Today is the opening day for millions of baseball fans--including me. (This poet cheers for the Dodgers.)
Another fan of baseball, Stephen Crane (b. 1891 in New York, and shown above as a Syracuse University undergraduate), made a name as a journalist, and wrote novels, short-stories, and poetry at the turn of a prior century. Here is a brief biography of the artist--and his influential friends--thinkers such as H.G. Wells and Henry James. And here is some information on his baseball-loving Syracuse days. And here is a wonderful Best American blog post on his birthday in November.
A highschool sophomore I know sent me the following poem; in fact, it is his favorite early American poem. Stephen Crane’s “’Truth,’ Said a Traveller” he wrote, "presents two conflicting themes, first that truth is an achievable phenomenon, and second that it is mysterious and unreachable, a shifting, relative, and utterly mysterious entity."
"Truth," said a traveller, "Is a rock, a mighty fortress; Often have I been to it, Even to its highest tower, From whence the world looks black." "Truth," said a traveller, "Is a breath, a wind, A shadow, a phantom; Long have I pursued it, But never have I touched The hem of its garment." And I believed the second traveller; For truth was to me A breath, a wind, A shadow, a phantom, And never had I touched The hem of its garment.
In his fascinating 1975 essay, "The Hole in the Bucket", (Coming into the Country, University of Michigan Press) John Haines claims that "American poetry lacks ideas." He continues, "Like all large statements, this one covers a lot of ground and leaves plenty of room for error". Was Haines responding to a lack he felt in 1975 that previous generations of American poetry had not shared? Yes, he seems to be!
However, it is precisely a poetry of ideas that I think we are beginning to see, more and more, in some of recent contemporary poetry...sinuous, philosophical long poems. Quirky philosophical sonnets. Experimental leaps and fancies that hold ideas central and foremost. Ben Lerner. Fanny Howe. Olena Kalytiak Davis. Claudia Rankine. Dan Beachy-Quick. Ben Doller. Douglas Kearney. Paisley Rekdal. And on and on.
Thanks, Stephen Crane. Thanks, John Haines.