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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 30, 2003

UH professor mixes poetry, baseball in his new book

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

"Baseball lends itself to poetry," says Joseph Stanton, a UH professor and author of "Cardinal Points: Poems on St. Louis Cardinals Baseball."

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Excerpt from 'Cardinal Points'

"Elysian Curve" by Joseph Stanton

The Arch in St. Louis rainbows up
and round to ground as if it were
what happens to light in light rain
in Manoa, sometimes, day after day.

You can make one, too. Hold a rope
so that the distance between your hands
equals the distance between each hand
and the lowest, dream-warped verve

of the rope's bending down,
and you have made the curve
the Greeks called elysian —
perfect form as a kind of bliss,

like those surprising curves I saw Curt Simmons
bend past Henry Aaron time and time again.
As if the aging hurler cranked
a magic, inner wheel that worked
its charm best against the best.

One suspects that the force behind Joseph Stanton's baseball poetry lies somewhere in his capacity for fascination.

Among the things that captivate the widely published poet and University of Hawai'i professor of art and American studies: art, history, poetry and — of course — the St. Louis Cardinals.

Stanton, author of the recently released "Cardinal Points: Poems on St. Louis Cardinals Baseball" (McFarland Press) says he is fascinated by the "aesthetics of the athletic moment" and the challenges involved with re-creating that moment in words. He is fascinated with the ability of poetry to capture the essence of things, and the similar ability of baseball to speak to larger truths.

He is fascinated with Cardinals outfielder Albert Pujols, with the demands of second base, with the urban environment that surrounds Busch Stadium.

And he is fascinated, deeply, with the 1964 Cardinals, who went 93-69 in the regular season to win the National League pennant and defeated the hated New York Yankees in a dramatic seven-game World Series.

The '64 Cards are the heart of "Cardinal Points," a collection as impressive for its rigorous attention to historic detail as for the insight, humor and drama in its best works.

"The first poems I wrote were about things that struck me personally, and a lot of those were about the '64 Cardinals," Stanton says. "My particular fascination with them grew out of the fact that I was in intermediate or high school at the time and I was just fascinated by their bizarre, momentous winning of the pennant that year."

Yet, "Cardinal Points" is much more than just Stanton's personal reflection on his childhood heroes. From "Opening Game, 1899" ("More than a hundred Aprils ago/a re-used, brand-new team came to town") to "Game Called, 2002," a poem marking the death of pitcher Darryl Kile, Stanton's collection chronicles the story of St. Louis baseball and, with it, the history of the definitive sport of the American 20th Century.

Stanton grew up in St. Louis and therefore is bound not just to the home team, but to the sport of baseball.

"I played constantly," he says. "The field at our elementary school had gullies that caused the balls to jump every which way. I also used to go to baseball games with my father and we would walk to (Busch Stadium) in the midst of these neighborhoods where people rented out their front lawns as parking lots."

With schooling came a second passion, reading. An adolescent jock turned grown-up bookworm, Stanton studied literature at MacMurray College and Claremont Graduate School, where he earned a master's degree in 1972 (he also earned a doctorate's in art history and literature at New York University in 1989). By the time he reached Hawai'i in the mid-1970s, Stanton says, he had become obsessed with poetry, a form that graciously accommodated his love of baseball.

"Baseball lends itself to poetry," Stanton says. "There is the confrontation of pitcher versus hitter; there's pitching and catching as sort of a metaphor for communication. There's also the individual aspect of the game — one at a time — that lends itself to a certain kind of speculation and introspection."

Stanton's poetry isn't restricted to baseball themes. His work has been published widely in such literary journals as New York Quarterly and Harvard Review. His previous book of poems, "Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art," offered an inventive poetic response to visual and performance arts.

While Stanton clearly possesses the verbal sensitivity required of poets, his baseball poems also reflect an appreciation for the populist traditions of the game.

"The clarity of my poems is not typical of much poetry," he says.

Thus, a poem such as "Enos Slaughter Scores from First to Win the 1946 World Series," will avail its levels of meaning in 10 simple word: "Slaughter's desire for home/stopped time in Pesky's/cocked arm."

"Cardinal Points" is available at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa bookstore and at local and national bookstores and online retailers.