These poems and articles showcase small-town MVPs, one-on-one games, good-natured underdogs, and the poetic elegance of the swish.
For the Love of the Game
“Old Men Playing Basketball” by B.H. Fairchild
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.
“One on One in Basketball” by Ray Fleming
It had nothing to do
with physiology or mysticism: only basketball.
“Makin’ Jump Shots” by Michael S. Harper
“traveling” someone calls—
and he laughs, stepping
to a silent beat, gliding
“Fast Break” by Edward Hirsch
with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country
The Glory Days
“Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike
Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
“On a Recent Collegiate Basketball Scandal” by William Belvin
I, too, once dribbled that old bubble, happiness,
And found in time the scramble and the rules
“Urban Renewal XVIII.” by Major Jackson
Back then I learned to avoid what I feared
and to place my third-string hopes on a game-winning
basketball shot, sure it would slow them to a stop
“The Unsung Song of Harry Duffy” by G.E. Murray
But mostly, at 3 a.m., in the local playground, Harry
You played solitary ball
“Fall River” by David Rivard
A drunk called him “Tiger”
and asked about the year he’d made all-state guard—
point man, ball-hawk, pacer.
Underdogs & Unlikely Players
“Catch” by Samiya Bashir
if this is a game then we have made it, unknowing,
to the final four. unlikely underdogs. spectators turned
to suspect sport. anti-athletes. out of shape beyond reason.
“Courtesy” by David Ferry
The earnest voice of the kid, girlish and manly,
And the voice of the young man, carefully playing the game
“Loony Bin Basketball” by Mary Karr
The psych techs in Cloroxed white
were giant angels who set us running drills, at which
“Sandlot Basketball” by William Matthews
And the flecked body, holder of postures and grudges, rattles uneasily.
“On Robert Hass’s ‘Dragonflies Mating’” by Dan Chiasson
When the remembered basketball passes through the remembered net (slyly recalling the tradition of comparing poetic lines to nets, from Wyatt’s lines “since in a net I wish to hold the wind” to Lowell’s poem “Fishnet”), we practically hear, in the actual white space between the sections, the swish.
“First Loves” by Major Jackson
The poem enacts the motion of a basketball game, but even more, it becomes a larger metaphor for art and linguistic & rhetorical motion in a poem.
“The Great Scorer: How poetry shaped a legendary coach’s career” by John Wooden
At UCLA, where I was head coach of men’s varsity basketball for twenty-seven years, poetry was one of my favorite teaching tools.
One of the dominant impressions of my growing-up in Pennsylvania—where I saw a lot of basketball games, thanks to my father’s being a high-school teacher and a ticket taker at home games—was the glory of home-town athletic stars, and their often anti-climactic post-graduation careers.
“Strangers in the Nest: A poet and a sportswriter go on a macrophenomenal tour of everyday irrelevance” by Anselm Berrigan and Bethlehem Shoals
Baseball is more resonant, personal. It does a better job of attaching itself to people’s lives, whereas basketball is primarily about a love of the game.