Poetry | Slippery white pitch / Tricky footing for linesmen (w/ video)

Atlanta | Aesthetic appreciations in the Edo period in Japan extended to snow-viewing parties. So mentions haiku master Matsuo Basho (1644–94) in “The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel”:

Stretching by force
The wrinkles of my coat
I started out on a walk
To a snow-viewing party.

To combine the snow viewing with football—or, in Basho’s day, the ritualized courtiers’ variant of kemari—would seem to be the height of sensual extravagance.

How to make meaning when you are one of only two people to show up for a Saturday kickabout? Conceive a mythical match between Leitmotiv Moskva and Surreal Salt Lake.

Thus, the freakish confluence of Arctic cold with Gulf of Mexico–spawned low pressure the morning of Jan 19 seemed to bode great things for the three-seven-year-old Metropolitan Atlanta Casual Soccer League. Snow started falling at 10 a.m., an hour before matchtime. Children shouted in the cold. Atlantans had the steering wheels of 2½-ton sport-utility vehicles in their viselike grips, praying for safe passage over slightly damp pavement.


With the flakes falling thick and silent at Candler Park in east Atlanta, the league’s most frequented venue on match Saturdays, a nearly empty parking lot was the first ominous sign. Only league stalwart Vince had made an appearance.

“So, we’re the only ones without a life?” he said, before departing for an early lunch.

As it happened, we were the only ones to claim kindred spirit with the snow-viewing parties of Basho’s time, ranked alongside love, writing, tea ceremony, archery, dance, mime and, of course, football as a means of transforming life into art. Basho composed one of his best-known verses on Jan 5, 1688, after a snow-viewing occasion at the home of a Nagoya book dealer (no mention, however, of Nagoya Grampus Eight, once coached by Arsène Wenger).

now then, let’s go out
to enjoy the snow … until
I slip and fall!

One commentator suggests—does he deign to reveal it?—that the verse speaks to “deep love of snow.” In truth, as a later gloss adds, Basho felt himself full of “poetic rapture.”

Additional reading

In the Feb 08 National Geographic, Howard Norman addresses the world weariness and spiritual yearning that led Basho to seek his destiny as a hyohakusha (“one who moves without direction”). The link is courtesy osage + orange.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (2)

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  1. Ha! I like how you’ve converted an underattended game into a poetic snow musing.

    But! I must protest! MACSL‘s webpage goes back almost six years! And the very first MACSL games were circa spring of 2001. That’s closer to seven than three!

  2. Dave says:

    What a cool (cold?) story and video.

    For some reason the sight of the empty pitch made me think of the match between the philosophers on Monty Python!

    I think Basho himself would have enjoyed kicking the ball around.


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