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Phil Rizzuto played shortstop for the New York Yankees from 1941 to 1956 and later became the voice of the Yankees on radio and television.

In 1997, journalist Hart Seely and comic-book creator Tom Peyer published a collection of excerpts from Rizzuto's play-by-play broadcasts as O Holy Cow! The Collected Verse of Phil Rizzuto. (Seely has also published a collection of "poetry" by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.)

One reason I asked you to look at a sample of Rizzuto's "poetry" (login required) is that what Hart and Seely did is no different from what William Butler Yeats did when, for the 1936 Oxford Book of Modern Verse, he took a snippet from Walter Pater's prose impression of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and printed it as verse:

She is older than the rocks among which she sits;
Like the Vampire,
She has been dead many times,
And learned the secrets of the grave;
And has been a diver in deep seas,
And keeps their fallen day about her;
And trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants;
And, as Leda,
Was the mother of Helen of Troy,
And, as St Anne,
Was the mother of Mary;
And all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes,
And lives
Only in the delicacy
With which it has moulded the changing lineaments,
And tinged the eyelids and the hands.

Certainly Pater's prose has a lyrical quality that makes Yeats' transformation (McGann might regard it as a "deformance") easy and that illustrates Cob's comment, on Leandra's post "What makes a poem", that there's "a certain atmosphere to poetry, lending itself to the word 'poetic'" that's independent of a poem's form.

But it's also remarkable how readily Rizzuto's ordinary talk seems to take on this "poetic" quality as soon as it's set on the page as verse. Giving each extract a title makes a difference, too.

My Secret

When I'm driving
To Yankee Stadium and back,
I do it so often.

I don't remember passing lights.
I don't remember paying tolls
Coming over the bridge.

Going back over the bridge,
I remember…

"O What a Huddle Out There," Rizzuto's call of the famous George Brett pine-tar incident feels, in places, a bit like it's coming from an ancient narrator recalling the deeds of giants:

Now I had started to tell you,
When I saw Billy Martin make the motion
For Gossage to come on
That it brings back some nightmares.


And they called Thurman Munson out,
And Martin has a very valid argument here,
And if he wins this,
There will be chaos.

So here's a question: How is the way we take in a stretch of language changed when the language is set out as verse? What is it about this change that gives the language the "feel" of poetry?

1 Comment

  1. Unknown User (mrb21)

    When I first started writing poetry, I wrote very standard, rhyming ABAB CDCD form poems. They were centered in the middle of the page and rarely included punctuation of any kind. As my poetry became more advanced, it spread out across the page - some lines left centered, some right, some indented, others with large gaps between certain words on the same line. I began using dashes (I thank Emily Dickinson for picking up that trick), commas, and playing with capitalization within a line.

    It might still be the same words on the page as if I had simply wrote the poem my old, centered, way without punctuation... but the poem means something different because it evokes a different feeling. When you pull apart a sentence and put it on two separate lines it breathes in the middle. It hangs, suspended, on that last word as your eyes find the next line. There's some infinitesimal, but important, beauty to the small pause that changes the sentence from a 'subject, verb, etc' to a lyrical piece of literature. Breaking apart the sentences gives a piece motion. Instead of simply reading a collection of words, we are moving with them. That sense of varied motion that you don't typically get in prose where the lines are all the same length and form large blocks, or walls, of text (walls, please note, is a word that describes the fairly motionless quality of the text) is what creates the 'feel' of poetry. Capitalization in the middle of the line emphasizes certain ideas, dashes give pause, periods lend finality. In prose, you don't have that same freedom to create feeling through form. The same words when strung together into prose create a sort of 'structured feeling' whereas when stretched out into verses create a 'moving feeling' that carries you through, line to line.