Category Archives: sports poetry

Rhyme time?

Poetry Month is circling the drain, almost gone, so I figured I ought to get busy. My stock in trade is sportswriting—pretty low-brow stuff compared to most composition, especially poetry—but who doesn’t aspire to something loftier, to be more than just one of those who only knows prose?

A motivation was the recent essay by Garrison Keillor, the grand humorist who created radio’s delightful Prairie Home Companion. Though “we all suffered under English teachers who forced us to pretend to be sensitive and sigh with appreciation” over poetic metaphors and similes, Keillor wrote, and though “many police departments now use Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ instead of pepper spray,” he offered encouragement.

“You can do it,” he coaxed. Write poetry.

So I Googled “how to write a poem” and came across some tips (have a goal, avoid sentimentality, use images, rhyme with extreme caution) and stumbled onto some examples from the only poet I recall ever really understanding, sly Ogden Nash, whose piece entitled “Fleas” goes:

    Adam

    Had’m.

I can’t do that. But I was heartened by the knowledge that Nash was a baseball fan. In 1949, he published a poem in Sport Magazine that paid tribute to the sport’s great players in alphabetical order, from A to Z, including these nifty lines:

    C is for Cobb, Who grew spikes and not corn. And made all the basemen Wish they weren’t born.

    D is for Dean, The grammatical Diz. When they asked, Who’s the tops? Said correctly, I is.

    E is for Evers, His jaw in advance; Never afraid To Tinker with Chance.

    F is for Fordham. And Frankie and Frisch; I wish he were back With the Giants, I wish.

The Garrison Keillor piece suggested attempting a poem “for someone you dearly love,” but that seems risky for an amateur. I wouldn’t want to scare her off after all these years. Better, too, I decided, to avoid puppies, grandparents, young lovers and other clichés. Rather, just start by attempting verse mixed with familiar sport. Maybe with a nod to Joe Hardy on an old theme:

    There once was a team from the Bronx

    Known for its homers, big bonks.

    Its demise a temptation

    That was shared ‘round the nation,

    But a Faustian bargain? No thonx.

Or perhaps something fit for playoff time in winter sports leagues:

    A little haiku

    To describe hockey action.

    Skate, shove, punch, punch, punch.

Or an observation about an old basketball star’s new job:

    Patrick Ewing

    For years was stewing

    Yearning to be a coach.

    His old school has hired him

    (Eventually to fire him)

    That’s generally the sports approach.

Call this one “ESPN:”

    Turned on the TV,

    Sat in the lounger,

    Heard all the quacking, pre-game.

    What about real insight?

    Beyond the sound bites,

    Why’s commentary sound so lame?

     —

    The heads are talking,

    Loud’n caffeinated.

    Time to grab the ol’ remote.

    Only a din glutton

    Eschews the mute button.

    It’s for the players to showboat.

Well, I tried. Good enough for pepper spray, at least?

    I’ve showed so little poetic muscle

    The highest compliment I could get

    Would be backhanded.

    “Way to hustle.”

Next April, maybe.

 

Things that rhyme with “sports”

To send National Poetry Month on its way after its annual visit, let us consider a couple of apparently strange bedfellows: sports and verses. Because these visibly divergent, adversarial activities—physical exertion in contrast to imagery and emotion (sports versus verses)—in fact have real and metaphysical links.

How do I demonstrate? Let me count the ways.

Onomatopoeia can tackle jocks, can swish a basketball. Athletes do perform rhythmically, lyrically at times. Not only is there a substantial body of poetry about sports—and several cases of athletes turned poets—there also is this uncanny connection:

Matt Harvey (bbc.co.uk)

Matt Harvey (bbc.co.uk)

Matt Harvey (newsday.com)

Matt Harvey (newsday.com)

Five years ago, Wimbledon tennis officials designated, as their tournament’s first poet laureate, one Matt Harvey. Baseball fans certainly know the name, if not that Matt Harvey’s work, which includes a concise piece about Andy Murray, the Scotland-born United Kingdom favorite who often disappointed his national following before finally winning Wimbledon in 2013:

If ever he’s brattish/or brutish or skittish

He’s Scottish.

But when he looks fittish/and his form is hottish

He’s British.

One of the best known poems in American literature is a baseball piece, Ernest Thayer’s 1888 “Casey at the Bat,” such a standard that it has spawned countless takeoffs, including then-New York City major John Lindsay’s “Ode to the New York Mets” on the occasion of the 1969 World Series:

Oh, the outlook isn’t pretty for the Orioles today/They may have won the pennant, but the Mets are on the way…..

A member of that championship Mets team, third baseman Ed Charles, has written numerous poems, including “Jackie Robinson, Superstar,” penned on Oct. 24, 1972, the day Robinson died:

He accepted the challenge and played the game/with a passion that few men possessed.

He stood tall in the face of society’s shame/with a talent that God had blessed….

At the 2012 London Olympics, the poet laureate of South Dakota, David Allan Evans—a former pole vaulter—presented his verse, “Pole Vaulter:”

Unless I have counted my steps/hit my markers/feel up to it

I refuse to follow through/I am committed to beginnings/or to nothing….

Plus, of course, there were Mohammad Ali’s little rhymes, often crafted to predict when and how he would win specific bouts, and sometimes merely to broadcast his own greatness:

I dance and I have a fast hook/I take the people’s money like I’m a crook.

In a recent airing of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” Boston Red Sox public address announcer and team poet laureate Dick Flavin recited his rhyming tribute to Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, which concludes:

There just is no rhyme to go with Yastrzemski/And take that from one who had made the attemptski.  

Which is reminiscent of a 1968 ditty about Baltimore Colts lineman Dick Szymanski by the wonderfully sly Ogden Nash:

The life of an offensive center/is one that few could wish to enter.

You’ll note that that of Dick Szymanski/Is not all roses and romanski….

I have an old book of sports poems, edited by R.R. Knudson and P.K. Ebert, with compositions covering all the major athletic endeavors, and even some of the lesser ones, such as parachuting and polo.  It concludes with a list of the sports about which the editors “were unable to locate poems.” And an invitation for the reader to “try writing your own.”

IMG_0735

Uh, oh…

Limerick, quatrain, doggerel, sonnet/How to describe a sport? Dog-gone it…

Maybe something like this for the Winter Olympic sport of biathlon?

Guns and violence/Snot dripping from my nose.

Sweating’ in wintertime/Can’t feel my toes.

As much as I try, can’t deny/I’m a bi

Athlete.

To make Charlton happy/I’m totin’ a rifle.

Wax you with my skis/With me, don’t trifle.

White beard, white hair/Struggle with blank stare.

Rickety stride, pain in my side/I’m a bi

Athlete.

OK, then. Perhaps figure skating?

I can’t figure skating/And I can’t figure her

Slipping around with guys in sequins

Falling on their wallets with a certain frequen

Cy.

That one goes on a couple more stanzas. And I have others. But the good news is that National Poetry Month is over.