Saturday, April 4, 2009

“The Origin of Baseball”

I’m back!—well sort of. I’ve worked things out so I’ll probably have a bit of daily computer time, & it looks like there will be posts for the next few days at the very least. I’m going to try & respond to comments as much as I can & also to read all of y’all’s wonderful blogs, but I will say that my Google Reader is teeming right now & I doubt I’ll get to do much reading before tomorrow, when I should have more more computer leisure time.

As friends & long-time readers of this blog know, I love baseball. I’ve followed the sport since I was a lad, & even played while I lived in San Francisco in a fun “beer league” called the Roberto Clemente League (you can read more about that here, in an early Robert Frost’s Banjo post). Opening day for Major League Baseball is this coming Monday (opening night is Sunday, but that's a newfangled idea), & it’s a day that always occupies a big psychic space on my internal calendar.

In honor of that, I’m posting a poem by Kenneth Patchen about baseball—or is it about baseball? As is the case with many of Patchen’s poems, it’s about a lot of things—detachment & engagement, imagination & reality, & human suffering—a lot in 22 lines. Patchen is a vastly under-rated poet in my opinion—an understatement in many ways, because he’s a virtual unknown who’s been shunned by academia & forgotten by most everyone else. In many ways the conservative streak in modernism—so clear in Eliot, Pound, Yeats, & Frost—has, I believe made academia tend to teach the poetry of the first half of the 20th century from a conservative bias (even if the teachers themselves aren’t necessarily conservative). As a result, the more radical writers such as Patchen, Mina Loy & Kenneth Fearing have gone virtually unknown. Even someone like Gertrude Stein, who simply can’t be ignored, has been forced into a somewhat subsidiary role, despite the fact that if one read, for instance, her Three Lives next to something like Hemmingway’s In Our Time, his indebtedness to her would become clear, as would the more encompassing range of her vision (in my humble opinion at least).

Any way—enough of a rant on the vicissitudes of writerly reputations; if you'd like to read more of my thoughts on Mr Patchen, check out an earlier post featuring another of his poems. I do hope you enjoy the poem—& thanks so much for the many kind wishes; I’m doing “OK.”

The Origin of Baseball

Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren’t enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
A joke – “Time,” they’d say, “what’s
That mean – Time?”, laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a mad house. And he’d stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering, “Can’t you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?” But down
Again, there’d be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.

So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.

Kenneth Patchen
© Kenneth Patchen 1942


  1. Thank you, thank you. I love Kenneth Patchen's poetry, and I like baseball, too, though I'm never sure whom to cheer for, anymore. That's what happens when you move around too much. Glad to see you're okay -

  2. Hi Sandra:

    Wow, that was fast. Well, I root for the Giants, but I can't say I'd recommend that for anyone who's not a bit masochistic. Glad you like Patchen-- he's very good.

    Am off again, but I believe I'll be checking in tomorrow afternoon (US Mountain Time), & a post is scheduled to appear tomorrow AM.

  3. My mother was from Pittsburgh, so growing up I saw Roberto Clemente many times. Until Ken Griffey, Jr. came along, the great Roberto was the best player I saw personally. (I never got to see Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle.) I still haven't seen a better right fielder -- and that includes Dwight Evans -- and I doubt that I ever will. Opposing players called Clemente's right arm "El Bazooka."

    Despite the challenges of seeing a night game at the Stick, taking in an afternoon game from the upper deck was a thing of beauty. Definitely worth a poem! Night games could be something else, though: One time, it was so cold that a couple invited me to share their blanket with them.

  4. banjos & Baseball!Sweet!I hope Your weekend is a good one?Welcome Back.

  5. Charming poem! I love the notion of EBB muttering up there.

    Welcome back. You were missed!

  6. Hi K, Tony & Willow:

    K: The one year I had season tickets at the Stick (94-- yikes!) I had a plan for night games. I have a fair number of Croix de Candlestick, the pins they gave out for night game extra inning affairs. Clemente was the best!

    Tony: Well, I'm hanging in there anyway! Thanks!

    Willow: I'm more or less back-- not sure what's what. But I'll at least be peeking in & out. Thanks!


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