It’s basketball season! For those of us who read poetry, we may believe that baseball rules the poetic world when it comes to sports. (This may be a naive and biased remark — I grew up in a baseball household and currently live in a baseball home. I don’t know a lot about other sports — when I read poetry that mentions sports, I instantly pick up and remember the baseball references) However, the writers in Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball want to change this perception. This collection, edited by Todd Davis, is not an anthology of poetry. Instead, the poets’ essays found within its pages seek to find the connections between the art of basketball and the art of poetry.
In the introduction, Todd Davis and J.D. Scrimgeour note the relationship to poetry and the beginnings of basketball: “Just three months before the death of Walt Whitman, Dr. James Naismith nailed two peach baskets to the wall of the gymnasium at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.” Davis and Scrimgeour go on to explain that “Whitman doubtless would have been pleased with Naismith’s game, born of necessity and joy, requiring ego and egolessness.” The death of Whitman and the birth of basketball occurred well over 100 years ago. Still, many of today’s writers readily realize the connection between basketball and poetry. What follows the introduction is a collection of pieces that explore this connection.
Some essays focus more on memoir writing: others strive to connect the art of basketball to the art of poetry. For instance, Jim Daniels, in his work, pieces together his failed attempts at basketball while cataloguing his journey to poetry. Stephen Dunn, on the other hand, seeks to spend more time examining the art between basketball and poetry noting, “Perhaps basketball and poetry have just a few things in common, but the most important is the possibility of transcendence.”
Many other poets, including Jeff Gundy, Jack Ridl, Richard Newman and Marjorie Maddox, are included in this anthology and most of their works fall in the loose genre of what may be defined as memoir. Still, there are other essays that strive to deliver their messages while reaching outside the boundaries of essay writing. For instance, Natalie Diaz in “Two Things You Need Balls to Do: A Miscellany from a Former Professional Basketball Player Turned Poet” (my favorite piece in the collection!), compares and contrasts basketball and poetry in a witty, ironic voice. For instance, she states that when it comes to uniforms you need one to play pro ball, but to write poetry, you “can write in only your undies, or in a coffee-stained Allman Brothers Concert T-shirt.” She also talks about her many physical injuries playing basketball, saying, when it comes to injuries and poetry, “Once, I was rushing to the post office to make a postmark deadline, and I stubbed my toe on the curb out front.”
Do you have a basketball player who is also a poet in your life? Fast Break to Line Break would make a great present. In fact, I would say that this collection is a great gift for those basketball players who would be a bit afraid to read poetry. Certainly, the essays in this collection would change their minds!
Click here for an interview with Todd Davis and Jack Ridl who talk about the collection.