Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems deserves a Hall of Fame nomination for the sheer number and variety of poems it anthologizes for the first time. The strongest praise, however, goes to the quality of the collection. These are fine poems by writers at the top of their game, and the editors’ introduction is both wise and heartfelt. A grand slam!”Don Johnson, editor of Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: Contemporary Baseball Poems
Editors Brooke Horvath of Kent State University and Tim Wiles of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum have collected an impressive array of poems that offers readers a chance to reflect on the variety of ways baseball comes up in our lives. The range of the poetry in this volume gives everyone something to consider, as the featured writers explore love, friendship, spirituality, loss, dreams - all within the context of the game itself.
For example, Joseph Stanton's "Stealing Home" describes both that amazing baseball feat and the difficulties someone faces when trying to return to a childhood home that now feels like a "strange city," while Richard Behm's "Looking for the Baseball" raises questions about changing beliefs as we grow up. "That intellect should doubt itself, / is that the beginning of faith again," and if so, is it of "the old simple faith"? "No," Behan answers. "Something/ else then, a greater faith, and less." He uses the search for a missing baseball as a metaphor for coming to grips with one's loss of faith, and suggests that, perhaps like the baseball found on the edge of a field, the answer was always there before us.
In "The Cure," Katherine Harer writes that baseball brings out "our best hope the best we have to give" as "we coach the best out of one another." There is innocence in the hope we have that each batter could be the one to start the rally, and that is why "baseball is a good antidote for death." It is
into this one afternoon
you can do it
you can do it for us
do it now come on
do it now
David Baker's "Cardinals in Spring," like Harer's poem, gives new life to the idea that baseball can inspire hope in all of us. Looking back to Busch Stadium in 1968, describing the fans in the stadium now as much as then, he asks, "aren't we, in each other, renewed?"
There are few cliched images in this collection, and any poems that at first appear to cover old terrain soon turn those images into new insights. David C. Ward's "Isn't it pretty to think so?" reconsiders the image of a father and son bonding as they play catch. He offers us the idealized image and then a different reality, one where a "beaten father" beats down his son with "a stinging rebuke" as the two play catch. "'Come on! / Be a man!"' he yells, "stitches thrumming / redly, welting a child's palm."
Other poems describe kids learning the game, adults playing for fun, and former major leaguers engaging their skills again, albeit diminished with age. "The Retarded Children Play Baseball" shows us a game where no one really cares that the official rules are not being followed. "Both teams / are so in love with this moment / when the bat makes the ball jump / or fly" that it does not matter that they will probably never learn the "right" way to play the game.
For fans of the game's history, there are poems that take us inside specific games or seasons, consider the importance of Mantle or Ruth, talk about the tragedy of Donnie Moore, and relate the importance of Ernie Harwell to an elderly fan. The late Dan Quisenberry's contribution, "Baseball Cards," chronicles his career through the pictures fans saw on his cards and reveals what was really happening (nerves, stress, losing time with family, fear of the end of a career) behind those public images.
Charles Bukowski's "Betting on the Muse" reminds us that while professional athletes' lives may seem perfect, they often struggle because their successes come when they are so young. He writes:
this is why I chose to be a writer.
if you're worth just half-a-damn
you can keep your hustle going
until the last minute of the last day.
you can keep
getting better instead of worse,
you can still keep
hitting them over the wall.
The contributors to Line Drives are proof of Bukowski s message; rarely is an anthology of poetry so consistently strong. The poems put baseball into perspective-examining how it fits into our lives, how it forms a backdrop for important memories, how it offers us chances to consider past friendships. Read this anthology; then share it with friends who love baseball, who love poetry, or who merely want an opportunity to reflect on life itself.
(Jennifer M. Stolpa