NBA coach Phil Jackson won 11 championships, six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also was a player for two titles with the Knicks in the 1970s. A Jackson literary tactic was to select books for his players on long road trips. In that spirit, I asked BAP readers to pair poems with NBA and WNBA players. Thanks for the entries. My winners of the Poet Poke.
Mary Karr, award-winning poet and best-selling memoirist, offers Losing Steps by Stephen Dunn for the San Antonio Spurs from her native Texas. Despite a 20-game winning streak in the playoffs, the Spurs were worn down by the younger Oklahoma City Thunder in the semifinals.
“I'll testify for the Spurs with Losing Steps. You can say we all suffer a little slowdown with knee aches that thwart our best games. Speed is a gift from the gods, and as a Texan, I pray they get their legs back.”
Also from Karr, Loony Bin Basketball for Phil Jackson as a coming attraction. Her poem for Jackson will be appear in POETRY magazine in September 2012 .
Todd Muller is founder of Ball In, a website which started as paper zine in the mid-90s dedicated to the idea that basketball is the best way to find meaning in this world. Todd, always a good pickup teammate, tossed me Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which I am assigning to Ron Artest, the Los Angeles Lakers forward who legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. Mr. World Peace was suspended for seven games right before the playoffs for a flagrant foul elbow to Thunder guard James Harden. Overall, he has been suspended 10 times in his 13 years. World Peace would be wise to study Shelley’s sonnet about art and language long outlasting the other legacies of power.
Overheard on National Public Radio just before the playoffs. “They are going to need World Peace going forward…Might be curtains for World Peace.”
Brett Fletcher Lauer is a poet and managing director of the Poetry Society of America. His knees are 33 years old, young by any standard but the NBA. He suggests as summer reading the The Magic of Numbers by Kenneth Koch for the two teams in the finals, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, and the many older players who’ve already cleaned out their lockers for the year.
Lauer with memories of the basketball net in his family’s driveway: “Playing against my three older brothers, age provided huge advantages such as their superior motor skill, height, and physical strength—like when they did that thing where they held me back by placing their hand on my head and my arms flailed around unsuccessfully trying to reach them, reach the ball, reach anything but air.
But in the timeline of an NBA player, it doesn’t seem to work that way
I thought both teams might enjoy Kenneth Koch’s mediation on the magic of numbers and youth.”
Mark Coatney of Tumblr and a teammate in my Sunday pickup game, suggests What Work Is by Philip Levine for LeBron James, who’s in the finals for the second consecutive year with the Miami Heat. The Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks last year after James bolted the Cleveland Cavaliers in a live ESPN special. “It will help him figure out what was so wrong about how he left Cleveland.”
Michael Schiavo s a poet who lives in Vermont. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, and claims, before tip-off, he successfully predicted the exact final score of the Huskie’s 1999 NCAA championship. He recommends A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman for the Thunder’s star Kevin Durant, nicknamed "Durantula,"
“Noiseless is perhaps the wrong word to describe Chesapeake Energy Arena, which has been dubbed both "Loud City" and "The Thunderdome." "Noiseless" is certainly the wrong descriptor to use when talking about Kevin Durant's impact on the NBA. "Patient," however, is applicable to both fans and current players of the franchise formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics.
This fragment, which first appeared in the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass, evokes the basketball (and poetry) experience from two vistas, especially when #35 (or the "lonely old courage-teacher") drops the rock. The first stanza mirrors the crowd's (reader) participation in the movement of the game, the hesitation and surge, the witness to the weave of curve, hangtime, swoosh. The second stanza friezes the moment (poem) when that sphere is released, when it arcs toward the circle, the threading of a world through a wormhole, beautiful, repeated 'til the final buzz.
Darrel Alejandro Holnes, poet and playwright (and die-hard fan of the New York Liberty!) matches five Liberty players with five poems.
“I chose these poems because each displays the spirit of empowerment, mischief, wisdom, history, and strength that each player demonstrates on the court. There's also a strong sense of place in each of these poems. The New York Liberty represent New York City, but the players each also carry their hometowns with them. Place is an important to a player, as is it is to the poems, as it was to the poets. It locates, it centers us to create both art and athletics.”