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Sports poetry can be about any sport. There is poetry about baseball, basketball, and football. Fly fishing, swimming, soccer, and the different kinds of racing all can be the subject of poems. The tone of poetry about sports can be inspirational, dramatic, humorous, or tragic. It can also be in any form, from sonnets and rhyming poems to free verse and haiku.
One of the first forms of sports poetry was the epenicion. It was a Greek lyric ode honoring a victor at the Hellenic games. The word comes from a Greek adjective that means “for a victory.” The first known example of the form was written by Simonides of Ceos in 520 BC for the winner of a boxing match. Traditionally, an epenicion was sung to the victor by a choir accompanied by lutes. The epenicion became such an important part of the games that athletes began to commission poets to write them.
Although sports poetry can have many subjects and tones, all seem to share the spirit of conquest over something. It may be a fish, an animal, or a worthy opponent. All sports involve the tension of prevailing prevailing over something, which gives them their drama, tension, and excitement.
In the US, baseball is considered the “national pastime,” with the popularity of the sport undisputed. The game has inspired a large body of poetry. American poet Marianne Moore's "Baseball and Writing" is about why both endeavors are exciting. Her poem contains the lines “Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting/and baseball is like writing.”
A poem considered one of the classic works of American sports poetry is about baseball. Written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat” is said to capture the drama, humor, and sometimes disappointment of the game. As a confident and determined Casey steps to the plate, he is his team’s last hope for victory. The poem ends with “And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout/But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.”
The expansion of baseball into Asian countries spawned a new form of sports poetry, the baseball haiku. Haiku is a Japanese lyric verse form. It consists of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Traditionally used to write about nature, haiku has been adapted to baseball by both Japanese and American poets. Japanese poet Yatsuya Ryu writes of his devotion to the game that, “until raised to heaven/I’ll go to fields of green/carrying my glove.”
I feel like sports poetry shows up from time to time in some of the poetry journals I read but it is often about sports you wouldn't expect. There is not much about team sports, hardly any baseball or basketball and absolutely no football.
Boxing shows up a lot, as well as horse racing, bull fighting, runners, fighters of all kinds. It tends to be about solitary sports, especially ones that feed into our primal nature. I guess this just makes for more dramatic writing than poems about the Super Bowl.
Really the only thing that comes to mind when someone mentions sports poetry is that old stalwart "Mighty Casey at the Bat." I feel like this poem was a constant feature of my childhood. Maybe I heard it ten times, maybe I heard it a hundred.
The lyrical games it plays are wonderful at capturing a child's attention and the powerful point that it makes about pride and all its tragic consequences makes an effect on any child's mind. I think there is a reason it was read to me so often. Its a great poem.
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