Academic journal article Nine

"Baseball over Tea-Cakes": Major League Baseball in American Avant-Garde Poetry from Imagism to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E

Academic journal article Nine

"Baseball over Tea-Cakes": Major League Baseball in American Avant-Garde Poetry from Imagism to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E

Article excerpt

Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills begin their history of baseball by observing that "Baseball in America is many things. But, contrary to widespread belief, professional baseball is not a sport. It is a commercialized amusement business." (1) They go on to demonstrate that baseball "is not only a business but a monopoly as well," detailing Major League Baseball's already immense scale at the time of the 1959 season. My history of Major League Baseball considers this specific corporate incarnation in American poetry, beginning with Ezra Pound and Imagism in the 19105 and concluding with the Language poets in 1970s and 198os, passing through the intermediate stages of Objectivist verse, the Black Mountain poets, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats and the New York Schools. This genealogy makes for a somewhat perverse history of American writing on baseball; with the exception of jack Spicer, baseball is not a significant subject for any of the poets I will address here, and none of them can reasonably be considered "baseball poets." (2) My history will, in fact, be one of writers pointedly not writing about baseball, and the nuances in their approach to this avoidance. Underlying this non-history is a century of growth in Major League Baseball that often matches changes within the avant-garde, with the many ambiguities and controversies of westward expansion and a rampantly postmodern, late-capitalist consumerism providing snug analogies to developments in American poetry.

My history of Major League Baseball in avant-garde American poetry begins with the young Ezra Pound, a writer with very little to say about baseball, a poet who wrote no poetry on baseball and who would only come to approach baseball late in his career. His early example is, however, germane to the manner in which the other writers I will approach deal with baseball in their poetry, chiefly through his early mentoring of the Imagist movement. Imagism's inability to address an amassed urban proletariat, as displayed in Pound's early work as those undifferentiated "faces in the crowd" of "In a Station of the Metro," or the "the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor" in "The Garden," was endemic. (3) Through his Imagist phase and later Pound was unable to convincingly depict a differentiated, modern, urban working-class. Rather than the urban poor, Pound's sympathy would be for the rural peasants of an exoticised China (a sympathy most clearly displayed by the early Pound in the adaptive translations of Cathay [1915]). As far back as 1874, Mark Twain had already warned of baseball's dangerous proximity to the big business interests of the Gilded Age, accusing baseball of becoming "the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century!" (4) With the arrival of the Imagists in the years immediately preceding the Great War, this connection between baseball, mass entertainment, and big business would have been even clearer, and this movement's refusal of such subjects, along with its transatlantic ambivalence towards Americana in general, make it unsurprising that they did not deal directly with the sport. Their example would, however, provide a model for the approach towards baseball employed by the poets I will discuss here.

Imagism originated in London, and the poems quoted above describe London and Paris, neither of which cities held Major League Baseball franchises in the 1915 and 1916 seasons. Across the Atlantic, however, America's stay-at-home poets would make a more direct approach to the national pastime, and in some cases would choose to adapt the techniques of Imagism to this project. William Carlos Williams's much anthologized poem, "At the Ball Game," originally an untitled section of Spring and All (1923), while going further to approach both the baseball crowd and their game, would transfer some of the Imagist ambivalence to the spectacle of the sports crowd. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.