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Fire Fri Apr 11 2014

On Poetry and Soccer in April

GB fire icon.pngIn these United States April is designated National Poetry Month, perhaps a cheeky nod to T.S. Eliot's denunciation of it as "the cruellest month," though too because no single month inspires as much introspection as that positioned between winter's abject brutalism and summer's all-encompassing hedonism. What more does the soul need than to sound its barbaric yawp as the western hemisphere transitions, shaking off the hoary frost of hibernation, pining for the summer past and spring to come. Flowers are yet but firm seeds, suffused with potential in the dusky loam; the rains fall, ceaseless and grey, upon a huddled populace; and Major League Soccer is like a toddler exploring an orange for the first time, struggling to get beyond the bitter rind, inside which lies a brilliant, bright treasure. Fingernails digging in hard flesh, the squish of juice underneath singing sweet, sticky songs of summers yet to come.

Which is to say that play is slow-going these days. Here in the city of wind, home to both the Poetry Foundation and the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, we are especially suited to enjoy the marriage of these two art forms, often cherished the world over but little embraced at home. The obvious among us may come to the simple conclusion that they are linked because the sport of soccer, reductively referred to daily as 'the beautiful game,' is poetry in motion. It is not. In fact, that is a phrase that has long since lost all meaning by sheer dint of repetition, though American society has a way of doing that at an accelerated pace anymore.

No, it is more that, as William Wordsworth wrote in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, that "all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply."

For poetry is not simply some art of making florid language. It can be dry and gripping, as licking the mucilage of an envelope, or it may be the funniest thing you've heard or read in years, only to rend the heart a moment later. It is the practice of distilling words and emotions to their most potent. If you'll allow the leap, it is a method not unlike the Haber process, developed in 1905 for capturing the nitrogen from the atmosphere around us. This is nothing short of miraculous, where nitrogen is quite literally collected out of thin air by bonding it with three atoms of hydrogen, producing ammonia that is used as a fertilizer for soil. Poetry too, like the Haber process, takes the invisible and makes it indelible. It can be workmanlike, expressive, transcendent, and obtuse, and often as well one could apply those adjectives to the sport of soccer.

Cast aside the preset ideas that poetry is all about sonnets and rhymed couplets, and dissolve the connotation that soccer is but flopping and running, that it is somehow the nadir of sportsmanship. Soccer is something so eminently simple, with rules so few and play rising naturally, that it becomes a matter of authorship. The game is predicated on two sides of eleven players, but each one has their own style which dictates how the play proceeds. This style can be based on experience, raw talent, or perhaps the style which they grew up influenced by. Or perhaps they are the enfant terrible, like Rimbaud was—a prodigious talent whose influence will resonate for decades to come.

There will be plenty of poetry on display at 3:00pm CT tomorrow in Montreal, when the Fire face down their francophonic opponents, the Impact. Both will be looking for their first win, in their sixth game of the year; this is not the most inspiring place to find oneself, though it cannot persist unabated, and likely Saturday will be the turning point. Hopefully it will not be a kind of poetic justice for the organization to suffer a loss at the hand of Frank Klopas, the former head coach of the Fire who know skippers the Impact.

It may not be the sublime, lyrical kind of poetry associated with someone like Coleridge, or a player like Messi, but it doesn't discount what is on display. The Fire showcase a core which aligns perfectly with that of our fair city's poetic forebear, Carl Sandburg. Read the following lines from Sandburg's monumental Chicago, and one can see the team described:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,





   Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,

Sandburg captures a more reckless spirit in his poem than the city or club evoke today, but that past is within us. Just as the nitrogen produced from the Haber process comprises 80% of all nitrogen found in human tissue today, the words of Sandburg remain and guide even if we're only now learning of their existence. His Chicago is our Chicago, because he looked not just at the concrete truth of the city but saw its sneering soul beneath.

So look not just to soccer as a sport, and its players as mere athletes. There is more at play during play than play. Explore more poetry too, if you haven't done already. It is a vibrant art form of many faces, there is something to be found for every taste. Visit the Poetry Foundation Building, or just go to a reading, or to the library, or download this app.

Section 8 will be hosting a watch party for Saturday's game at A.J. Hudson's, on the corner of Grace and Ashland at 3pm. They will be raffling off a trip to an away game for the Fire, under their Section 8 On Tour program, so come and watch and be transported, possibly.

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