These poems and articles showcase small-town MVPs, one-on-one games, good-natured underdogs, and the poetic elegance of the swish.
Up & dunk balls that exploded
The skullcap of hope & good
B. H. Fairchild
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.
It had nothing to do
with physiology or mysticism: only basketball.
Michael S. Harper
“traveling” someone calls—
and he laughs, stepping
to a silent beat, gliding
Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
I, too, once dribbled that old bubble, happiness,
And found in time the scramble and the rules
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
G. E. Murray
But mostly, at 3 a.m., in the local playground, Harry
You played solitary ball
A drunk called him “Tiger”
and asked about the year he’d made all-state guard—
point man, ball-hawk, pacer.
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.
The earnest voice of the kid, girlish and manly,
And the voice of the young man, carefully playing the game
The psych techs in Cloroxed white
were giant angels who set us running drills, at which
And the flecked body, holder of postures and grudges, rattles
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.
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.
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.
Anselm Berrigan interviewed by Bethlehem Shoals (Anselm Berrigan & 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.