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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Startling Ineptitude

Here is the beginning of a poem about baseball, by Rolfe Humphries, who is also one of the first translators of Lorca:

Time is of the essence. This is a highly skilled
And beautiful mystery. Three or four seconds only
From the time that Riggs connects till he reaches first,
And in those seconds Jurges goes to his right,
Comes up with the ball, tosses to Witek at second
For the force on Reese, Witek to Mize at first,
In time for the out -- a double play.

Do you see the problem? Time is of the essence (cringe-worthy cliché), indeed, but the poet seems not to have understood that his is also an art of time. He has a wooden ear ("highly skilled" he is not). His phrasing is clunky; he is writing prose divided up into lines in an awkward way. We know the elegance of a double play well turned, but the poet's language adds nothing to this. We already know it's a double play before we get to the phrase at the end of this stanza! The poet is doing badly what the baseball play-by-play announcer would do expertly, almost effortlessly.

Certain people should just not be allowed to come near a poem.


Andrew Shields said...

Given his dates (1894-1969), I wonder when the poem you quote here was written. Was it written before radio broadcasts created a way to talk about baseball?

Jonathan said...

Witek played in the 40s, so no, this was the age of radio, precisely. That's what the poet was trying to imitate.

Andrew Shields said...

The flat language is thus incredibly startling.

Vance Maverick said...

Compare Roger Angell, whose stodginess I would hitherto have thought hopeless, but who seems hip in comparison.