Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Poetry and Motion

We’re well into the tournament for the World Cup of association football, also known as soccer. The beautiful game. It moves me more than enough to meditate on it, to contemplate what makes it beautiful.

What really intrigues me is that you can see play developing in motion. Hockey has a similar basic flow but because the surface is so much smaller and the speed of its motion is so much faster, it becomes much more difficult for the untrained eye and mind to register all the nuances. One of the drawbacks, perhaps the only one, in televised soccer games is that you are unable to see the whole field and are bound to the view the camera offers; so much that becomes important is developing on the field but off-camera so to speak.

The beauty of shifting patterns is for me the main factor in enjoying the game. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, but how the game is played … since I’m not personally involved in any way. Shifting patterns in attack; shifting patterns in defense; the several developments possible from a set play; the interaction is usually more important than the actions seen separately.

I’ve seen teams work a beautiful offence, controlling the ball and play with short runs and accurate passes, passing to connect with the next foot rather than passing it into an area and expecting someone to be there. I’ve seen teams work a beautiful defense, putting one or two defenders on the incoming play while other defenders formed a field toward the goal to prevent easy forward penetration.

But enough of what is basically admiration of the game. What is it that makes me think of poetry? How is a well-played soccer game like a poem? A number of years ago I wrote a poem on the beauty of moving and controlling the ball, direction and misdirection, the sudden challenge of facing a goal and its keeper. I submitted it to a place asking for poems about sports and never heard about the poem again except second hand. An acquaintance who had also submitted said an anthology had been published. I don’t know if my poem was included. What’s more, I have lost the poem: no hard copy (this was before I made electronic copies), not even hand written notes. Ah, well. So it goes.

Let me explain to you how a play develops. The goal keeper (after an attempt by the opposing team) puts the ball into play: not with a long punt up field, for in the air the ball is in no one’s control. He feeds it to a defensive player. This one and his immediate team mates in the area close to the goal have the responsibility of moving the ball out to center field and beyond without losing control or possession to an opponent. It then becomes the responsibility of those teammates in the middle of the field to take over and find a way to bring the ball into a position close enough to the opponents’ goal. The midfielder must work to give the striker, the scoring specialist, a good chance to score while maintaining position so the play remains in that end. Should the ball pop out, he must be ready to feed it back in or take a shot at the goal himself. Such is but one of the basic sequences.

Take a good look at the foregoing example. It’s not hard to see the structure of a poem reflected in the structure of the play or vice versa. Look at it as a sonnet. First the octet: one quatrain moves it away from the goal; the second quatrain carries it into opposing territory. Then the sestet: the first tercet moves the play into the opponents’ goal area; the second tercet feeds the striker or player with the best chance to score.

So the poetry lies not in the motion of the individual but lies in the cohesiveness of the whole, the team. Individual motion only enhances, the way a well-placed image enhances a poem.

When I watch soccer, whoever wins or loses is to me usually secondary. Always my first interest is in the flow, the motion, the poetry of the game.

1 comment:

Conrad DiDiodato said...


your poetry as soccer analogy is intriguing. I've even recently heard a sports commentator refer to the Italian team, because of its smooth, almost unassuming defensive play as a good wine; and the more exuberant Brazilian style as a street party that has danced its way literally into the soccer stadium, and onto the field.

Soccer is pure poetry!