Friday, July 16, 2010

The Origin of Baseball, by Kenneth Patchen

Don't forget the big time Douglas Manson poetry reading in Boston, Massachusetts, along with 89, yup, that's Eighty-Nine, other poets. And maybe more??

July 31.
Outpost 186.
2:32 p.m.
Cambridge, Mass.

The Origin of Baseball

Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren't enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
A joke--"Time," they'd say, "what's
That mean--time?", laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a madhouse. And he'd stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering, "Can't you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?" But down
Again, there'd be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.

So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.

This is one of my favorite Patchen poems, and one of the most re-published, too. It first appeared in the book The Teeth of the Lion a pamphlet published in the New Directions "Poet of the Month" series for October 1942. 500 of these were published in boards for $1.00 (by William Candlewood at the George Grady Press in NYC) and 2500 in paper published for 50 cents. It was next published in An Astonished Eye Looks Out Of The Air, a work produced by Kemper Nomland, Jr. at the Untide Press (a conscientious objectors' camp in Oregon, known as The Franklin Press), in 1946. Then in Outlaw of the Lowest Planet, the first book by Patchen to appear in England, in 1946. The Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen (1946, 1957 and 1964) and the City Lights book Poems of Humor and Protest (1954), The Collected Poems (1968). You can hear him read it on the Folkways Album Kenneth Patchen Reads His Selected Poems recorded in 1959, and I believe now available through the Smithsonian.

As a note, I want to include a passage from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (1856):

"Who judges prophets, and can tell true seers
From conjurers? That child, there? Would you leave
That child to wander in a battle-field
And push his innocent smile against the guns?"
(book 1, lines 772-5)


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