“Kill your darlings” is a common command in creative writing classes. William Faulkner (1897-1962) usually gets the credit; sometimes Mark Twain (1835-1919) is mentioned. Regardless who said it first, it’s a savvy way to fine tune writing, particularly poetry.
Darlings are those lines that tingle all the way from the brain to the fingers translating that brain. Reread a darling, and you smile again, and again. The basketball equivalent is a stunning scorer, someone whose sheer athleticism is an addictive thrill. But it’s an altogether different decision to decide if the phrase or the scorer helps or harms the poem or the team.
Which brings me to Carmelo Anthony, who joined the New York Knicks in February 2011. The Knicks aren’t the only franchise held back by a darling but it’s the team where I live. Melo is a gifted pure shooter; he averages almost 28 points as a Knick. But Melo is a clunker as a team player, a ball stopper who disrupts the flow of the offense, just as wording that calls too much attention to itself harms a poem.
Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad poem. It may still be better than most, but it won’t ever go to another level. I’ll bet that Anthony never plays on a championship team. Superstars may win games. Teams win championships.
Anthony has the worst playoff percentage of the last two decades and is the only marquee player listed in the worst ten. So I hope Melo was listening to the post-game analysis after the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat in the first game of the best-of-seven-series Tuesday. Kevin Durant, the league’s scoring champ for the last three years, led the Thunder with 36 points. LeBron James, Most Valuable Player three of the last four years, scored 30 for the Heat. The analysis credited the patient team play around Durant for the Thunder’s come-from-behind victory.
While Anthony was out with a groin pull, point guard Jeremy Lin emerged from the bench to orchestrate a taste of team play for the Knicks. My favorite moment of this season is Landry Fields spontaneously kissing the side of Lin’s head, in the sheer joy of a team victory.
Offensive flow not only disappeared when Melo returned; the diva squeezed out Coach Mike D’Antoni. Mike Woodson, the new coach, did a great job stepping in, but his system is based on more Melo.
A basketball insider I adore quotes all kind of correct statistics on why Anthony is the most impressive Knick. Even so, she and I agree on our favorite Knick, center Tyson Chandler. Tyson anchors the team on defense and leads the NBA in shooting percentage. Chandler will never be a darling.
I admit I’m regularly accused of reducing all of life to a basketball analogy. But there is a parallel in the collaboration of a small team of words in a poem and only five players at a time on a basketball court. Sure, component parts also have to meld for a successful novel and or soccer team. But precisely because basketball and poetry have fewer moving parts, there is a particular pressure for each word, each player to work well with the others.
I’m going to start calling my darlings “Melos” and think in terms of trades not executions. No millions of dollars will be at stake. The excised phrase may or may not find a place in another poem. I’ll just imagine the other words thanking me for putting the team first.