The Brookline Poetry Series Weblog

October 30, 2007

Go Sox!

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Well, it’s official. Boston has the world’s greatest baseball team.

Living just a few blocks from Fenway for many years, I feel that ballpark is part of my ‘hood. I don’t have any baseball poems of my own to offer, although I did find some online. Here’s the estimable Marianne Moore. And here’s a tribute site, including the whole Casey cycle. Finally, Donald Hall’s Museum of Clear Ideas is perhaps the greatest ode to the sport. He gets it–baseball as metaphor, baseball=poetry: a sport that includes everything. An all-purpose game (and who can say, having been to Fenway, that it is anything less than a spiritual experience? The concourse, in all its 19th century charm, is filled with ghosts).

Feeling rather happy about the whole sweep (I was at Game One; stay tuned for photos), and the fact that at this moment our beloved boys are touring the town in a Duck Boat, I’m providing one of Hall’s poems in entirety:

The Ninth Inning
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.

See you at Spring Training!

— SR

October 27, 2007

More publication huzzahs

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Our own dear Ann Killough’s book, Beloved Idea, has just come out from Alice James Books. It won the 2006 Kinereth Gensler Award. Ann, we hope you win the Pulitzer for this. It is a remarkable collection.

— SR

October 24, 2007

Well-deserved

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If you haven’t yet seen it, Boston poet Afaa Michael Weaver is on the cover of this month’s Poets & Writers magazine.

Afaa has been a teacher, mentor and friend to many of us at the series, and we’re thrilled he’s getting this recognition. He is one of the best contemporary American poets, and perhaps now, with the publication of his latest collection, Plum Flower Dance, the wider poetry world will take note.

Afaa will be reading for us later this season. See the website main page for details.

Congratulations, Afaa!

— SR

October 21, 2007

Hearing Yourself

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I was recorded this morning, for a poem that’s being published in an online journal, and it was a strange experience. It got me thinking about what it’s like to hear your own voice come back to you.

At our series each month, person after person approaches the mic, reads, and we hear that voice. It enters us, often sustains us, may make us laugh.

There’s something crucial about hearing poetry. I received from my friend John a recording of Seamus Heaney reading his own translation of Beowulf, in both contemporary and Old English, and it’s such a delight. I will often peruse the listening booth at the Academy of American Poets website. I have several collections of poetry on disc–my favorite is Auden–that I’ll listen to now and again. The digital age is allowing us to download Dylan Thomas onto our IPods. It’s a remarkable time to be a lover of verse.

Still, listening to my own voice was strange. Almost like the experience of your own voice coming back to you in a canyon’s echo, but less fleeting. Dan V., the sound engineer, explained a bit of the mechanics–that your own voice comes to you through the solidness of your skull; it’s registering along different pathways than the voice coming through air to the listener. Like catching sight of yourself in the mirror when you aren’t expecting to–the face, the gesture, the tics are all wrong.

But it was my voice, a little more controlled than in daily conversation, modulated through a system of reverb and wires. I was listening to how my friends hear me, my family, my students. It made me wonder what exactly any of them really hears in my voice when I open my mouth and speak.

— SR

October 18, 2007

Bringing down the house…

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Our first two readings this season have been spectacular. Great happy sighs abounding as Cynthia Cruz, Tracy K. Smith (Sept.) and Susan Eisenberg and John Hodgen (Oct.) read to overflow audiences in our quaint basement site at The Booksmith.

Cynthia’s work just gut-punched line after line, image after image. I’ve been thinking about her subject matter a lot. And Tracy K. Smith wrote with such elegance. I kept imagining points where I thought the poem was over, and she kept going. Then there’d be another great line I’d think was it, but no, it kept on. This pushing past a logical place has also informed what I’ve been doing lately. Trying to, as Annie Lamott says, go past the place where you think the story/poem is finished, because that’s when the writing is about to begin.

Susan Eisenberg is a tough-as-nails licensed electrician with a great intellect and spirit. She made me want to return to my family as subject, one I keep thinking I’ve exhausted but still find a bottomless source.

And then there was John Hodgen, who left us gasping. John is a great storyteller, and he wove long, lyrical introductions that led, ultimately, to amazing, splendid poems. As Ann K. said afterward, it’s a whole tapestry, with the poems at the center.

I’ve also decided John and I were separated at birth: children of the mills, lovers of Keats. There were other correspondences that I’ve now forgotten. But I did decide to begin a cycle of Mae West poems, to which John replied that his favorite guy ever is W.C. Fields. So we’ve also come out of the 20’s together, it seems.

— SR

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