Monday, February 25, 2008

Objectivists and On-Base Percentage

George Oppen was a contemporary of Carl Rakosi. They were part of a loose confederation of poets in the middle of the 20th century who called themselves Objectivists.

Gregory Luce, a.k.a Enchilada, had a post on his blog about Oppen. It’s funny; Oppen was published by, among other imprints, Black Sparrow Press. I have a shelf of Black Sparrow books**, including a volume of Rakosi’s poems, but until Luce mentioned Oppen, I had never read anything by him.

With Luce’s gentle prodding, I tracked down Oppen’s last published collection (Primitive, Black Sparrow Press, 1978). It’s on inter-library loan from the Minneapolis Central Library, so I have to read it quickly (no renewals!), which is a challenge. For me, his stuff isn’t readily approachable. One of the Objectivist principles is the primacy of structure. I have needed some extra time to decipher the structure in some of his work and to see how it affects the meaning and tone of the poem. (Oh god, this is sounding like a sophomore English assignment.)

So, it is serious business, reading George Oppen. But he was a serious guy. He even stopped writing poems for a decade or so because he wanted to effect radical political change and did not think poetry could advance that cause. (Apostate!)

At the same time as I’m trying to appreciate Oppen’s work, Major League Baseball started spring training. Now there’s an interesting juxtaposition. Spring training is not serious business. There’s as much horseplay, goofing around, and golf as there is working on the game. I like spring training for just that combination of work and play, of seriousness and silliness, and of course the optimism (usually unjustified) that infuses every camp. I tried to imagine what George Oppen would write if he left his dour world view behind for a day or two and hung out at spring training.

First, a short example of Oppen’s work. This from Primitive:

Waking Who Knows

the great open

doors of the tall

buildings and the grid

of the streets the seed

is a place the stone
is a place mind

will burn the world down alone
and transparent

will burn the world down tho the starlight is
part of ourselves



So, let’s go from images of the apocalypse to, say, Fort Myers, where the Twins are enjoying the rigors (rigors?) of spring training. This is my presumptuous attempt to turn George Oppen into Donald Hall.

Covering First

pitchers practice fielding
the bunt

trying to decide whether to cover
first or first to
toss that little toss to

the first baseman
has to make sure the
runner will

step on the bag not the foot

these men laugh and sweat
runs run
hard to first

but do not do anything

old coach pitches
batting practice
he’s smoking

a cigar

* Black Sparrow published, among many others, Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Bukowski, Sherril Jaffe, and Ed Dorn.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Jim! Oppen's worth grappling with, tho' he's not the most pleasurable to read. If you can find his earlier collected you'll find a few lovely pieces among the more challenging. And I liked your Oppen meets Hall meets Jim H poem.