Published on Poetry New York (http://www2.evergreen.edu/poetryny)

Willie's Throw by Paul Metcalf reviewed by Will

America's first contribution to the idea of sport was anxiety condensed. Its game works on me; baseball is one of very few things that tenses me like a spring, almost in imitation if the game's participants. I can hear Keirkegaard's anxious experience of God in the section of Jack Spicer's Book of Magazine Verse where a baseball is the deity in front of the poor athletes. How else could a sport where you must wait 5 hours to watch roughly ten seconds of physical exertion become such a spectacle? Where an athlete's strength is concentrated in so few areas that a baseball player has no need of physical health?

The American athlete first presented in Baseball differs enormously from the Greek athlete of the quintuple games, whose body struggles against the possible in wide directions of exertion. But this connection is exactly what Paul Metcalf sets out to make in 'Willie's Throw,' published as a chapbook by Pequod press in 1981 with an illustration by James Kearns. He ties together a series of quotations, from an autobiographical statement by Willie Mays about a double play that involved a quick physical contortion akin to discus throwing, Metcalf's memories of that same play, as well as several classical and scientific sources describing, from various angles, a discus throw. These fragments and quotations are separated by typefaces and section breaks, but the overall trend is toward a unity. The poem ends with a conversation between Willie Mays and his physician about the odd fact that Mays lacks the typical layer of fat across his back, as though to say that his body, like those of all athletes, classical Grecian, to modern American, are struggling for new possibilities, drawing a grand unity.

This grand connection ignores the motivations of these athletes, however: the anxiety and superstition of an American baseball player would be out of place at the pentathlon, and the Greeks don't have a gigantic baroque/industrial God to scare them into playing baseball. In the end Metcalf's poem made me realize that I love the poetry of Jack Spicer.

‹ Kenneth Patchen - We Meet [0]The Invention of Perspective, by G. L. Ford, reviewed by William Owen › [0]

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