Is it coincidence or design that
April is National Poetry Month
April is Mathematics Awareness Month
(This year's theme is "mathematics and sports")
In my own reading, baseball is the sport for which I have found the most poetry.
For example, there is Yankee fan Marianne Moore's poem Baseball and Writing (suggested, the poet noted, by post-game broadcasts). Matching the counting in baseball with the counting of syllables, Moore's poem involves lots numbers. She has seven 12-line stanzas. The first lines of each stanza have 12 syllables (except for stanzas 5 and 6 which have 11 and 13), the second lines have 7 or 8 syllables, . . . the final lines have 8 or 9 syllables. Moore also uses varied indentation to give her stanzas a particular shape--and all stanzas have the same shape. Moore's poem begins:
Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
a fever in the victim--
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited? Might it be I?. . .
Specifying a syllable count for each line yields a form of poetry known as syllabic verse. Marianne Moore (1877-1972) and Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) are among the 20th Century poets with whom this style was popular. It is more common in Japanese (for example, Haiku) and French (which are termed "syllable-timed languages") than in English, where verse more often focuses primarily on stressed (accented) syllables. In my own work, I have experimented with SQUARE poems--in which the number of syllables in each line is the same as the number of lines.
Ernest Lawrence Thayer's well-known ballad Casey at the Bat makes liberal use of numbers in its first stanza; this and a host of other baseball poems are available at the Baseball Almanac website.
By using #39 as title for a poem about Roy Campanella, poet Jerry Wemple reminds us how a player’s number can be more than a label—indeed, a name. Here, in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th stanzas of Wemple’s poem (You Can See It from Here, Lotus Press, 2000) are some of the numbers that affected the ball-player's life:
Campy rising at 1 a.m. to deliver milk
And two blocks' worth of papers.
Campy who had three grown men pull up
In a white Caddy convertible,
Pay his momma three times
Daddy's weekly wage to let him
Catch games on the weekend.
Campy who quit school at 15, Spent ten
Years squatting in the Negro leagues, . . .
The full text of Wemple's poem appears in Broken Land; Poems of Brooklyn.
A thought from Robert Frost:
Poets are like baseball pitchers.
Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.
A challenge for YOU, on this April day --
write (and post) a limerick of baseball and mathematics.