Yankee go home (PoemTalk #59)

Paul Blackburn, "7th Game: 1960 Series"

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Paul Blackburn performed his poem “7th Game : 1960 Series,” which had been written in 1960, on or near the first day of the 1971 baseball season, during a reading he gave at SUNY Cortland. The poem was later republished in Blackburn’s Collected Poems (here is a PDF copy). The New York Yankees (Blackburn’s team) were heavy favorites in their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and vastly outscored the underdogs in the seven games. But the Pirates won on a home run by a light-hitting second baseman in the final at-bat of the final game (what we now call a “walk off”). As Blackburn introduces the poem, the Cortland audience laughs; listeners to the audio-only recording now might be confused by this, but we think you can safely guess that Blackburn had just put on his Yankee cap.

Ron Silliman, Daisy Fried and Joel Lewis join Al Filreis to talk about this poem, and about Blackburn’s poetry generally. Ron looks closely at 1960 as a year during which Blackburn, usually prolific, wrote almost nothing, our poem being just one of a handful he produced. Is there anything in this poem that helps us understand its compositional context as a time of reticence? Joel contributes, among other things, a rather precise sociological reading of the Cortland student body of the moment the poem was performed, the politics of that moment, at the end of the Sixties, being relevant to the story of 1960 being told in its lines.  Daisy discusses baseball as “a numbers game,” and observes the poem’s use of baseball’s numbers as ideational and peri-metrical markers — offering a poetics of a sort.  All four talkers worked through the image of Fidel Castro, who struck us as an important figure here, although shadowy and subtextual. Castro was of course still very popular at the time the poem was composed, a threateningly attractive cultural force as well as a talented baseball player, and his final emergence coincides with the end of the imperial reign of the Yankee, who now must go home despite retaining much greater firepower than the light-hitting small-time opponents, among them an explosive, soon-dominant Caribbean, Roberto Clemente, whose proud subversion of the Yankees was more potent than that of the accidentally powerful Mazerowski.  Reading out these political valences — and aren’t we always reading baseball allegorically? — it is hard to discern which side Blackburn is on. Our understanding of his celebration of the exclusive focus of the male New York fanatics, whose temporary obliviousness to the pretty young underage girls (“jailbait”) who pass them by, is complicated by the prospect of the gaze naturally returning to its focus once the dynasty has finally been destroyed. Is that a reason to cheer, not lament, the end of the Yankee? Is that a reason to stand on the Left either in ’60 or ’71?

Chris Martin was our engineer once again for this episode of PoemTalk, Al Filreis the show’s organizer and producer, and Steve McLaughlin, as ever, its one and only editor.