Red Letter Poem #53

Steven Ratiner, Arlington’s Poet Laureate, is today’s guest blogger.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” And right now, if you’re like me, you’re recalling the smell of movie popcorn and reciting the lines along with the Terrence Mann character from A Field of Dreams. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” Here, just in time for Opening Day at Fenway Park and stadiums across the country, is a poem to celebrate baseball’s return, marking the true beginning of spring. Even in this age of sports magnification and acceleration – designed to appeal to generations raised on video-game-extravaganza – baseball, that most American of pastimes, somehow endures in its quietude.

And Gail Mazur’s piece – which appears in her recent collection Land’s End: New and Selected Poems (The University of Chicago Press) – isn’t just about baseball; it moves with the same deliberate pace, carefully considers each signal call and infield shift as the scene evolves. Both possess a tremendous depth of thought hidden beneath the surface – all before the ball even leaves the pitcher’s hand. In baseball – and unlike most other sports today – emotion too tends to be subdued, only occasionally bursting into view with breathtaking surprise. Gail’s poem keeps its heart veiled, but we receive brief and tantalizing glimpses: there’s the “Easter egg” allusion to the cherished John Updike essay, “Hub Fans Bid the Kid Adieu”, about Ted Williams’ final game. And though it’s surely a Red Sox home game, the Boston team is never mentioned – even as the name of the dreaded opponent appears twice. I wasn’t surprised by the bitter outburst from the old woman in the stands, wishing utter destruction upon the Yankee player. But contrast that with the tenderly-observed boy in the Yankees cap sleeping against his father. Baseball – and poetry – become occasions where our long-standing traditions provide us with the means for checking the score and examining how our lives have changed.

Poet and educator, Gail Mazur is the author of seven poetry collections, finalist for the National Book Award, and recipient of numerous fellowships and honors. But in my mind, at the top of that list must be her role as the creator of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, still going strong since 1973; for half a century, it’s been the spiritual hub of our poetry community. Any long practice that’s built upon deep attention, by its nature, reflects the heart – both that of the maker and spectator. That famous movie speech concludes: baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” True for both baseball and poetry. Play ball!

Red Letter Poem #53: 

Red Letter 53 FINAL

The Red Letter Poems Project was created in grateful partnership with many of our town’s cultural resources: the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, the Arlington Center for the Arts, the Robbins Library, the Arlington International Film Festival, and Arlington Community Education.  See the full archive of the project at http://artsarlington.org/red-letter-poems/.  We’ll send out a poem from a new poet every week. If you enjoy them, we encourage you to forward them to friends –  in Arlington and beyond –  or to post them on your social media platforms with the hashtags: #RedLetterPoems, #ArlingtonPoetLaureate. If you want to make sure you receive these poems directly – or to receive notices about future poetry events – send an e-mail to: steven.arlingtonlaureate@gmail.com with the subject line ‘mailing list’.

In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art – and, in truth, even the COVID-19 crisis itself – serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.

– Steven Ratiner

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