Rev. of George Bowering’s That Toddlin’ Town / Baby, don’t ya wanna go?
by Joseph LaBine
There is a baseball on the cover of George Bowering’s latest chapbook from above / ground press. The baseball is a new Chicago poem in six numbered parts. This little chap is delightful. It complements Bowering’s classic Baseball (1967), nearly fifty years after the fact, “The white sphere / turns, rolls / in dark space” still.
The new poem, “That Toddlin’ Town / Baby, don’t ya wanna go,” is ‘set’ during May 4–9, 2016, at “Miller’s Pub”; the “Art Institute”; a bathroom in the “Palmer House” Hilton; then, down on “Wabash,” and to a game at “Wrigley,” before finally departing from “O’Hare.” All of these places are key sites in Chicago but they also form a ball’s trajectory, a parabolic sequence, or a long weekend stay. The poem is a trip down to Chicago but Bowering’s poetry emphasizes looking rather than anecdote. (Batters have to have a ‘good eye’.)
Approached in this way, the language of “That Toddlin’ Town” seems less effervescent than its predecessor Baseball. It’s more perceptive, focused on closer observations, and bleak ones. Number “5.” begins with Bryce Harper in the ballpark before dropping down for closer introspection, line by line:
in a home run
with fried onion smell.
were pink for
not the Cubs.
“That Toddlin’ Town” is also funny and playful, sharing in the humour of Bowering’s original ode to the game, but this time with a wondrous dose of crankiness:
What did they
naming the toilet
We are all looking. This is the unifying theme. Bowering simply connects the act of looking with the imagination. The result is the crack of clean contact between the ball and—
Unless it or
the sky is
moving it can’t be
Strong stanzas encouraging us to wonder, like this one, are tempered by commentary about “cheerless texters” trapped on Smartphones: “Most people / though are looking / downward at info / they might want.”
Six small, three-stanza sections, six iconic locations, six days, all looking, making snark-comments, all implicitly dedicated to the start of baseball season, and it is a pleasure to read “That Toddlin’ Town” as a single poem at the end of baseball season.