Today was Boxing Day over at The Los Angeles Review of Books Poetic Olympic Section.
Here are pieces by Pat Rosal, Ross Gay and Jennifer Grotz.
Hagler-Leonard and the Limits of Speech
Ross Gay and Patrick Rosal
On April 6, 1987 Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler fought, the only matchup that hadn’t happened among the era’s pantheon of boxers that include Thomas The Hitman Hearns and Robert Duran. Hagler was the puncher, known as a bruiser. Leonard was the graceful, and even extravagant, boxer.
Young men—particularly—young men of color around the country watched this fight on television. For many of them, the bout figured prominently in forming their attitudes about what it means to be a man, what it means to be with or without a way to speak up, what it means to be something that’s not not, what it means to bruise, and what it means to be gracefully evasive. Two of those young men became poets.
[A round of boxing is also known as a stanza. In boxing, the stanza is no place to rest.]
In the memory all I see is my father, a tray of re-heated food on his lap, his feet in black polyester socks moving like two seals. He’s home from some long day at Roy Rogers on Cottman, the water glass full of rum and mix swirling before he sips it. His bald head. The black birthmark on his left temple pulsing when he chews.
My father’s head moving just so, the neck jutting the jaw and chin this was and that while his fork moves through air, occasionally a tiny “ooh” or “there you go.”
Hagler lowers his chin and walks ahead, trying to clip short the angles of Leonard’s slick dance. Marvin is pushing the action. That’s what he’s known for—walking the other fighter down. Pressure. Moving forward.
Look more closely.
Many of Hagler’s best punches connect—not from bulldozing through Leonard’s guard—but by Hagler’s occasional, subtle, and almost imperceptible retreat.
Leonard’s footwork makes him hard to catch in the first two rounds, like a quick shifting wind. But Hagler switches from conventional stance to his natural southpaw in the third.
By the fifth round, Leonard is already showing real signs of fatigue (he has fought most of his career at or below 147 lbs., a full weight class lower).
[The word stanza comes from the Italian meaning “resting place”.]
To get a quick breath, Leonard stops, leans forehead-to-forehead against the solid, broad-bodied Hagler.
Notice: Hagler, with his lead foot, takes one bit step back, which makes a small gap between the fighters.
Here, Leonard, still leaning, falls into where the other boxer’s body used to be. With :28 left in the fifth, Hagler fills the rift with a nasty right uppercut. It connects—hurts Leonard.