A few years ago, someone suggested to me that sportswriters would be better advised to read poetry, specifically lyric poetry, rather than some of those vast, mannered chunks of American sportswriting that get cheered from the rafters (with relief, maybe, when the reader gets to the end).
The point was sharp then and remains astute now. The best lyric poetry is compressed, sharp, descriptive, provocative, vivid. All of those are elements you’d associate with the best sportswriting, surely?
I was reminded of that conversation by a terrific book I fielded over the Christmas, Everything To Play For — 99 Poems About Sport, edited by John McAuliffe and published by Poetry Ireland.
Given that universal inclination to freeze your sports viewing, or appreciation, in striking images which reveal more about themselves, or yourself, on deeper reflection, could there be a more apposite subject? Sonia O’Sullivan clearly thought the two were a good match, as she wrote the foreword: she makes a strong point when reminding us how people describe sporting excellence: like poetry in motion.
There are names in here big enough for the casual reader who hasn’t bothered a book of poetry since palming off his or her copy of Soundings on a younger brother, and there are names it’ll do you good to discover.
One of the best writers on poetry you can read is Clive James, who has a particular description of that sensation of reading a line or poem by a writer, and realising you’ll have to read everything they’ve written. If you’ve any soul, this is a sensation bound to become familiar to you on reading this book.
I liked ‘Tagging The Stealer’ by Greg Delanty, and Seamus Heaney’s sly poke in ‘The Point’ (“Was it you/or the ball that kept going/beyond you”).
Bernard O’Donoghue and Theo Dorgan, who have always been very helpful to this column, are both represented here with fine poems (though personally I’d have gone for ‘Nocturne for Blackpool’ from the latter, with its oblique hurling reference, I was glad to see ‘Munster Final’ in place from O’Donoghue).
Being parochial, it was intriguing to see Christy Ring as a presence in a run of three or four consecutive hurling poems — almost mythical, with a terrific description setting a scene in Billy Ramsell’s ‘Lament for Christy Ring’ that could be introducing us to one of the Fir Bolgs: “Aboriginal, electrical/His great bulging eye...”
Actually, that point about the poetry having elements in common with the best sportswriting? Scratch that: the best writing, full stop. A gold medal here for Poetry Ireland and a good day’s work.
It’s customary at this time of the year to look at new faces for 2016, the sporting developments you’d like to see, the way the landscape will change in the next 12 months.
It’s obvious. New year. New season.
Or is it obvious? The Premier League season is only halfway through, as are the main club rugby competitions. So are other major professional sports such as the NBA and the NHL. The NFL produces a hyphenated season as well, with the Superbowl in early February capping the pre-Christmas season.
Euro 2016, true, takes place in the summer, but can it be separated from the qualifying rounds? The Olympics is on track to let a bad smell in Rio in a few months, but the professional athletic season is a rolling feast as well of grand prix events and continental championships.
Even the GAA season bleeds across New Year’s Eve thanks to the third-level colleges and club championships.
January 1: does it really mark a sports watershed any more?
Love my alma mater, but rooting for a Hawkeyes win today. #RoseBowl— Carly Fiorina (@CarlyFiorina) January 1, 2016
As I have bored no readers for a good three weeks with a reminder of my time in America, I think it only fair to warn you that this is about to be rectified.
Context: in that long-ago time I went to a Big Game, California version. By Big Game, I mean a long-standing college rivalry —in this instance, Stanford versus Berkeley — which is taken hugely seriously by graduates from both institutions. The alums, those people whose loyalty to, and concomitant generosity, helps to keep these vast colleges funded.
That’s why it was such an own goal for Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina the other evening when she tweeted that she’d be rooting for the Iowa Buckeyes against Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
See, Fiorina went to Stanford. Saying you’re going to shout against them, and for a college team from a place which you need to support you in the primaries, is a faux pas of such vast proportions, that serious damage has been done to her chances, which weren’t that good to begin with.
Despite the aggressive efforts of a couple of institutions, the kind of lifelong loyalty to a third-level college that Fiorina betrayed doesn’t really exist here to the same extent.
Then again, college sport doesn’t enjoy the same profile here either; in America, some of the biggest college sports teams are those from state colleges in the central states. Routinely in these states, the head American football coach at the big college is the highest-paid civil employee in that state.
The interesting twist is the way supporters in those states identify with the college team even if they didn’t go to the college itself — for many areas without a major professional team, they’re the team that represents the that area. Hence Fiorina’s subsequent evisceration on Twitter by, among others, Rob Delaney.
I don’t like to set myself up as an expert on all things, but I’ve seen what they’re like at these college games, Carly. I could have told you it was a bad idea.
You can read elsewhere on this page about the book I enjoyed hugely this Christmas, but another one also fuelled the disposal of many a yuletide Jaffa Cake.
Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty was a superb read, a terrific recreation of the London of Sherlock Holmes (with a title character who’d once studied at University College Cork - what’s not to like?).
I didn’t know that Horowitz is also the creator of Foyle’s War, a TV series I am dimly aware of, and Midsomer Murders, a TV series which rules the lives of some of the people I know best in this world. For all of these reasons, Mr Horowitz, I salute you; but the information that he’s also written a James Bond book, Trigger Mortis, is, frankly, cause for celebration.
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