Poetry Night at the Ballpark and Other Scenes from an Alternative America
In Poetry Night at the Ballpark, Kuaffman introduces a multitude of forgotten individuals, all with their quirks, and recounts stories from American history which have been largely forgotten. Take those arrogant Roosevelts – T.R. tried to inflict a new kind of spelling on the entire nation, in one of the first examples of the Oval Office obviously unhinging whoever sat in it. (Actually, considering the west wing was constructed during Teddyboy’s reign, maybe he was already unhinged and imbued it with his spirit.) Franklin Roosevelt also moved Thanksgiving hither and yon hoping to create more shopping days for Christmas, beginning the occasion’s slow but total conquest by Christmas. As varied as the essays are, they’re reliably grounded in Kauffman’s love for the small, local, and particular, be it movies or baseball. He begins in and titles his book at the local ballpark , cheering on his hometown’s boys, but has no use whatsoever for the major leagues, whose local connections are abstract, and who are oriented towards money than love of the game; sports and home intersect in his section on movies, where he calls for films that tell local stories with a local flavor, and comments at length on Hoosiers as a small-town classic.
I make no secret of liking Kauffman, and for me this book was like encountering him at a bar and sticking around to hear some salty stories of odd characters and fun stories, as well as some good old-fashioned belly-aching about the soulless suits in power. It’s not as focused as his other work, so it’s best read by people who have already encountered Kauffman before – unless a first-timer opens the book in the store, finds themselves drawn in by his playful pen, and has to sit down to experience a bit more.
If you’d like a taste of Kauffman, one of my favorite speeches by him is called “Love is the Answer to Empire” That title links to a written version.
” [Walt Whitman] understood that any healthy political or social movement has to begin, has to have its heart and soul, at the grass roots. In Kansas, not on K Street.
“And it has to be based in love. Love not of some remote abstraction, some phantasm that exists only on the television screen—Ford Truck commercials and Lee Greenwood songs—but love of near things, things you can really know and experience. The love of a place and its people: their food, their games, their literature, their music, their smiles.
“I am a localist, a regionalist. To me, the glory of America comes not from its weaponry or wars or a mass culture that is equal parts stupidity, vulgarity, and cynical cupidity—one part ‘The View,’ one part Miley Cyrus, and a dollop of Rush Limbaugh—rather, it is in the flowering of our regions, our local cultures. Our vitality is in the little places—city neighborhoods, town squares—the places that mean nothing to those who run this country but that give us our pith, our meaning.”