In Donald Hall’s The Museum of Clear Ideas, a poet explains baseball to a dead German artist. As poets will do, Hall has found a clever way to discourse about topics oddly juxtaposed—baseball and German art history; the two subjects must be among those that the poet K.C. holds as dear to himself as the glares he sneaks at his wife Jenny’s rear end. Baseball, German collage, and a wife’s rear end commingle to offer quaint surprise in this collection of poems that is structured like a ball game—nine innings of a Northeasterner reciting lyrics from the bleachers at Fenway. Play Hall! These poems seem to be a rustic hermit’s musings on all things sacred in the cozy corner of American idyll (not Idol!). Lucky for me, I brought this collection on our summer 2006 trip to New Hampshire not because I am a huge baseball fan, but because sports of any kind are not really my forte, but I am always eager and willing to learn almost anything.
While my flight descended over the suburbs of Boston, I must have counted twenty baseball diamonds. The meticulous lawn care and the careful drawing of boundaries do make those ballparks look rather graceful from up above, as if they are outdoor, dare I say, sacred spaces. Imagine ages hence if ruins cover these baseball parks and all evidence of our culture is lost and buried so that scholars have to piece it all together again. Perhaps they’ll speculate: “These arenas were temples where spectators worshipped the sound of a bat cracking a ball.” Just kidding. On a more optimistic note: while my flight descended, I was admiring the ballparks and wondering who would win the 3006 World Series.
But I didn’t come to New England for baseball. I came to celebrate July 4 and the World Cup finals with my good friends.
I wished I had a poet with me who could have explained soccer. I mean I know the basic rules of the game (played on a Baskin Robins team when I was wee); but it would be nice to know, in a more poetic way, all about the nuances that excite soccer fans. I hadn’t a soccer poet with me, so I took it upon myself to read up on the game on the Internet. My friends hosting the party in New Hampshire happen to be soccer fans and former players, so in the interest of preparing for fruitful party conversation, I’ve been studying what inspires billions of people around the world to work up fever over futbal. Please do check out this interactive World Cup map brought to you by the BBC.
I’d provide an interactive map of my East Coast summer vacation, but I don’t have the techno savvy to indulge such pleasures. I spent Friday in Boston, Saturday to Wednesday in and around New Market and Portsmouth in New Hampshire, and Thursday through Monday in and around New Jersey and New York. I enjoyed the breeze whooshing through the trees in New Hampshire while I read Donald Hall’s essays about Eagle Pond. I learned that in the 19th Century, Portsmouth rivaled Boston as a boomtown. You might not really guess that unless a poet with a good nose for history told you.
This first week of July, storm clouds teased us during the long afternoons, but there wasn’t any of the mud of October that Donald Hall writes about. Donald Hall experiences New Hampshire on a farm in Danbury that his hard-working ancestors owned. I am experiencing New Hampshire by spending a few days in a house my friends own, friends who feel as close, or perhaps—sadly—closer to me than my blood relations. To some degree I do envy Don Hall’s connection with his ancestors. My maternal grandmother owned a farm in Southern Illinois. I spent some memorable summers there as a child, but that old house and all the land and relics have been sold. What I do have now are good friends who live in a small town in New Hampshire. They’re all transplants from the city, but we love to escape to small town New Hampshire to sit back with nothing to do but talk and drink and reclaim a sense of intimacy. We are almost the precise “types” that Donald Hall opposes. But Hall is in error if he assumes that city people do not appreciate a strong historical sensibility. Many urban folk enjoy a much more sophisticated connection to the past than Don Hall gives them credit for. Hall has his back chamber full of relics, his huge Glenwood range, his sap house, his tools, his chopped wood, his satellite dish, his strong community, and his country ghosts. More power to him! Perhaps we urbanites and transplants are the ones who have stripped down to the basics; we live on our wits and financial chutzpah alone. Perhaps we’ve been misrepresenting all along, and it is urban folks who keep life simple. Wink.