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Read My Book: Dwayne Brenna on his poetry book, Stealing Home: Baseball Poems

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Filed under: Read My Book

When I began working on Stealing Home in 2008, I was living in Edmonton and thinking a lot about Saskatchewan. I had grown up on a farm near Naicam, where my first memories of baseball were of standing in a pasture with my brother as my father hit pop flies out to us. My dad instilled a love of the game in both my brother and me, and so a meditation on home became a meditation about baseball. My memories stretched back to the Sunday evening when my dad first drove me to mudlot baseball practice in my home town, to the left handed catcher’s mitt that he bought at Birney’s Sporting Goods in Saskatoon. I remembered with fondness the sports days on hot August afternoons when I was a kid and the old-timers who came to watch us play (and sometimes to heckle us). Then I began to meditate upon the games I played as a young man and as an adult, the friends I’ve made through baseball and the characters I’ve met. I found, to my surprise, that much of my personal history was wound up in the game.

Any good book of poetry about baseball is not simply about baseball. Some of my favourite poems in the collection are about matters other than sport. The way a baseball diamond is sometimes the site of teaching and learning, of generational disputes and misunderstandings, of sexual politics—all of these have been the thematic basis of poems in the book. I have also learned to appreciate the “zen” of the sport, the requirement to live in the moment when you are on the diamond, and the spiritual nature of this nice and easy game. Glimpses of the eternal are continually revealing themselves if one is watchful, in the haze of pollen at Hohokam Field that makes you think you’re a character in a Marquez novel or in the deep green of the grass under lights at Cairns Field as you are watching your son play. That sense of baseball’s holiness has found its way into many of the poems in this collection. It is there in poems about old men repairing a diamond after vandals have run a pickup truck through the home run fence or about an intellectually challenged man who becomes batboy for a minor league team. A sense of the sacred, and of the profane, is also there when I remember major league ballparks I have visited, from Montreal to San Francisco.

Although this is a book of poetry, there is little in it that is not factual. The stories told in the book happened to someone, not always to me and not always to a famous baseball player like Christy Mathewson, Mickey Mantle, Don Drysdale or Jackie Robinson (although there are poems about them in the book). Most often, the stories I tell in these poems are stories of the guys I’ve played ball with over the years, of their loves won and lost, their post-game celebrations at various watering holes, their ham hock barbecues, their marriages and divorces, and their trajectory through the game. In this book, I shamelessly retell their stories and, like Jim Bouton, I ignore the dictum that what goes on the road stays on the road. The only difference is that my reader is not likely to know any of the people I write about, and I rarely name names.

You should buy this book if you are interested in what makes people love baseball. You should buy it if you have a father who has ever sat on a slivery two-by-ten behind a small town diamond and watched his grandson play. You should buy it for the woman who already has everything, including a 52” plasma screen on which to watch her favourite major league team. You should buy it because baseball and poetry are both good for your heart.

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