Sunday, November 29, 2009

David Citino, Poets, and Baseball

My thesis director at Ohio State was a kind, positive, generous man named David Citino, who was nothing less than an institution at an institution of some 50,000 students. Yesterday I ran across this blog entry from the editor at Valparaiso Poetry Review, a solid online journal (and not just because they published a poem of mine long ago).

Below is what was quoted from David's book The Eye of the Poet: Six Views on the Art and Craft of Poetry from VPR's blog. I just wish my students, and even me, would heed this advice on a more consistent basis--you can't become a poet of the future if you don't open up to some humility and learn the poets of the past and the now (the good and the bad). I think my job, especially in poetry workshops, is split 50 / 50--be encouraging, a guide, a co-writer, and also to humble my students to the point of feeding / spurring their desire to learn the craft and give themselve to the process (and to get used to being humbled... I was humbled twice last week. That's not a euphamism.).

"I went to a ninth-grader to learn how to throw a curve ball. He showed me. “You grip the seams. You snap your wrist down, as if you held a match a second too long.” Then one day the coach of my little league team, with even more wisdom won from age, told me not to throw a curve at all until I reached sixteen and started to get my grown-up body, or I’d do irreparable damage to my elbow. (Perhaps there are moves, twists, and velocities that younger poets should wait to try. I need to investigate this further.)

Years later, an opposing coach, after his team had knocked me around quite smartly, my best pitches whizzing back past my ears, told me that he had alerted his team to the fact that, whenever I threw the curve, I tipped my hand by sticking out my tongue a little, as if I were concentrating.

“Son,” he said to me, “you have to learn, when you throw the bender, to keep your damn tongue in your mouth.”

Live and learn. I hadn’t known that the art is to hide the art. A pitcher or poet needs (I hope this doesn’t mix the metaphor too violently) a poker face, so as not to announce to the batter or reader his or her intentions. I’ve never forgotten this kindness extended to an enemy—nor have I forgotten the importance to the poet of having a reader with a good eye and ear. Those paunchy, grizzled men sitting in dugouts are there for a reason. Those poets—women and men—sitting on benches back in the mists of time also are there for a reason. It’s all about coaching and being able to take constructive criticism. The hardest lesson young pitchers and young poets have to learn is that their job is to listen, and to read, carefully.

The young have it over the older generations in everything but those degrees earned in schools of hard knocks. Many of the birds setting off on migrations and falling into the sea or getting lost under a maze of spinning stars—each year tens of thousands of birds never make it on their long and arduous journeys—are young ones who never made the trip before. Birds, baseball players, and poets need to find out what was in order to understand better what is. I tell student poets that the best way to develop is to read poetry of all ages and all cultures, to ask of every poet, Who in the world do you think you are? The answer varies of course from poet to poet (as it does from pitcher to pitcher), but also from poem to poem."


our friend Ben said...

Lovely, Benjamin! Though I'd be tempted to ask, not "who," but "Where are you? How did you get there? Where are you going?"

Pam said...

I always like to know why a poet...writes poems. Why did Wallace Stevens write poetry? Did he think about phrases or words while at work? Why do most insurance salesman...not write poetry? I just love to hear why someone loves to write.

Benjamin Vogt said...

OFB--I like those questions because they are more constructive, more defining, and easier to answer the big one of "who."
Pam--I write because it's thrilling, and when you get the right word or sound inthe right space, that perfection is so bone-dep satisfying, you fel so connected to everything, not open to teh world, but like a part of it, a sinew. I once felt that way while painting and drawing, and sometimes while dabbling on a piano, but I am better with words, they are maleable to me. Pure joy. Pure druged up bliss when you work so hard your brain wants to escape out your eyes, then you get something right. Heaven.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Heaven indeed. A lovely post, and a lovely tribute to your mentor.

Anonymous said...

Every act of living should give that same feeling of bliss. Life is short, always do your best, my mother told me. And listen. That came from my grandmother. Age trumps beauty.