It’s not just “Casey at the Bat” you know. I’ve published a chapbook in April 2019 (A.P.D.) Baseball Poems in conjunction with a reading I did that year at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, OK, & you should check out the online Baseball Bard for a website filled with baseball poems.
Inspired in part by Baseball Bard as well as the great interest in baseball by America’s (& the World’s) poets (including Walt Whitman), a group of baseball fans that included not only poets but also business folks, entrepreneurs, community activists, teachers, scholars, & the necessary etc.s got together & created the inaugural National Baseball Poetry Festival held at Polar Park in Worcester, MA, home of the Worcester Red Sox, aka the WooSox. I had to be there, & I wasn’t the only poet from Albany in attendance, Mary McCarthy, former President of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, one of the winners in the baseball poetry contest, & her husband, Kevin were there, along with their daughter, Christine Fowler & her husband Chad.
The Festival started off Friday evening with a reception in Polar Park’s DCU Club, with the usual speeches by organizers & dignitaries, & included poems read by a couple of student winners of the Baseball Poetry contest. One surprise was the President of the WooSox, Dr. Charles Steinberg who read the lyrics of a song, one of many he has written about the city of Worcester, & the WooSox, with copies of his lyrics for all.
Then a grand tour of the stadium, followed by a game between the WooSox & the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the WooSox won 4-2. It was a very cool night, not what you would call “baseball weather.”
On Saturday in the early afternoon there was a reading by students who had submitted poems in the student baseball poetry contest. The students, parents & friends gathered out beyond the left field wall on “the Berm” for a reading, under tent pop-ups to shelter us from the light rain. There were about 17 students reading & many of them were girls. There were also a few adults who read at the end, including Steve Biondolillo, who performed, the first time ever, from memory “Black-Blue & White” about the Yankee’s colors & poetry (!). Steve is one of the forces behind the National Baseball Poetry Festival, & was at nearly every gathering reciting his own baseball poems, one can even find poems on the website of his consulting firm, specializing in fundraising.
I knew it was going to be a long night of poetry & it was chilly & damp, so I opted to go back to my hotel room to rest up rather than attend the afternoon game between the WooSox & the RailRaiders.
Saturday was the open mic night, with four different venues hosting featured readers & open mic sign-ups. I was scheduled to be one of the features at Steel & Wire Cocktail Lounge on Millbury Street, as was Mary McCarthy, so that’s where I spent the evening with my notebook & camera & poems. The place reminded me more a punk rock club (e.g., a smaller version of the QE2 in Albany) than a “cocktail lounge," with a bar filled with neighborhood clientele & a separate room with a stage, a sound set up & stage lights where the reading was held.
The host for the evening was Karen Elizabeth Sharpe, a Worcester poet, who had obviously hosted other poetry events. The program was divided up between sessions for open mic readers & featured poets, with breaks in between to freshen up our drinks or event to get some something to eat. Karen touched my heart when in her opening remarks she quoted writings on baseball by Walt Whitman (!), including his pronouncement that “baseball is our game” (but see this site for a bit of corrections on the story).
The first poet up was Judy Ferra with another surprise for me; after some brief remarks about the poet Stanley Kunitz, who was born in Worcester in 1905, she read 2 poems from an old (out-of-print?) anthology Diamonds Are Forever: Authors and Writers on Baseball, the first poem was “Where It Had Been Oiled” by Albany poet Paul Weinman (1940 - 2015) — I knew I was in the right place.
John Gormond was described as a “big baseball fan,” read “A Game of Numbers” a poem in 9 stanzas about Pete Rose. Steve read a childhood memory of the 1986 World Series (Mets beat the Red Sox), referencing Emily Dickinson, “hope is a thing with cleats…” Dr. Mark Wagner read a poem about a pitch you can’t see, then one titled “Miracles: an Ode for Cleon Jones." Ace the Youth Poet Laureate of Worcester, read a poem just written in the last 30 minutes, “Baseball” (of course). Ron Whittle, who is a Viet Nam War vet & the man who had re-modeled Steel & Wire in recent years, read poems of pride & praise about Worcester.
After a short, drink-refreshing break, there was a cluster of featured poets, beginning with Albany’s own, Mary McCarthy, who began with a poem dedicated to her father, “My First Game.” Next was her poem “The Little Leaguer Grows Up” which was one of the winners in the Festival’s Baseball Poems contest, then on to “Playoff Angst” (a conversation with her husband Kevin), & “Jump Throw” (Derek Jeter), & finished with a poem on weather, not baseball.
Christopher Reilley edited & designed an anthology for the Worcester County Poetry Association, The Baseball Issue, for Opening Day, May 22, 2021, copies of which he was giving out. He talked about the history of baseball in Worcester, & the history of “Casey at the Bat,” written in 1888 in Worcester by Worcester native & journalist Ernest Thayer. He read poems from the collection by Xaulanda Thorpe, Joe Fusco Jr., Tim Kahl & Doug Holder. Still another surprise for me was to see Ron Wallace’s poem “A2000;” Ron is a avid baseball fan whom I met at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, Oklahoma.
Karen Sharpe, our host this night, & one of the organizers of the Festival read a mix of her own poems & a couple works by others, including January Gill O’Neil’s “The Rookie” Karen’s own poems included a couple of erasures, paying tribute to the online Baseball Bard, another about the Earthquake during the 1989 World Series, & a poem for fellow Worcester poet Paul Szlosek “Hot Dogs: the Rules.”
On to more open mic poets. Rex Arrasmith was another contest winner & he read 2 poems about umpiring amateur games. Robbie Gamble read a poem about the end of Pete Rose’s hitting streak, written by someone else. Paul Szlosek talked about Stanley Kunitz, then read a baseball poem & one about his father. One of the poems that Anne Marie Lucci read was “The April Fool in us All” from The Baseball Issue edited by Christopher Really. Paul Leary, another of the contest winners, read poems titled ”Sadie Hawkins Day” & “The Antelope,” as more folks came in from other Baseball Poetry venues that had finished, thus adding some late readers to the line-up.
Audrey Roth, in full Mets regalia, read a poem on a Mets win, with the help of a (Jewish) God. Tommy Twilite, a contest winner, read a poem about minor league baseball, then one that began began with the line, “There is no Time in Baseball…” Bert Heffernan had been a featured reader at another venue & seemed to think he was a feature here too, starting with a football poem, then an interminable baseball poem in rhyme like a bad, pitch-by-pitch modern version of “Casey at the Bat.”
Then on to the last of the featured readers. Mark Sickman, from La Jolla, CA might be called the Father of the Festival. He is the man behind the curtain at Baseball Bard: the Poetry of the Game, which he founded in 2011, to encourage the writing and reading of poetry and verse, & he has been lobbying for this Festival for a few years. A few years back he published my poem “The Cardinal” on the website. I was very pleased to be at Steel & Wire to share the stage with him, &, more importantly, that I had gotten to know him over the days of the Festival. His poems were brief, to-the-point, including a series of triolets on on Rickey Henderson, Ron Darling & others. There was a poem about a short stop (“Soft Hands”), another on a 1st base coach’s advice on stealing, a sonnet spoken by a boozy bartender on Tommy Johns. He opened with “Imperfect Men,” ended with “The Wife of the Home Run King.” Makes me think that I need to write more baseball poems.
Matthew Sisson read “The Baseball,” a meditation about one found in the grass, made in China, then performed one from memory “Knees.”
Then it was my turn, it was late, so I kept it short, 4 poems from my 2019 chapbook Baseball Poems (A.P.D.), the Wasteland pastiche “Octoberland,” the political “Baseball in Palestine,” the poem for my daughter Anna “Waiting for Jacqueline Robinson,” & one written at a Tri-City Valley Cats game, “Vamos Gatos.”
It was only appropriate that the night ended with the force that helped make Mark Sickman’s vision a reality, Steve Biondolillo who reprised the poem from memory that he had performed earlier about the Yankee’s colors “Black-Blue White” (see above).
The next morning there was an informal meeting of a few of us as we had breakfast in the hotel lobby as we basked in the words, & people, & images of baseball that had filled up the previous 2 days. We traded stories, ideas, suggestions, comments, but we all agreed that we would like to be back in Worcester next year. We all had new friends, made connections to other poets & we saw the potential for the energy & the poems to continue next year — after all, “next year” is a timeless baseball mantra.