01/22/2009 2:07 PM ET
The poetic beauty of a batting order
Book from acclaimed poet presents unique look at baseball
By Doug Miller/MLB.com/Entertainment
Charles North is an acclaimed American poet who has won the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship twice, serves as the poet-in-residence at Pace University in New York City, and has published nine collections of poems and critical essays over the last 30 years.
He's also a huge baseball fan, and if you didn't know that, you need to check out his latest book, "Complete Lineups" (Hanging Loose Press, 70 pages), when it comes out in March.
Actually, "Complete Lineups" is a reissue of poems that originally came out in 1972 with drawings by Paula North and new material that experiments with the unique form of writing poems as baseball lineups.
North's lineup poems are simply rendered and, at the same time, quite difficult to explain.
He takes subjects -- people, places or things -- and assigns them slots in a batting order along with positions in the field, as he does here with this lineup of some of the great British poets:
As North explains, you, the reader, are free to decide what it all means.
"I'm usually considered experimental, in one way or another, which means that on different levels, I'm fooling around and trying to break rules of one kind or another," North says of his work. "As a teacher, I encourage people to break 'rules,' with subject matter and forms and language. And that's where I think the lineups fit in.
"You're not supposed to be able to write poems in the form of baseball lineups. So that was interesting to me."
And the selections in "Complete Lineups" get more and more interesting as you leaf through it, like:
San Francisco, ss
New York, p
Carrots, (raw) 2b
Brussels Sprouts, ss
Or, from the "New Lineups" section:
Charles Olson, 3b
Primo Carnera, 2b
Peter The Great, lf
Abraham Lincoln, cf
Julia Child, 1b
Ed (Too Tall) Jones, c
John Kenneth Galbraith, rf
Randy Johnson, ss
Bill Tilden, p
North says he didn't intend the poems to be conversation starters, necessarily, but he does realize that his selections could very well prompt arguments among fans in classic baseball style.
Why, for example, is the film "The Maltese Falcon" batting second and playing left field when "On The Waterfront" is hitting fifth and manning first base?
"The choices are definitely intuitive," North says. "I was going on some idea of what a second baseman type was but not necessarily picking someone who could move someone over.
"Obviously a second baseman isn't a heavy hitter most of the time, and by and large, the heavier hitters, at least traditionally, have played first base, although you get hitters at third and some at short, but more than you do at second. And you get some catchers that can hit, too.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that these come from a general overall feeling. Who are the heaviest hitters? Maybe part of it is reputation and part of it is physical presence. It's not all that reasonable and thought out, but I do have a feeling about people who bat seventh as opposed to people who bat fifth."
Regardless of North's explanations or your own theories about the poems, they've managed to create a stir.
In fact, when the poems first came out 37 years go, sportswriter and now sports broadcaster Larry Merchant devoted two New York Post columns to them, and The Village Voice and The Philadelphia Inquirer both called the lineups "brilliant."
"When Larry Merchant did columns in the Post on it way back when they first came out, he wrote that he was deluged with lineups from his readers," North says. "His second column listed some of them.
"One of them was sandwiches, which I got a kick out of."
North says the idea came from the fact that he grew up a rabid basbal fan who loved statistics and read the lineups in the newspaper every day.
"Batting orders always intrigued me," he says. "I always felt that there were associations that were connected to positions."
And a lot of times, he says, his lineups are not opinion-based.
"With the pets poem, I had to have the cat and dog batting third and fourth, and I love the hamster playing first base, although I don't know where that came from," North says.
"And with the spices, vanilla batting eighth, with garlic a heavy hitter, and salt and pepper up there, those aren't my opinions. That's the way things are."
Throughout the collections, which include lineups of Wordsworth poems, seasons, months, vegetables, colors, and even diseases, the poems run the gamut from hilarious to bizarre to downright touching -- if you choose to read them that way.
"It's wacky enough until or unless you get the idea that I'm taking all types of things on different levels, metaphorically, and grouping them this way," North says.
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.