A poet-athlete might seem a rarity, but this week's issue includes stories by two men who are just that. Dan Gerber, who recounts his near-tragic, final adventure as a race driver on page 42, has published two books of poetry, The Revenant and Departure, and written two novels yet to be released. Galway Kinnell, several times a nominee for the National Book Award, has written five volumes of poetry, the most recent being The Book of Nightmares. He is also a tennis player, and on page 30 he describes his impressions of Virginia Wade.
Gerber hails from the baby-food family, and there is a rumor among both poets and race-car drivers that the pudgy-cheeked baby on every jar of Gerber's is Dan himself. He says it isn't so, and certainly there is no resemblance now. His face carries marks of the crash in Turn Nine at Riverside—his nose not quite where it should be and his eyes drooping from the weight of scar tissue.
That race ended Gerber's five-year career as a driver, but he showed up at Indianapolis this year, eager to revisit pals from his racing days. He hung around long enough to see Salt Walther's accident during the aborted first start, but his claim never to have been a spectator at a race remains essentially accurate: he had already left Indy and headed home to Fremont, Mich. before the dreadful day of Swede Savage's crash. He later revealed that at the time he was fly-fishing, "catching—and releasing—blue-gills." A far more poetic occupation.
Gerber has lectured on the college poetry-reading circuit, where he made the acquaintance of our other poet-cum-athlete. "Dan has come down for my readings at the University of Michigan," recalls Kinnell, "and we keep trying to get together to play tennis."
It seems that since 46-year-old Kinnell took up the game five years ago, tennis has become an addiction. "When I'm invited for a reading," he says, "I inquire if a tennis match can be lined up. If they agree, then I agree to go read and bring my racket." Obviously he agrees to other appearances as well, since recently he helped celebrate the birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge with a group of other poets. Kinnell, whom one reviewer compared to Walt Whitman, read Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry for the occasion. He has also taught courses at various colleges, most recently Sarah Lawrence, and he once led a creative writing seminar at Wallkill Prison.
The feature on Wade is Kinnell's first journalistic effort. He gives two reasons for having been inspired. First: "I watched Virginia play at Wimbledon and I was struck by her incredible, lionlike beauty. Here was this lovely creature slashing balls with such passion! She was the most exciting player I'd ever seen." And, second: "I thought another kind of writing would be a relief. Psychically it's easier in one way, though in another it's more difficult. The words don't flow from deep within you, so you must work them up from the outside."
Kinnell may have turned his hand to sportswriting for another, more devious, reason. He is a rabid Knick fan, although he had to watch this year's NBA finals on TV. "I would have been able to be there if SI had given me an assignment," he says. Maybe next year, Galway.
TENNIS PLAYER KINNELL
EX-DRIVER DAN GERBER