Saturday, January 22, 2011

Liam Ferney’s Australian cricket poem

When I was in Brisbane for Subverse: Queensland Poetry Festival in 2000 and 2001, I met the young Australian poet Liam Ferney.
I can’t remember now how cricket came up but it soon entered our conversation. Liam was talking about having seen the New Zealand cricket team practicing in Brisbane. He liked Stephen Fleming of the New Zealand batsmen. Liam had the task of introducing my session at Subverse 2001. He also had the task of picking my fellow colleagues and me up from the airport. It's nice to get a ride when you don't know where you're going.
When I was editing JAAM magazine, I published a cricket-related poem by Liam. It’s an unusual poem. It plays with history using baseball and cricket. Baseball star Babe Ruth has an epigraph at the start and with mythical cricket figures Don Bradman and Harold Larwood (from the Ashes’ Bodyline series) appearing as baseball players recreating history:


The Sultan of Swat

‘Why don’t you read the papers?
 It’s all right there in the papers.’
                                    — Babe Ruth

Waking, wiping the
sleep from his eye, he
reaches for his pills.
Reading the label on the bottle:
it seems to say:            
‘don’t try too hard just
             let it carry you’ –
             like… a river, he finishes,
                        the sentence and his pills.

It’s prescribed like this
because mythology inadvertently
gets mixed up in the games
of chinese whispers
                                    we play with our history.

Drunk on fairy floss and beer
the story they’re telling in
Sideshow Alley is that Don Bradman,
fulfilling a promise to a
terminally ill child,
points straight back over
            Larwood’s head at a spot
      somewhere in centre field.
Winding up Larwood
          gives it everything he’s got,
   to the screaming ecstasy and
spilt beer of the Chicago fans,
            but  even as the ball leaves his hand
      Bradman’s eyes are fixed upon it and,
                  with a flick of his wrist,
            he sends it soaring out of
                          Wrigley Field.

Larwood, sticky with humiliation,
imagines a ball rocketing into
the soft-flesh of the batsman’s
helmetless head as he walks
back to his mark.

Bradman, luxuriating in the profanities
and abuse he has evoked
watches an angry fan hurl a cup
of beer onto left field and spits
nonchalantly just missing the fielder
at short leg.

Larwood turns and Bradman, like
            a brave Achaen points back
      prophetically to the same spot.
    The bowler runs in like a fierce
       bull charging through the streets
  of Pamplona and digs it in short,
              a spear jagging up sharply,
    but our Achilles has wiser eyes than this
         stepping backward and away,
                        hooking awesomely
the ball
                seems to climb
to the sun.        
The news story is packaged thus:
The footage of the shot
from a variety of angles,
an interview with humble Bradman,
fans saying how he’s the greatest
the world has ever seen and
then the fadeout:
the small child smiling from
his hospital bed,
this miracle breaks hearts
for joy at dinner tables

A kid finds one of the balls out in the street.
He hides it away in a box,
and forgets about it for years
until one day, for no reason
     that he can name,
  he starts to take it out at nights
and let its elegant stitching
   take him back to the cutgrass
    summer twilight that now
seems so important.

It is a fact:
    The Bambino grows in deed and
    stature with every passing year.

Poem © Liam Ferney

Liam went on to publish his debut poetry collection, Popular Mechanics, through Interactive Publications in Brisbane, 2004. He appeared in Best Australian Poems 2010 and was editor of Cordite Poetry Review 17-23 in Melbourne and guest editor of issue 34.
Cricket historian Don Neely once commented to me that if it wasn’t for rounders which became baseball, cricket would’ve swept across America in the 19th century. This makes Liam’s poem even more interesting. The US played Canada in 1844, the first ever international cricket match at the St George’s Cricket Club, Bloomingdale Park, Manhattan.
Baseball became popular during the American Civil War and cricket waned. Americans have never really gotten the gist of cricket since that time though more Americans today play cricket thanks to Indian and Sri Lankan communities in America. NZ played Sri Lanka in a one-day series in Florida recently. In LA, the Compton Cricket Club (“the Homies and the Pops”) has a colourful history since the mid-90s. They have even released cricket rap singles. Check out their page on Wikipedia:
In Jan-Feb 2011, Compton Cricket Club will tour Australia, the first American cricket club to tour there.
There is now an American cricket magazine, American Cricketer, worth checking out as well:

Article © Mark Pirie 2010

(Sources: Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia; conversation with Don Neely; JAAM 15 (JAAM Publishing Collective, May 2001))

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