Apr 1, 2010

Edward Hirsch, "Fast Break"




Left: Dunking


I don't want to rush anyone away from the Addonizio and Stevens discussions; we can keep that going indefinitely.

But Final Four weekend in college hoops is approaching, and with it comes the question, again, of whether there can be important literature that centers on sport. If so, the writing has to be about larger issues than people playing games, doesn't it? Some might remember that this came up regarding James Wright's football poem, "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio." (Banjo52, Sept. 23, 2009), and I think of Joyce Carol Oates writing on boxing or Hemingway on bullfighting.

Since the mid-1980s, I've wondered how Edward Hirsch's "Fast Break" fits into the discussion. The fact that Hirsch's poem is dedicated to a man who died young encourages me to see see something more than the literal, more than a basketball poem, yet not abandoning or cheating on basketball as a worthwhile subject. Why and how does one write a basketball poem that serves as an elegy for a deceased friend? Doesn't Hirsch risk trivializing both the game and the friend?

I think the poem does succeed in both purposes, but I'm baffled as to how to explain it.

Fast Break by Edward Hirsch : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

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6 comments:

Brenda's Arizona said...

I wouldn't know Fast Break was an elegy without the notation at the beginning of the poem. Hmmmm. It just seems a poem about a game and the players. Do you think BBplayers even care if a poem is written about their sport?

James Wright poem feels cold. For a second, I felt like I was in coal-mining town in West Virginia, full of depression and black lung. Life itself has already moved on...

Do you think poetry and contact sports work together?

BANJO52 said...

"Do you think BBplayers even care if a poem is written about their sport?"

Interesting and fun question! I guess the only answer can be that poets shouldn't care. If the writer can make sport important to both fans and non-fans, the players themselves aren't relevant except as subject in the poem.

Does this hold up as a parallel: does a sunset care if a poet writes about it, painter paints it, and so forth?

I think your description of the Wright poem and place are on the money. Do you think those are the qualities he's trying to convey?

I think sports can work, and these two poems illustrate it. But I think sports are riskier subjects than most chosen by literary writers.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Maybe the beauty of poetry and poets is that they take the most risks?

I almost thought you'd reference A.E. Housman "To An Athlete Dying Young".

Probably (maybe??) most people prefer their sports as action, not as poetry. Some topics aren't easy to convey poetically, I would think. Or maybe they just aren't easy to read as poetry.

BANJO52 said...

Brenda, I strongly suspect it's a yes about action over poetry. But I think that's a shame. In the several sports I understand somewhat, poetry and other arts (sculpture and dance, for starters) are abundant. Characterization too.

Without enjoying and respecting those features, one is just keeping score and hoping for violence.

(Maybe I said that for effect, but I probably mean it.)

BANJO52 said...

Brenda, also, good point on Houseman, tho' I haven't been back to it for ages.

Good point on risk too. Remember a couple months ago and Ferlinghetti's "Constantly Risking Absurdity," which no one seemed to like?

BANJO52 said...

P.S. Ferlinghetti was Feb. 18 here.

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