JONATHAN HOLDEN (1941 - )
Holden, first Kansas poet laureate, has lived in
Manhattan, Kansas, since 1978. He is distinguished professor at
University. I first met Holden when I taught at K-State briefly in the 1970s, and he was generous to many poets and students. He has influenced
the direction of American poetry—through essays and example—by insisting that informal, domestic moments are high art.
Holden is passionate about poetry, both as critic and poem-maker. His brilliance manifests in his
performances as well as writings. He can quote entire poems by major American and British poets for hours. He masters fields of knowledge—mathematics, tennis,
U.S. politics, Bach—and finds ways to use them in everyday situations.
This poem, about apparently ordinary sights, comments upon instinctive knowledge. It mimics the perfect balance that
baseball players and sparrows both must practice in order to survive. The lines shift in rhythm, to imitate birds totter and regain balance. Holden uses a passel of rich descriptive verbs, like “pirouette” and “stab,” to describe reflexive movements of the birds and
players. These contrast to hesitations—reflection and philosophy—in the poem. Instinct keeps us alive, even when in the dark of night.
These infielders are definite
as sparrows at work.
Split that seed with one peck
There is no minor league
for birds. There is
exactly one way
to pirouette into a double play
perfectly. The birds
don’t dare reflect on what
they do, each hop, each stab and
scramble through the air into the
catch of the sycamore’s
is a necessity,
absolute. To stay alive
out in the field, you must be
an authority on parabolas
and fear philosophy.
Education: Holden grew up in rural
Morristown, New Jersey, described in his memoirs Guns & Boyhood in America and Mama’s Boys. His college degrees, all in
English, are from Oberlin (BA 1963), San Francisco State College (MA 1970), and University
of Colorado (PhD1974).
Career: This poet has published twenty books of poetry, essays, memoirs, and a novel. Knowing is his most current book of poetry (University of
Arkansas Press 2000). He is poet-in-residence and University Distinguished Professor at Kansas
State University. He has won awards from the National Arts Endowment,
University of Missouri Press, the Associated Writing Programs, and others. Midwest Quarterly devoted the summer
2007 issue to him. His website is www.jonathanholden.com.
© 2007 Denise Low, AAPP6. © 1997 “Night Game,” Jonathan Holden, from
Ur-Math, State St. Press
© 2005 photo by Greg German.