Understanding Too Late

It’s early yet, but the teams I follow in the major leagues of North American baseball seem headed in opposite directions: The Cubs south, having dropped six of their first nine, demonstrating a penchant for losing from in front: the A’s north, winning eight in a row after playing their first two games of the season without bats; the A’s play far from perfect baseball but when things are going their way, they look like a bunch of kids, no cares in the world.

While watching the A’s take apart the American League franchise from Anaheim on Wednesday night–I find few things in televised sports are more fun to watch than a glutted, money-besotted team fall flat on its face the way the Angels did to the underpaid Athletics–Kate pulled out a book of baseball poetry, “Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves.” She turned to a poem we’ve read many times in the past, “Pitcher,” by Robert Francis (1901-1987).

Here it is, reproduced without permission (but believe me, not for profit):

Pitcher

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

That is a gem, a perfect description of something you can watch inning after inning, game after game, season after season and still not see how different appearance is from intent. And that’s where I think I tend to read poetry, too–on the surface. In poking around to see if I could find a copy of “The Pitcher” online, I came across a nice analysis that looks beneath the appearance of the couplets to examine the poem as a metaphor for writing poetry (I found a more technical analysis here).

Why didn’t I see that? Now that you say it, it’s obvious, like the way an inside fastball can set up a slider low and away. Or another inside fastball.

Here’s another Francis poem, “Catch.” Maybe what’s going on here–I’m talking about intent, not technique, about which I know nothing–is a little clearer.

Catch

Two boys uncoached are tossing a poem together,
Overhand, underhand, backhand, sleight-of-hand, every hand,
Teasing with attitudes, latitudes, interludes, altitudes,
High, make him fly off the ground for it, low, make him stoop,
Make him scoop it up, make him as-almost-as-possible-miss it,
Fast, let him sting from it, now, now fool him slowly,
Anything, everything tricky, risky, nonchalant,
Anything under the sun to outwit the prosy,
Over the tree and the long sweet cadence down,
Over his head, make him scramble to pick up the meaning,
And now, like a posey, a pretty plump one in his hands.

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