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Reviewed by:
  • The Poetics of Golf
  • Paul deLoca
Brumer, Andy. The Poetics of Golf. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. Pp. 210. $24.95.

Andy Brumer's lyrical book The Poetics of Golf takes golf as its subject matter and a starting place for what aspire to be poetic essays, memoirs, journalism, short fiction, and other meditations on the game, the arts, and life. For his title, Brumer gives a nod of recognition to Aristotle's Poetics and to French writer and philosopher Gaston Bachelard's book The Poetics of Space (1957). Essentially, as Brumer states, his book "loosely uses the word poetics to signal a metaphoric and aesthetic investigation into the game of golf," thereby linking golf with art, literature, philosophy and psychology. Not surprisingly, the book ultimately leads the reader through a series of short journeys into the minds of golf's great artists, the famous and the not-so-famous. Soon the reader is able to imagine the contemplative Henry David Thoreau playing and enjoying the grand old game.

While historian Alistair Cooke once described golf as "Self-Torture, Disguised as a Game," Brumer writes well enough to convince the reader that this is not where he's leading them. The book is instructive, insightful and enjoyable. Insights between golf, art, and the world thereby turn a pathological obsession of control into a mentally regenerative and personally freeing act. Brumer passed through this evolutionary stage before arriving at the "poetics of golf," learned from his friends who were visual artists.

The sport's past and present players are sometimes profiled in only a few poetic lines (Charles Howell III takes two lines of space on one whole page); the longest ten-page essays in Part One, "Golf as Memoir" trace Brumer's autobiographical reasons as to how and why he came to write "Poetics of Golf," probably the most important part of five to guide your reading of the rest. Other parts are "Lives of the Golfers," "The Golf Swing as the Axis of the World," "Golf as a Tool Chest," and finally "Golf and the Soul."

In portraits of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, and Arnold Palmer, among others, Brumer's often lyrical style and phrasing can sometimes appear to be overdone and long on superlatives, but then he follows with a softer tone balancing his musically inclined narrative with a less overdone phrase like "the universally sweet and spectacular motion of Fred Couple's golf swing." Describing a practice range session of an unknown young woman golfer, we read: "her music repeated itself with a skilled consistency as each click vibrated in the same sweet register as the one preceding it.' Explaining why Si Ri Pak has the best swing in women's golf we read: "Because it grows from the root of a flower and that nothing fed it from a mechanical source." The 207 pages are laced with humor, surprise angles, and loads of poetic imagery from Shakespeare to the architectural grace of landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. Brumer even manages to fit the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sam Snead in the same sentence. In Part Three, "The Golf Swing as the Axis of the World," Brumer compares the architectural lines of Frank Gehry's Disney Music Center in Los Angeles to Larry Nelson's swing of multiple intersecting planes (axis mundi). Almost every page of this book delivers lines like: "I'll never forget her jet black ponytail rebounding gently against her shoulders as she swung on Pinehurst's driving range as if the very soul of midnight graced and deepened the bright playfulness of the day." [End Page 159]

Brumer's book ultimately offers a golf "secret" that frees golfers from the obsession that ultimately ruins any healthy enjoyment of the game. That secret is summarized by his main idea: "my involvement in the arts in Berkeley greatly enriched my life so that now I'm able to play golf soulfully, not solemnly, can humbly search for the game's ever expanding bouquet of meanings, not brutishly break my neck pounding range balls while trying to master an activity that has proven itself essentially unconquerable." In Poetics, Brumer ultimately...


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pp. 159-160
Launched on MUSE
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