Posts Tagged ‘Todd Davis’

Fast Break to Line Break

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.

How to Make a Poem

Happy Monday! My review of  Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets edited by Todd Davis and Erin Murphy  is up on Rattle.  For those of you who teach, you will find this book to be an excellent resource for exploring the genesis of poetry.  Even if you don’t teach, you would enjoy the fine work by 40 contemporary poets, including Jim Daniels, Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Greg Rappleye. 

Todd Davis at How a Poem Happens

Because of our blizzard like conditions here, JCC has closed its doors for the day — no final today.  Since this is a once in a lifetime experience, I am spending my time productively: catching up on my blog reading.  I just discovered that Todd Davis is up at How a Poem Happens — and he discusses one of my favorite poems from his last book. 

If you are reading this post from a cold and snowy place, please drive safely and keep warm!

Three Poems I Am Lovin’…..

Because of the move and a mail mixup [insert long story here] I just received my copy of Shenandoah’s issue dedicated to writer Flannery O’Connor.  Todd Davis has the opening poem titled “The Girl Who Taught A Chicken to Walk Backwards.”  The ending lines have been running through my head all weekend: “at some point we must take a step backwards/to see whether we’re frying in the fat of our sins/or whether love, when we try to own it, must become/beautifully misshapen.” 


The Cimarron Review has post some audio clips of poems.  I love the work, “Gladetown Cemetery” by poet Jack Christian.  Read/Listen to his poem here.  Christian’s poetry is new to me; I did a quick google search but couldn’t find out whether or not he has a book out.  If anyone knows, please let me know.


Last, but not least, I have been reading Sherry O’Keefe’s  fine chapbook, Making Good Use of August.  Sherry and I “met” through the blogging world and we did a quick chapbook swap.  Sherry’s whole chapbook is wonderful, with thoughtful nods towards sense of place and people, but I was especially taken with the title poem “Making Good Use of August”.  You can read it/listen to it here.

Ruins & Wreckage

I just recently finished Major Jackson’s book, Hoops, and I have been thinking about one of the lines in his poem, ” Wyoming “.  In this particular work, the poet asks, a sort of rhetorical question, “Jersey, the industrial carcass, one/Of the great literary states we agreed/Which of course, begged the question/about landscape: Does a poet’s muse need/Her own wasteland to succeed?”

I guess my response to that question would be “Yes.”

This week, I am taking a class,  titled “Putting Sacred Spaces in a Poem,”    under poet  Todd Davis (who also happens to be the star of Poetry Daily today, take a look here).  I took this class for many reasons, but mostly because I have always been fascinated with the way poets deal with spiritual issues in the written work.  I don’t consider my work especially spiritual, although I have noticed that religious figures and allusions do pop up from time to time in my poems.

On the first day of class, Todd asked class members to talk a bit about what they thought was sacred, or how they would define “sacred places.”  For many people, youth was a sacred place.  Or family.  Several people mentioned natural landscapes.  Today, we talked about sound, and several people, when they read their drafts used soft sounds, like the “l”. 

The word “sacred” does invite a sort of reverence in poetry, yet I’m happy that this class has taken the term a bit further.  With one of the exercises, Todd asked us to list (brainstorm) a group of sounds we associate with our own sacred places.  However, last night when I did this, my list came out harsh — I heard grinding, chortling, huffing, scraping.  In fact, when I reviewed many of my poems, the verbs seem sort of, well, rough.  In fact, my natural landscapes that I hold sacred are rough — full of debris and wreckage and ruins.  Fans of The Scrapper Poet know that I was born in the Rust Belt, grew up in the Rust Belt, and currently live, teach and write in the Rust Belt, so the beauty of corrosion is part of my life.   I love barns that are decorated with faded letters: Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco, Treat Yourself to the Best.  I love railroad yards with old boxcars.  I love crumbling factories that are falling, slowly becoming part of the earth.

What have I learned thus far this week?  That there is something sacred about the harshness of the world, about violence, about death.  It’s how we weed through the rough edges to capture what is important, or what may be considered holy.  I have never really looked at my work, or works of poets who write about working-class life and issues, as sacred, but now, I will.

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman

The US Postal Service has been kind to me this week. First, I received my contributor’s copy of Copper Nickel — and it’s a great issue (I am not just saying that because one of my poem is found within its pages).  There’s work from Mary Biddinger, Karyna McGlynn, Jericho Brown, Jessica Jewell, R.T. Smith, and Alison Stine.  My favorite is Stine’s poem, “Canary” that opens this issue.   In this work, the poet proclaims:  “It’s not so bad, seventies/in March, coats off, daffodils opening/in a white blaze. But the polar bears/drowned, swum too far to look/for food.  The ice floes lost their edges; each shore sunk further out.  Frogs/the first barometers, on some banks/started exploding, blood turned.  My canary/shutters against the man I thought/I knew, the one who promised to love me.”

I also received my copy of Green Mountains Review.  Fans of The Scrapper Poet will know that I blogged quite a bit about Paula Bohince’s Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods on my old blog — and then I got the chance to write a more formal review of this great book for GMR.  If you haven’t picked up Bohince’s début collection yet, you really should.

Finally, last year I was honored with a chance to judge the Keystone Chapbook  Award from Seven Kitchens Press, and Soot by Jeff Walt was the winner.  This chapbook arrived in the mail.  What did I say about Walt’s poems?  “Jeff Walt’s collection is filled with dirt, grit and dust.  These tough poems squint in the bright light but focus, fear both real and imaginary dangers but still fact the day, fall but get up to brush themselves off and move on….”

When I connected to the Seven Kitchens Press website,  I discovered more good news.  Seven Kitchens Press is planning a big year with chapbooks! RJ Gibson’s Scavenge will be released soon (you have to check out that cover).  Plus, two of my favorite Pennsylvania poets will also be publishing with Ron Mohring’s micropress.  Gabriel Welsch’s chapbook, An Eye Fluent in Gray  and Todd Davis’s chapbook Household of Water, Moon, and Snow are both due out later this year.   More good reading, ahead!  I know that times are tough, and that if you are a poet and/or blog reader, you are always being asked to support the poetry community.  I can say that Seven Kitchens Press is one of the best places for poetry!