of 35 of the book’s 39 poems (and which shows up within many poems as well)), comes from a newspaper comic – George Herriman’s Krazy Kat – that was last regularly published more than sixty years ago. More than that, the dynamics of the Krazy Kat “story line” provide the animating core and frame for the poems.

Now Krazy Kat (1917-1944) remains cherished by comic aficionados, and is often acclaimed as a high spot of daily newspaper strips. But I think its current Q Score (a measure of familiarity and appeal in the culture at large) is relatively low. Ignatz ain’t Mickey (or Minnie), Popeye (or Olive Oil or Bluto), or even Little Nemo, to name a few better know old-time comic characters.

Youn’s use of an old-time and probably obscure-to-many comic to anchor and animate her collection probably doesn’t attract lots of readers, and it is definitely unusual. However, that’s part of what makes Ignatz so singular and marvelous. I figured she must deeply love Herriman’s strips (she so confirmed when I asked her earlier this month, before her CCA reading), and as W.B. teaches, “Exuberance is beauty.” By putting Ignatz (and by association all of Krazy Kat) center-stage, Youn tries to infect us readers, or at least those unfamiliar with Herriman’s work, with her enthusiasm.

A short note in the back of the book explains the basics of Krazy Kat, which can also be found on-line. Here are the barest essentials, excerpted from Youn’s fuller summary:
The strip is set in Coconino County, Arizona, and stars Krazy Kat, a feline of indeterminate gender and mutable patois. Krazy is hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse, a rodent of criminal tendencies, who, in turn, despises Krazy and whose greatest pleasure is to bean the lovelorn cat in the head with a brick. Krazy interprets these missiles as tokens of reciprocated affection, and the cat-mouse-brick-love cycle recurs in almost every strip.

Ignatz, the book, similarly spins around intense interpersonal desire and obsession. The poems are mostly (though not exclusively) written from or consider the perspective of Krazy Kat, or more precisely, a Krazy Kat, a character or person (female gendered in Youn’s poems) who deeply desires someone else. In the poems, the someone, of course, is Ignatz; a few poems also deal more specifically with his obsession, to bean Krazy.

How perfect that Youn’s poems about desire and obsession repeatedly (let’s say obsessively) evoke a comic that Youn herself really, really likes and which itself obsessively (day after day, for decades) riffed on the desire and obsession. It’s almost mirrored mirrors mirroring mirrors, or something like that. While such an approach risks gaudiness, Ignatz isn’t that way at all, mostly because of Youn’s considerable poetry-writing skills, several examples of which are set out below.

The poems in Ignatz, while centered on desire and obsession, are not just love poems, at least not as traditionally conceived. To paraphrase what Youn said at her CCA reading, the subject matters addressed and presented are “weirder” (I think she used that word) than just plain old romantic longing. Krazy’s desires are never fully, entirely, happily, or even at all fulfilled, and yet the hope, the want, goes on and on. The poems thus explore and depict what happens when longing (to get cheap about it) just gets longer and longer, when attachment is frustrated or the desired connection interrupted.

One key idea is how such desire or obsession can render a person, to quote from “Ignatz Recidivist,” “helpless / helpless / hopeless.” There is also in Ignatz plenty of the twists and turns of desire and obsession, including the idealizing of the other, the imbuing, for example, of him/her with heroic or magical qualities. As perhaps you yourself know, such emotions and thoughts can get mighty strange (and yet still be streaked with moments of beauty).

A most excellent example is “Ignatz Pacificus,” a poem early in the book in which the fevered imagination of the Krazy-character outlandishly re-casts her desired one as she rides on a passenger train on the Southern California coast:
Travelling backwards on the Amtrak Surfliner,
Ignatz is firelord of the Pacific, CEO

of the thermal inversion, true husband
of the Santa Ana wind. Observe his hands,

sowers of wildfire, hovering over the wave-
embroidered armrests, see the tray table

fruitlessly offering up tidbits to his gaze.
Seven rainless months have sensitized the vast

reticulations of his concern, he is each black ash
that infiltrates each kitchen windowscreen,

he is each ember hissing its defiance
on the blue surface of a kidney-shaped pool.
This short poem moves effortlessly line-to-line and couplet-to-couplet, an effect largely resulting from Youn’s concise language, varied enjambments, and judicious use of repetition and variation (“of the” in the second couplet, then “[o]bserve” followed by “see” in the next complete sentence), and “he is each” in the final couplets). I love here how out-sized (“firelord,” “CEO,” “true husband / of the Santa Ana” as well as “vast reticulations of his concern”) Krazy makes the object of her desire, a status also reflected in how “he” then shows up in every detail she sees or imagines (“each black ash” and “each ember).

And then there’s Youn’s final image in this poem, which I repeat from above:
he is each ember hissing its defiance
on the blue surface of a kidney-shaped pool.
Yow! I see and hear that image, even feel the heat of its fire and the cool water too. In Youn’s lines, the krazed idea of the desired one as a force of nature, fragmented and vaporizing and thus ultimately unattainable, seems indelible. I also love how a quintessential emblem of SoCal life, the kidney-shaped pool, is paired with another immutable characteristic of the geography, and how both of these observed details of a time and place (and ditto here the Santa Ana winds and the thermal inversion) are reformulated into the frame of the poem.

“he is each ember hissing its defiance
on the blue surface of a kidney-shaped pool.”


The poems in Ignatz are written in a variety of forms, from half-page prose blocks to (in one instance) a single couplet. Some of the most intriguing – and there are four or five such poems, spread throughout the book – are presented in numbered or otherwise marked off sections, with juxtaposition and allusive (sometimes elusive) images the key (though not only) energizers (Rae Armantrout is the contemporary master of this approach). Here’s an example of this type of poem from Youn’s book:

       Once more an urge; once more a succumb.

Even as a lawn
or tree

is more attractive
when configured

as individual

than as
a seamless




the rubber

replumps itself.


The pin
pokes through

the black

and scratches
the bottom

of the pan.


All the unseen

of the night
click open,

a blue-violet
pour down

a fretless throat.


There can be no
launch, only


in this elastic
This is crackerjack, in part because a precise line-by-line or even section-by-section parsing, let alone one for the poem as a whole, continues to elude me even after repeated readings and plenty of thought. The poem begins with a suggestion of a simultaneity or close equivalency (“Even as . . .), but the thing happening at the same time, or which is being suggested as having very similar qualities, is not stated. Presumably, the suggestion stated – that specific arrangements entice more than the general – refers to why Krazy particularizes Ignatz.

The the second section of the poem then brings an abrupt shift, with its curious “Asbestos interlude” and equally curious suggestion of a some type of slow re-load or regathering of energy: “the rubber / button // replumps itself.” This bewitches me, and each of the poem’s other parts, and especially the transitions between them, do the same. The next-to-last section probably is in this regard first among equals:
All the unseen

of the night
click open,

a blue-violet
pour down

a fretless throat.
This is yet another unforgettable image from Youn. It suggests some unencumbered full-on surrender to dream-desire, sensuous but also reckless and dangerous (think of chugging, or even worse, gavage). This section is a powerful little machine of words, of almost psychedelic intensity (particularly the “blue-violet” (implied to be a liquid) in the (also implied) black of “the night”), that is huge in its scary beauty.

“a blue-violet / pour down // a fretless throat”


To switch gears somewhat, here are the first thirteen lines of “On Ignatz’s Eyebrow,” a poem that directly concerns Ignatz’s obsession, his anger towards Krazy, but how that emotion also eludes connection, and can dissipate between thought, action, and its object. Think here, if you please, on how you may have sometimes felt when intensity has left you in a lurch, or has had its spell broken (the poem, as seen immediately below, begins with the lower case, seemingly mid-sentence, as if we are right in the lurch):
the way water is always rushing between a ferry

and its dock in that ever-present gap where

the rush is the speed of the water and the rush

is the sound of the water and the water is

bitterly cold and is foul in its bitterness and

the gap is irreducible space and time and

is the ache felt by the ferry in the cold

of its iron bones which will never clang

against the framework of the dock

in the satisfying clash of solid surfaces because

the gap is where such satisfaction helplessly

dissolves . . .

“that ever-present gap where // the rush is the speed of the water”

In Youn’s lines the words swirl and churn, creating what I’ll call eddies of language. This action primarily stems from repetition (e.g. rush, water, bitter, the gap, ferry), the alliterative circlings of ache, cold, clang, clash, and dock, and the absence of any punctuation that would pause or stop the energy. I feel, reading these lines, as if I too am stuck betwixt and between, just as the words describe. This is an electrifying and effective use of repetition and sound. American poeetry in recent decades has plenty of stellar examples of electrifying and effective use of repetition and sound -- I think of the best of John Taggart’s Loops (1991) or any number of Ted Enslin poems in Nine (2004) -- and Youn’s poem is a worthy addition to this stylistic sub-genre.


In my copy of Ignatz I’ve bookmarked, in addition to the four poems quoted in whole or in part above, more than a dozen others, each of which has something remarkable that I’d really like to tell you about. There’s also the book’s overall structure: it’s divided into four sections, each of which casts Ignatz as a different archetype (the beloved, the hero, the villain, and the fugitive), with each section also having an associated landscape (e.g., the desert, the coast) and similarly starting with a song (a short lyric in the voice of Krazy) and ending with a poem concerning the death of Ignatz. Plus there’s the idea, an important one, of how constrained creativity -- Youn’s fitting of everything here into the Krazy Kat framework -- spurs innovation and imagination.

This blog post, alas, cannot get into all the poems or facets of Ignatz. However, since I am -- as you probably have noticed -- more than slightly obsessed with the book, I must mention and discuss a few more poems.

“X As A Function Of Distance From Ignatz,” which at eighteen tercets over almost three pages is one of the longer poems in the book, presents an account of a leaving from the beloved, the immediate consideration of whether to go back, the turning back, and a return by Krazy (referred to only as “she”) to Ignatz (“he”). The exclusive use of the pronouns in the poem universalizes the intense pull of desire it depicts. It could be any of us.

Most remarkable in this poem is how Youn details what happens between the two characters, and what those particulars suggest. There are five separate instances, and each is parenthetically mentioned, of “she” opening a particular door, and then for each a subsequently mentioned (again in parenthesis) of her closing those same doors (to wit: the door of the room where the two are as the poem begins, the front door of the building where he lives, the door of cab that takes her away, that same door when she stops the cab and gets out, and the door of the building where he lives when she returns). There are also, as “she” moves about, seven specific notations of exactly how far away “he” is at various moments (the distances a range from twelve inches to seven hundred feet).

All the opening and closing doors, I think, suggest the cyclical nature of some romantic involvements. More generally, and most powerfully, these details of repeated actions and the precise mapping of the distance from the beloved show just how compulsive obsessive attraction can get. Or is that how obsessive compulsive attachment can get? And yet as weird as it all is, there is an undeniable emotional charge when the “she” in the poem, having left her love, decides to turn back, having the cab in which she’s riding away stop so she can get out and go back. Strange and troubled as such helpless / hopeless devotion can be, there is still a power to giving in, to following the desire. To quote Blake again, “Enough! or Too much.”


Another amazing poem is titled “Springes For Ignatz” (a springe is a snare designed to catch a small animal). Its 23 lines alternate couplets with singles, and sets out a series of observed details that Krazy, the one who desires, believes will trap the one that she wants. Here are the first ten lines, which should give you a pretty good idea of how the poem goes:
Corrugations, leaf litter,
a palm-sized blaze.

The leer of each boulder,

each mask
of white lichen.

The lopped branches

of the pines black
and reaching,

and the woods softly clicking,

with fringed holes.
The idea of this poem seems pure poetry: that the desired one might be caught via numerous details brilliantly seen and rendered in words. There are at least a dozen observed particulars in the lines quoted above, and there are about the same number in the thirteen lines that follow. Every one of these, and particularly “[t]he leer of each boulder,” catches my attention, makes me stop and think and read again. This phenomenon raises the question of just who or what is desired here. True, the poem can be read, as is the case with most others in the book, as Ignatz standing as a desired person in a romantic or love relationship. But it also seems to me that Ignatz here might be the mind of the reader, with the Krazy / the voice of the poem being Youn herself. If so, Youn has got me, and good.


The final poem I’ll present from Ignatz is yet another great one, “Semper Ignatz.” It’s relatively short at nine lines, and concerns a moment of terribly frustrated desire, although as suggested by the title (“Semper” is Latin for“always”) and as indicated more directly in the poem itself, it is common to experience moments of thwarted love and disappoint. Here it is:


How could it have been other

than abrupt
when as ever

in media res Ignatz remarked,

Sometimes            I don’t            like
fucking.                 Whoosh!        A billow

of white cambric sheets the scene,
through which her nipples glow dully,

taillights                in snow.
This poem explodes with its report of Ignatz saying, “Sometimes I don’t like / fucking.” The precise reasons why he rejects sex, rejects it apparently even while doing it, aren’t made explicit, but the impact on Krazy couldn't be more tellingly put. “Whoosh!” and “billow” indicate that the disruption is almost atmospheric, as teh air seems to leave the room (I both hear the sound of that, and see Krazy clutching her chest, gasping for air) as the bedding that presumably held the two lifts away. The scene then turns chilly as deep winter in the North, and it feels very real. Youn’s last line, a metaphor for Krazy’s just barely still turned on nipples beneath the thin sheets in the freeze-out of desire thwarted and rejection, is one I’ll remember, in awe, for a long, long time.


Monica Youn


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aimé Césaire

Five Poems


Soleil cou coupé
[the unexpurgated first edition]
(Paris: K éditeur, 1948)

as translated by

A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman


Solar Throat Slashed
[the unexpurgated 1948 edition]
(Wesleyan University Press, [scheduled for May 2011])
[available for pre-order now!]

The glade today happily presents five poems by Aimé Césaire, as translated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman from the great Martinican poet’s unexpurgated 1948 first edition of Soleil cou coupe (front cover pictured above). These translations are previously unpublished and will appear in Solar Throat Slashed (Wesleyan University Press, announced for May 2011, front cover also pictured above), the first full edition in English of Césaire’s book.

The backstory here is that in the years after Soleil cou coupe was published Césaire greatly re-worked his book, eliminating 31 poems entirely and cutting text, to varying degrees, in another 29, leaving only 12 poems untouched. As such, many individual poems, in whole and in part, have been for decades hard to find, particularly in English.

I posted here in the glade about the Arnold/Eshleman translation of Soleil cou coupe in early January, after reading several poems from it published at alligatorzine and Bookslut. Since then, additional translations have appeared at the Poems and Poetics blog, Guernica Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and New American Writing 28 (please click on each journal title to read the Césaire work) . I continue to exclaim, the same as ten months ago, “Absolument-Alléluia!” and “Oui-Oui-Oui!” for these poems. As Eshleman writes:
Solar Throat Slashed is Aimé Césaire’s most fulgurating collection of poetry. Animistically dense, charged with eroticism and blasphemy, and imbued with African and Vodun spirituality, this book takes the French surrealist adventure to new heights and depths. A Césaire poem is a crisscrossing intersection in which metaphoric traceries create historically-aware nexuses of thought and experience, jagged solidarity, apocalyptic surgery, and solar dynamite.
Eshleman’s first adjective here – fulgurating – seems to me just about exactly right. A charge, a strong and sudden blast of energy, hits me in the mind and spirit when I read the translations from Césaire’s book linked to above, and those presented below.

In this regard, consider please, in the poems below, the staggering questions that begin “Scalp,” the series of similes that explode in the middle of “Totem,” the variety of tom-toms that drum throughout “Ex-Voto For A Shipwreck,” the super-enthusiasm of “Ode To Guinea,” and the awesome listing, at the last third of “Antipodal Dwelling,” of the materials that make up the poet’s self-home.

Ready for the energy? Here then are five poems – bolts of word-lightning – by Aimé Césaire, translated by Arnold and Eshleman, from Solar Throat Slashed:


It is midnight

the sorcerers have not yet come

the mountains have not melted

have I sufficiently told the earth

not to set itself up in fear of sunstroke?

Shall I tighten my throat with a cord made from the ivy of my mutterings?

fish gatherers of water and its receptacle

it is above your heads that I speak

like the stars in the honey drool from my bad dreams and the earth it has birthed beneath us

It is true that I left my fingernails full in the flesh of the cyclone amongst the brawl of huge cockchafers

even to making spurt a new yellow semen

throwing myself under its belly to measure

my rutting


by the hard blood of rape

between two criminals

I know the hour

he who dies

he who leaves

But one but I

enclosed in the tuft that benumbs me

and by the grace of dogs

beneath the innocent and liana-unpleating wind

a hero of the hunt helmeted with a golden bird



From far to near from near to far the circumciseds’ sistrum and a sun outside principles drinking in the glory
of my chest a big slug of red wine and flies

how from tier to tier from distress to heritage would the totem not leap its tepidity of hearth and treason
to the top of the office complex?

like the salty inadvertence of your destructive tongue

like the wine of your venom

like your porpoise back laughter in the silver of the shipwreck

like the green mouse born of the beautiful captive water of your eyelids

like the flight of gazelles of fine salt of snow over the wild heads of the women and of the abyss

like the broad stamens of your lips in the continent’s blue net

like the rifle crack of the minute in the tightened woof of time

like the gorse chevelure that stubbornly grows in the off-season of your marine eyes

quadriga horses stamp the savanna of my vast open speech

from white to fawn

there are sobs silence the red sea and the night



Hélé helélé the King is a great king

let his majesty deign to look up my anus to see if it contains diamonds

let his majesty deign to explore my mouth to see how many carats it contains

laugh tom-tom

laugh tom-tom

I carry the king’s litter

I roll out the king’s carpet

I am the king’s carpet

I carry the king’s scrofula

I am the king’s parasol

laugh laugh tom-toms of the kraals

tom-toms of the mines laughing beneath their cape

sacred tom-toms laughing about your rat and hyena teeth under the very nose of the missionaries

tom-toms of salvation who don’t give a damn about all the salvation armies

tom-toms of the forest

                tom-toms of the desert

               black still virginal muttered by each stone

unbeknownst to the disaster—my fever

weep tom-tom

weep tom-tom

soft tom-tom

soft tom-tom

burned down to the impetuous silence of our shoreless tears

soft tom-tom

            softer still substantial ear

(red ears—ears—distantly the rapid fatigue)

soft tom-tom

roll soft no faster than a log for distant ears

        without utterance without purpose without star

the pure carbon duration of our endless major pangs

roll roll deep roll soft tom-toms speechless deliriums

russet lions without manes processions of thirst stench of the backwaters at night

tom-toms that protect my three souls my brain my heart my liver

harsh tom-toms that maintain on high my dwelling

of water of wind of iodine of stars

over the blasted rock of my black head

and you brother tom-tom for whom sometimes all day long I keep a word now hot now cool in my mouth
like the little-known taste of vengeance

tom-toms of kalahari

tom-toms of Good Hope capping the cape with your threats

O tom-tom of Zululand

Tom-tom of Shaka

tom tom tom

tom tom tom

King our mountains are mares in heat caught in the full convulsion of bad blood

King our plains are rivers vexed by the rotting provisions drifting in from the sea and from your caravels

King our stones are lamps burning with a dragon widow hope

King our trees are the unfurled shape taken by a flame too big for our hearts too weak for a dungeon

Laugh laugh then tom-toms of Kaffirland

like the scorpion’s beautiful question mark

drawn in pollen on the canvas of the sky and of our brains at midnight

like the shiver of a sea reptile charmed by the anticipation of bad weather

of the little upside-down laugh of the sea in the sunken ship’s gorgeous portholes



And by the sun installing under my skin a factory of power and eagles

and by the wind upon my salt-tooth power complicating its best-known passings

and by the black along my muscles in sweet sap effronteries rising

and by the woman supine like a mountain unsealed and sucked by lianas

and by the woman with the little-known cadastre where day and night play mora for spring water

and precious metals

and by the fire of the woman in whom I seek the road of ferns and Fouta Jallon

and by the closed woman opening upon nostalgia


peoples of the ponds

cover with ponds the fields of your long skies

into the low copse cast your prophets

and put their birds out to the wet nurse of the reds surely

let us die and at the hour when on the dial of the subduers

the sun slashes the eared seal’s breast

oh amazons

by the wailing of the bow

by the glory of my nights

by my loins spurting more than ever

by the brown odor of a morning agitated in my nostrils

from the depth of a delirium without trembling

                        I HAIL YOU

Guinea whose rains from the curdled summits of volcanoes

shatter a cattle sacrifice for a thousand hungers

and thirsts of unnatural children

Guinea wood and plant beautiful wild and climbing

rubbed stone from which never sparks a female light

Guinea with tendrils if

all the gin drunk hotter than the plaited blood of the gulfs

I had a begging bowl to decant as from the trees the fruitful blood of your women

by my feet hail Guinea

the forest

hail the alley open on all sides

Guinea oh! the cries

like the bodies of escapees falling virginal in the posthumous camp of the forest

Guinea oh! the cries

like rock salt needles

Guinea oh! the cries

trade wind or monsoon

Guinea of your cry of your hand of your patience

there remain for us always some arbitrary lands

and when killed near Ophir leaving me mute forever

out of my teeth out of my skin let there be made

a ferocious fetish guardian of the evil eye

as your solstice shakes me strikes me and devours me

with each step you take Guinea

mute after all from an astral depth of medusas



Crucible in which is born the world hair humus of the first earth

hair first worry stone

when the rain shall be the thread with which bit by bit the world undoes itself

when the sun shall be a spider in which to lose ourselves one by one

when the sea shall be an octopus to spit our hopes at us in our faces

when the moon shall uncoil and will unroll for us its long serpent body

when the volcano shall shake its wrinkled pachyderm body

when the wind shall no longer blow because we have forgotten to strike the wind stones

when the stones shall cease to speak for having preached too much in the desert

(entangling my veins an entire forest down to its lowest branches

entangling my veins completely the water and the regime of faithful fires

entangling that from the bottom shall dash waterlilies in my face and my blood

of redemption and my shoulders slipping better than any knots


a drop of water in the precious alembic of water tables that shall go to the window and
cry out in Esperanto that the weather is fine poorly heard by the volutes scored by our bitterest spit)

a drop of fire in the throat without risk of wind

firefly and water I shall assemble myself in little drops of water of fire too beautiful for any other architect

dwelling made of water glimpsed upon waking

dwelling made of rumpled perfumes

dwelling made of spangled sleep

dwelling made of swelled chests stretched out of benumbed lizards

strength lines me up on the shadowless meridian

pythons crews of catastrophes unnatural brothers of my longitude

roads raise themselves to the height of green-eyed female gnomes intersected with

prayers taking aim at us on the footbridge of the malfunctioning compass sky

dwelling made of a laying-on of palms of hands

dwelling made of red cheetah eyes

dwelling made of a rain of shells of sand

the revolver shots give me a halo too vast this time for my head which arrives via portage in spare parts


Aimé Césaire
(26 June 1913 – 17 April 2008)


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”