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gabrielle calvocoressi
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Time Passes Today I woke up and stretched for a bit while listening to a dharma talk on pain. How boring. Sometimes I wonder how to write these posts. Maybe that’s a way of saying sometimes I wonder if I have a right to write these posts. I’m suspicious of memoir but then I think maybe that’s more about my own lack of self-confidence and my own long term commitment to silencing myself, which I think is something a lot of us do. Or maybe it’s that it seems so long ago. Or like no time at all. It’s less than a month until the twenty-sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. For a long time I would have said: It’s less than a month until the twenty-sixth anniversary of my mother’s suicide. This year I’m trying to think of it in a different way. Suicide or not, the fact is my mother’s been gone for twenty-six years. It’s awful and common no matter how I cut it. Twenty-six years ago this February day I wasn’t talking to my mother. Or, I had just started talking to her after a year or more of silence. I thought it was just a year but then a woman she’d been in the hospital with found me online and sent a letter saying she’d read my work and it seemed like my mother and I had reconnected and were back in touch at the time of her death. She made it sound like it had been a lot longer than a year. I mean, I know time is funny that way. I had a friend who would say, “How long has it been since we’ve talked? It’s been forever.” when, in reality, it had been at most a few weeks that didn’t seem like much time at all to me. But then another friend would have the audacity not to be in touch for four or five days and I’d assume the friendship was over. All this is to say I’m hardly a reliable narrator and also that so much depends on where one is standing. In February of 1988 I was in 8th grade at McGee Middle School. All I can think of as I write that is the hallway near my locker and the Social Studies room I was sitting in when my mother died. That feels like no time ago or maybe a better way to put it is there feels like no physical distance between me and the girl sitting in the classroom, who will find out when she gets home that her mother died at ten o’clock that morning. Yes, I can be right back there in a moment to the day my mother died. To say she killed herself is both true and somehow easier to bear, at least today. I spent so much time thinking about my mother killing herself that I hardly thought about her dying. At first it was because I couldn’t say she killed... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Pain A few weeks ago my left hip gave out. Maybe “gave out” isn’t the right term. A few weeks ago the pain I’ve been having on the right side of my back for about a year inexplicably moved itself, in its entirety to my left. It wasn’t the same kind of pain. It was sharp and involved nerves and all of a sudden I had a pronounced limp. Sitting was very hard, which made writing hard. Standing hurt after a few minutes. I finally understood why people say nerve pain is the worst. I’d wake in the night and it would feel like my leg was on fire. That’s not quite accurate. I would wake in the night and feel like having been set on fire and allowed to burn for awhile my lower leg was now being peeled to the bone with the same attention and care you would use to acquire a sliver of the finest parmesan. I’m saying this in past tense because the pain is slightly better right now. I’ve started physical therapy and I’ve been seeing the acupuncturist. Today my acupuncturist said, “We can treat the pain or we can work into the foundation.” And then my physical therapist said, “I think you’ve had this issue for years and the pain is just bringing it to light.” Which is not so different from what Dr. Ng said in San Francisco to me all those years ago. “Very old,” he said. “Very old pain.” And then he smiled at me and meowed like a cat. Which was something he did a lot and always made sense at the time. Even this early on in the story there’s the urge to somehow conflate this physical pain I’m in with the pain that ended my mother’s life. To say that having “very old pain” makes her story somehow more mine. What I have come to realize, as I’ve gotten older is one thing has nothing to do with the other. Or, perhaps it’s truer to say that my pain increases my sense of how impossible it must have been for her at the same time that I realize my pain, even if (please God no) it’s permanent, is not likely to undo me. My therapist said, “Your story is not her story.” And I got so mad. “It is my story,” I whined like a spoiled child. “It is.” “No,” she said. “You are part of her story and she is part of yours. You don’t get to be her story. Her story is hers. And your story is your own.” What a crock. I fumed for days after she said that. It’s amazing how much I wanted to claim her story as mine. Or the opposite. When I wasn’t worrying how much like my mother I was, I was distancing myself. My new least favorite words in the world are, “I’m not crazy” but back then and until fairly recently I wore them like a merit... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Weight The first time I saw my mother naked I didn’t think she was beautiful. If I remember correctly I was terrified. Which is crazy because she was just leaning over to dry her calf. She was in the blue bathroom in her parents’ house and the door had been left ajar. Not even ajar. Just a sliver that I walked past and turned my head and my eye went into. She was leaning over like anyone else. She was looking at her leg. Her eyes, well I couldn’t see her eyes but I could see the way her eyelids were sort of heavy and how dark her eyebrows were. Her head was turned down a bit and her hair was wrapped in a towel, which is something I’d try to do after that. I don’t remember much about her being effortless but this was effortless, she was leaning down sort of like you do when you’re shaving your legs. Her foot may have been resting on the edge of the tub. I’m not sure anymore and I was just seeing her through the sliver of the door. The tile was light blue, I think. I saw her breasts, which were really large. I saw the folds of her skin. She was really overweight by then. It was probably the medication. I got so scared somehow. She was not looking at me. I could say she wasn’t thinking of me but I don’t know if that’s true. I remember she looked peaceful and also sad. Maybe I just wanted her to be sad. I wanted all sorts of things from her. I wanted her to be heartbroken and ashamed that she wasn’t well enough for me to live with her. Then she’d say, “I’m heartbroken” and I’d look at the floor and turn around and walk outside to throw a ball against the garage door. She was leaning over and looking at something. I don’t think she meant for the door to be open. Her skin was olive where mine was stark white. Her hair was black, though it was nestled under the towel on her head. I couldn’t see the front of her, just her breast hanging like any ordinary woman’s breast would hang if they were bent over like that. Of all the things I can’t remember about my mother I remember that. Can you imagine how long I must have stood there to take it all in and get scared and add her weight to my list of ways she’d failed me. If I look at her body now, like this, building the door in my mind and turning my head and seeing her it’s clear she’s not really so heavy at all. Or. She is no heavier than I am now, which is about twelve pounds heavier than I’d like to be. I don’t have the excuse of medication. For me it’s pleasure: biscuits, good wine, teaching a lot and not walking the pasture enough. I’ve... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Not Guilty. Full of Light. Every night before I fall asleep I say, “Goodnight, God. I love you. Sleep well.” I don’t say it out loud because it’s just between us. I realized the other day that I began saying it after my mother killed herself. I’d always prayed. Or, I’d always talked to God. Nothing big really. I didn’t ask for things so much as talk about my day or sometimes I’d ask questions. I mean, sometimes I’d beg. When I was getting bullied in middle school I remember asking God to please help me because I didn’t think I could take it any more. I have such a clear vision of sitting in our narrow stairway in the late afternoon saying, “Please. Just please.” And then the phone rang and there was some boy on the other end of the line saying he was going to kill me when I came to school the next day. I didn’t think to hold it against God. Even before my mother killed herself it never occurred to me to blame God for the lousy things that went on in my world. The boys who tripped me in the hallway were the boys who tripped me in the hallway. I was pretty sure most of their parents would trip me too if given the chance in a room where no one was looking. As far as I was concerned, God was good company. I didn’t go to church in the very religious town I grew up in, I just walked through the cornfield talking to him. I did say “him,” it’s true. Now I think of God as a kind of deep pressure and gong inside me that echoes into the world but back then that felt male to me. Anyway. God was who I talked to in a life where I didn’t have lots of folks to talk to. Walking through the fields, waiting for the bus, sitting in the living room in Vermont when my mother’s third husband brought a homeless man back from the liquor store and we all sat there as they got drunker and drunker. And later that night after my mother played a game with me where we got her husband up to bed and then asked him outlandish questions that he answered in his sleep. “Are you stupid?” “Are you stupid?” “What does a monkey sound like?” I lay in bed and talked it through: how weird it was and how I felt kind of bad for Jimmy, lying there with my mother laughing and getting him to answer one question after another. And I admitted I’d liked laughing with her, that I’d kept laughing just to keep being near her. And yet, I did stop talking to God for awhile. In those first months after my mother died I don’t think I checked in at all. I’m not sure where I was really, or who I talked to. Those months are a blank for... Continue reading
Posted Nov 22, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
November 21, 2013 Dear Mom, Yesterday I couldn’t seem to do it. Well, that sounds a bit more dramatic than I mean it to. Yesterday I couldn’t seem to get myself to write this column I’m working on about you and me and suicide and why we do or don’t keep living. It’s something that happens to me. I get overwhelmed. It was a good day though. There was lots to write about. I woke up and went to acupuncture in town. I decided to take the bus instead of driving, which turned out to be a great idea because I took the slower bus that takes you all through Carrboro. Oh! Do you know I moved to North Carolina? I’m not sure where you are and if you can see me from there and I haven’t written you a letter since Los Angeles. I like to think you’re with me but I have to admit I can’t feel you here except maybe once in awhile when the sun comes through the leaves in a certain way that kind of reminds me of Vermont or Autumn in the front yard at your parents when you used to come outside and watch me throw a ball against the garage door. Anyway, I’ve moved here and yesterday I took the bus. It got full fast, which was nice because you could hear all the different conversations. Every time someone would get off the bus driver would say, “You have a good day.” It made me smile and do a quick little shake of pleasure to hear all of those polite goodbyes. One elderly man got on the bus near “Johnny’s Gone Fishin’” and saw his other friend already sitting and said, “My Man!” Can you imagine? How good that must feel to get on a bus and have someone say that to you! I got off the bus and walked to Stacy’s office. I was about twenty minutes early, which I didn’t mind because I got to sit in the office waiting room in a patch of sun and just let it warm me. I was thinking about going to acupuncture during that terrible time in Berkeley and how Dr. Ng was standing above me one day and placed a finger gently on my chest and said, “Your heart is like someone chopped it with ax. It’s an old wound. It won’t ever heal.” And then he smiled so wide and said, “So you make it a beautiful canyon!” I am trying to make my life a beautiful canyon. I really am. Full of light and maybe some foxes and a ridiculous turkey or two just roaming around. Mom, I think for a long time I thought your suicide was the wound but I wanted to say I don’t think that anymore. I mean, I’m not saying it was the greatest thing in the world. It was pretty much the worst. But you know (I think wherever you are) that there was... Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Detail of My Mother Many Years Before She Killed Herself This photo was taken before she knew me. Before I was born. It was taken by her first husband, Ralph. I don’t think she’d been in the hospital yet. I think she looks very beautiful. My eye first goes to the shadow under her chin and the way the light falls on the curve that leads from the top of her shoulder to the straight part of her neck. I wish she was looking at me. I mean, I wish she was looking at the camera. I don’t have any photos of her looking at the camera. I don’t actually have any photos of us together at all. There’s one I remember where she’s in bed right after I’m born and her hair is really long and she’s holding me and sort of looking like she’s not sure. Her two cats are lying on either side of her. I lost the photo years ago. I think she kind of looks like a hawk in this photo. This is before she lost all her teeth. We used to sleep in twin beds on opposite sides of her bedroom in her mother’s house. At some point she began taking her teeth out before bed, which is when I realized she didn’t have her own teeth anymore. It made me uncomfortable. I’ve never really noticed her ear before, which is crazy because it’s kind of big and makes me smile. We never knew each other that way. I don’t ever remember touching her. One night she came into my dark room and said, “I just want to hold you.” The next morning the man she lived with said he was taking me home ten days early. But gosh, look at that ear! I’d like to be able to say to her, “You have big ears” and then both of us would laugh because we know she’s super pretty. I’m touching my own ear now. It’s bigger than I remember and I’m smiling. Once she wrote me a letter saying it would be okay to have glasses but she knew how hard it must be to be the only bespectacled kid in my class. Bespectacled. What a word. Once we sat on the couch in her mother’s living room and she said, “No one will ever trust you with eyes that shake like that.” This is before she took too many pills and her mother had her stepfather drive her to the hospital in the trunk of his Cadillac so the neighbors wouldn’t see. My mother’s name was Diane Jule Daw. If I ever had a boy I’d like to make his middle name Jule. I think it’s beautiful for a boy. I’m not sure about a girl. It had been a good day. We’d gone to Ben Franklin and then come home and she made Dinty Moore stew from the can. I loved it. The way the beef just fell apart and how... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun The rule I made for myself most days was that I had to leave the house and smile at least three people that I didn’t know. I had to make eye contact and just say hello, which is to say even if I was shaking or had been throwing up from all the anxiety all day long I still needed to walk out on Claremont Blvd. and face the world. This was the rule on weekends but also on weekdays after I’d get home from teaching at Stanford. I was doing great at Stanford. The students were fabulous, I was busy, I could make it through the day teaching my ass off and if I felt my heart start pounding I could breathe my way through it. I could get in my black Jetta and drive all the way home: over the Dumbarton bridge with its deep smell of algae, along the 880. By the time I’d get onto the 24 I might really be sweating or maybe crying a bit but it was okay, I could make it. I could get up the wide craftsman stairs and into my apartment and just make the bathroom before throwing up. I’d look up to see our sweet cat, Clemente, who had started to wait there for me to come home. No matter how bad the day was or if it was dark I still had to walk back out the door. Turn right on Ashby and walk to College or keep walking down Claremont and go into Star Market and just say hello. To Nick, the owner. To the butchers. If I was on College I could go into Manpuku and get some miso soup and say hello to each person behind the counter. And then I was allowed to go home and throw up a few more times before going to bed. This was my hard time. Once I said hello to three people I needed to make my way home. Which was harder than you might think. I was so afraid I was going to begin hearing things that all I did was hear things. The doctor said, “You haven’t gone crazy. You’ve had a panic attack. You’re perfectly sane.” One of the branches on a giant rosemary bush would scratch my jacket and I’d have to sit on the ground with my head in my hands and beg my God not to have this be the start of the end of me. I remember how the eucalyptus trees smelled even in the coldest months in Berkeley. I remember how huge the spider webs were. Those were the things I focused on and breathed while saying to myself, “You are healthy and full of light. You can do this. You can get home.” I needed another rule. Or I needed a companion. When I tell my students that I am terrible at memorization I’m not kidding. I can’t remember ten lines... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
As a way of starting Sports Desk again, I've decided to start by continuing with some Olympic roundups, Olympic replays and Olympic reconsiderations. Over the next 7 days I'll be running pieces from The Los Angeles Review of Books Poetic/Olympics that you haven't seen yet and a number that you have. By the time I've finished I'll be in Denton, TX where I'll have some other things to say about poetry and sports and searching. First up, Pat Rosal discusses Mark Anthony Barriga. I've included his first piece and now the conclusion, "Keats and Barriga: Filipino Capability." Barriga’s Olympic Debut By Pat Rosal Ranked 33rd in the world in the light flyweight division (49kg), Filipino boxer Mark Anthony Barriga is a longshot to earn the gold medal in London, but he showed some promise in dominating Italian fighter Manuel Cappai. Barriga outpointed Cappai, 17-7, in what was both fighters’ Olympic debut. Barriga charged at Cappai after the opening bell with an aggressive left lead combo. It may not have connected cleanly, but it seemed to surprise Cappai with its swiftness and ferocity. Barriga did a good job of crowding Cappai throughout the fight, unloading fierce combinations, being mostly on the move and reading his opponent’s swiping rangefinder of a jab. Cappai revealed his own frustration when he used his shoulder to heave the smaller fighter off his feet and shove him back down against the ropes in the first round. Barriga stuck with his game plan and was the more consistent aggressor. Cappai, this year’s European pre-qualifying bronze medalist, hit the canvas with about a minute left in the first round. It was ruled a slip, though in replay it looked like a legitimate knockdown from a right hook. Then, with fifteen seconds left in the first stanza, Barriga blasted an overhand right into Cappai’s temple and a followed up with left to the chin. The referee gave the Italian a standing eight count. Cappai, 19, has clearly modeled his style after two-time World Champion and Beijing gold medalist Zou Shiming who is comparable in height and has the same long body type. Both fighters are mobile and score touches mostly from the outside. On the other hand, Barriga, a natural southpaw, likes to attack in spurts. He throws dynamic series of combinations, changing levels from the body to the head and back. One of his slicker moves is the way he slips an oncoming jab and throws a tight straight left to the body. Barriga, who is also 19, is one of the smallest boxers in his weight division at this year’s Olympics—and his division is the smallest in boxing. He has boyish good looks and a real sweet disposition during interviews. He told one interviewer that, if he were to have kids one day, he wouldn’t let them box because it’s too dangerous. When the interviewer asked why he boxes then, Barriga responded, “So I can help my family.” He even giggles a bit when asked who his... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today over at The Los Angeles Review of Books Poetic/Olympics we're talking about Basketball. Scott Cunningham and Stephen Burt break it down in fine fashion and the photos will slay you as well. On Women’s Basketball PT. 2 Stephen Burt The truth is I screwed up. I got my priorities wrong. I missed out the real show. I watched the wrong games. I've been able to see my favorite players—the ones I already follow closely—on Team USA, which I do support, being American; but Team USA, which I've been watching, had exactly no close games, and about five close quarters, during its four games (sixteen quarters) of pool play. The first game, against Croatia, exposed some weaknesses—not much depth in the low post, for example—but it was also a tune-up; the US spotted the Czech Republic the first ten points, and didn't play defense against China for the first six minutes, but the Americans still won both games by an almost arbitrarily large span. Diana Taurasi appears to have found her shot, Maya Moore never lost hers, Tina Charles did just fine (against slower or less polished, albeit taller, opponents) while Sylvia Fowles gave a hurt foot time to heal, and Angel McCoughtry, as is her wont, scored and scored. Team USA are, in other words, still the favorites, and while they might be severely tested on the way through the elimination rounds (which started Tuesday morning: USA vs. Canada) they could also make it look easy. (Like all great performers, they make it look easy because they work hard.) The real drama, the big surprises, and all the close games, involved teams full of names unfamiliar to me, with two or three or no WNBA players. In Group A (the USA's group) the surprises were bad ones: Brazil, who won gold in Barcelona and have put up good fights ever since, went 0-4: something's gone badly wrong with their national player development. The Czechs, who played the US close for a half and then wilted, lost unexpectedly to China and Turkey. But the games that would have been fun for me to watch have come, by and large, in Group B, and I missed all but one. The Australians are, on paper, almost as good as expected, with multiple low-post options, including big, young Liz Cambage, who last week became the first woman to dunk in the Olympics; and the Canadians, who were supposed to feel lucky just to show up, have made it to the elimination round. I did watch Canada vs. Australia on Sunday, and the Opals (the Aussie women's team) ruled the first quarter: then they lost focus, baffled by the Canadians' superior coordination and apparently equal foot speed. A lead that was, early on, 22-7 shrank to just three points late in the match; given five more minutes of play, the Canadians would have won Especially fun to watch, against the Opals, was versatile guard Courtney Pilypaitis, recently a standout for the University of Vermont—she... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today in The Los Angeles Review of Books Poetic/Olympic Coverage, Liam and Meghan O'Rourke continued their gymnastic poetic correspondence and Patrick Rosal talked about kettle bell, depression and the poem. A Gymnastic/Poetic Correspondence by Liam O'Rourke and Meghan O'Rourke Meghan, First of all, hooray for our two favorite American gymnasts, Danell Leyva and Gabby Douglas winning individual all-around medals! Fortuitously I came across the following passage Thursday afternoon, not long after watching Douglas compete so fiercely and confidently to win gold: “How so slight a woman can roar, like a secret Niagara, and with so gracious an inference, is one with all mysteries where strength masquerading as weakness—a woman, a frail woman—bewilders us.” That happens to be William Carlos Williams writing in praise of Marianne Moore in 1948. Obviously I cringed at Williams’ sexist conceit just as I would a sit-down on a tumbling pass, but the words brought to mind the conflicting thoughts I have concerning the rush of innovation in women’s gymnastics that you mentioned in our last conversation. These gymnasts in London are the farthest thing from frail or weak, but there’s no question that women’s gymnastics is in part popular because of something that is analogous to Williams’ fascination with Moore. We are irresistibly bewildered by the mystery where unimaginable strength masquerades as a 4’11” teenage girl. Despite the fact that these female athletes are among the strongest, most physically dynamic humans on this planet, fans and viewers are often equally fascinated by their contrasting girlishness. Mustafina’s glitter hairspray and eyeshadow, Deng Linlin’s shooting star barrettes, and Gabby Wilson’s sparkling, magenta leotard all smack of an incongruity with the punishing physicality of what they are actually doing out there. The image of Kerri Strug being carried by Bela Karolyi to the medal podium in 1996 made her look so small and helpless and yet there is something about the childlike nature of that moment that actually enhances the improbable fierceness of what Strug had just accomplished on vault. I can’t help but feel that the seemingly bi-polar nature of gymnastics is no small part of its siren call. So let’s dissect Williams’ idea of ‘masquerading’ a bit further: how much of this frothy, debutante-like display is a mask for real strength and how much of it is integral to the genuine power of gymnastics as a sport? If you look at YouTtube clips of Nadia Comaneci, Olga Korbut, or other gymnasts from the 70s, a sort of gymnastics culture war plays out in the viewer comments. The majority of people on there (I’m not counting the ones who write “LOL I can’t even do a cartwheel!”) bemoan the loss of grace in women’s gymnastics and look back at this period as a golden era of the sport when routines emphasized rhythm and fluidity. Gymnasts now are being rewarded for taking risks with powerful moves in a way that sometimes outweighs the need for what so many of these fans call “elegance.” One part of me can... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today Poetic/Olympic Coverage continues at The Los Angeles Review of Books and The Best American Poetry. We're starting a series within the series in which we consider sports that have been and no longer are a part of the Games. We're calling them Ghost Sports and today it's baseball. Here's a moving meditation by Nick Ripatrazone and some brilliant hilarity by Peter Campion. Foul Ball: On Baseball and Poetry By Nick Ripatrazone The dugouts are empty and the bats are silent: there is no baseball in the London Olympics. There will be no baseball in the 2016 Berlin games. Baseball has merged its international governing body with another spurned sport, softball, for their 2020 bid. It pains me to hear Softball Federation President Don Porter’s admission that they will try to find ways to make both sports “more attractive and interesting.” Some major reasons for exclusion include the sport’s popularity in the Americas and Asia but more provincial following in Europe, concerns about drug testing, and the absence of Major League Baseball players. Yet a more implicit trait that appears to have doomed baseball’s chances as an Olympic sport--relatively slow, long games with moments of muted drama--is the same element that makes baseball so beautifully poetic. Baseball, even when played in the most urban of locations, is a reminder of the pastoral. The field is geometrically pleasing: batter and catcher boxes, on-deck circles, the manicured diamond centered with the pitcher’s mound, the dirt infield and the grassed outfield, stretching to the fences. That back border is hard, but other borders, like foul lines, can be straddled and crossed. Soft grass and rough dirt can both stain bodies. The bases, though fixed onto anchors, are sometimes upended. Home plate is often buried. It is a static field in almost constant flux. Fiction and film have romanticized the game, but poets have given the mythology further refinement and form. Marianne Moore, who threw out the first pitch of the season at Yankee Stadium in 1968, finds “excitement-- / a fever” in the unexpected nature of the game. Unlike basketball, with set hoops, and football, with end zones that must be reached like conquered land, baseball hinges on the relationship between pitcher and batter. If baseball hits bat, the ball springs, and the action follows that white blur. For a sport billed as slow and steady, the movement can be swift and erratic. In “Writing and Baseball,” Moore finds a connection between the unpredictability of both arts, and her uneven structure pushes forward the breakneck lines: a “leaping” player “snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest, / one-handing the souvenir-to-be / meant to be caught by you or me.” Moore’s witty poem is framed by her epigraph: “Suggested by post-game broadcasts.” Baseball is a game clothed in commentary from raised booths and rows of seats: a world covered in words. Fernando Perez, the first Major League Baseball player to be published in Poetry, writes that the world of baseball is infinitely splintered... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today The Los Angeles Review of Books and The Best American Poetry bring you Olympic coverage of Long Distance Swimming by Jake Adam York and Tennis by Matthea Harvey. The 1500-Meter Freestyle (and The Long Poem) By Jake Adam York [blocks] This hasn’t happened yet. You won’t see this until Saturday, until Sunday, because you, like a swimmer, have to warm up to this, to build the capacity for endurance, from the gasp of the 100M freestyle (47 seconds or less) to a race that will last more than 14 minutes. 1 When the buzzers sound, there will be almost a mile of water ahead of the swimmers, 30 laps in a 50-meter pool—a “metric mile.” Most of the short events will be done. You will be ready to watch this. Anything longer is either beyond the threshold of human attention 2 or so far beyond the threshold of human endeavor there wouldn’t be enough people to have a meaningful race. There aren’t many people who do this, who want to or can, and, it would seem, not many people who will watch this. I trained for this event, unknowingly, my entire 3 high-school swimming career but only once swam it competitively, in an exhibition heat at a YMCA Tri-State meet, in the Spring of 1989, the first time there were enough swimmers interested in this length. I would have given every 200M butterfly ribbon over for another chance at this. And another. 4 This is not a sprint. But it’s also not exactly not a sprint. You can’t keep a short-sprint pace for this length of time, but you have to open hot and finish hot. You need to be able to settle in, in the middle, and save something for the end. 5 The World Record for the 100M Freestyle is 46.91. Using the Haskell scale, this is 47 seconds at a heartrate of 180-200 beats per minute. If this could be extended linearly, someone could complete the 1500M in 11:43. But this is impossible. The physiological problem is this: after four minutes 6 of maximum effort, four minutes of anaerobic work, the muscles generate enough lactate to begin choking themselves. Falling back into aerobic effort allows the muscles to move off this waste. 7 The 1500M World Record is 14:34.14 — a pace of 58.267 seconds per 100M, 25% slower than the 100M World Record pace. The difference, of 12 seconds per 100M, is a graph of the lactate threshold, the moment of acidosis, when your effort creates more lactate than your blood can move. 8 The whole race has the swimmer right on that line between the aerobic and the anaerobic, right on the lactate threshold, ready to move into high burn in the final laps. Part of what you’re learning to do in any sport is how to manage your body. In the 1500, 9 you work in the upper end of the aerobic, learning almost to give too much. Or how, after a visit... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Olympic Fever Continues over at The Los Angeles Review of Books and right here at Sports Desk. Today Deborah Paredez on Track and Field and Gregory Pardlo on Table Tennis. The Handoff: On Track and Field and The Poem Deborah Paredez 1. The relay, at heart, is about conveyance. The body trained as a vessel. Handing off—often blindly and so seamlessly we hardly notice the moment of transfer—is the point. Perhaps that's why there seems to be less glory in it than in other events. What is carried and passed on is what matters most. Dropping the baton is the worst thing that can happen. Worse even than finishing last. I suppose that's why, as a poet, I feel rather sentimental about the relay. And why its plain-faced lessons never fail to frustrate me. It doggedly insists that we concern ourselves with the prosaic mechanics of what and how and why and to whom we seek to convey. You know, the fundamentals. A reminder of the impetus of our drive as writers: to train our bodies as vessels. 2. The relay, at heart, is suffused with a juxtapositional tension. It requires both the solitary task and the delicately choreographed connection to another. Not quite a conventional team sport, certainly not an individual event, the relay showcases solitary striving in relation to a succession of other lone attempts. And isn’t that what writing is, after all? The relay is, as the name suggests, relational, and not just because it puts the body in contact with other bodies but because of the ways it positions the self in relation to what precedes it and what follows. In relation to history. "Truth be told, I do not want to forget," Trethewey writes. It's sort of how I feel when I'm writing in received forms. Endeavoring alone in a long and ongoing line of tradition. Only I'm never at the end of the line, never the last runner, but somewhere in the middle, where those of us who clock a slower pace are often positioned. Struggling simply not to lose ground. 3. The sonnet, in its own way, is a form of relay. Or, rather, the relay, like Shakespeare or Stallings or Hacker or Trethewey, offers lessons about how a sonnet works. On a technical level, both forms are structured around four parts—four runners, four swimmers, or three quatrains followed by a couplet (at least in its English form)—each with its own scheme and purpose. Such stability in the number four, such potential for elegant symmetry. Or stiff artifice. I've sometimes wondered why there are four runners in a relay—why not three or five? And, in my wild impatience, I've wondered, too, why can't they just find four runners who all run equally fast for each of the four sections. And then I wonder why I keep writing the same unsuccessful poem over and over again. The relay invites us to get intimate with the vicissitudes of time—not just with our own humble place... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today over at Los Angeles Review of Books our Poetic Olympians, Sarah Blake and Stephen Burt are telling us all about fencing and women's basketball. Fencing By Sarah Blake I. Picture the fencers. Picture them, without their gear, covered in bruises. All the weapons leave bruises, from thrusts, flicks, and the sabre's slash. They leave welts as well. When I fenced in high school, we were proud of the marks. Mostly, it didn't hurt to get them. Or hurt isn't the right word because it feels good to hit someone, to be hit, in a bit of flesh that gives to the point. I don't mean to sound masochistic or sadistic, but the pleasure exists. And I was never interested in fencing for the grace or technique of it. I was competitive, physical, and enjoyed the fight. Even now, some ten years later, I remember how it feels to land the point of my foil in someone's side, to turn my hand, to push so the blade bends out to the side, to understand the belly anew, as a soft target. II. Some parts of the body are protected. Women wear a chest plate, made of plastic, and shaped like breasts, as if women wear perky Victoria's Secret bras while they fence, instead of sports bras that flatten them. Even in the Olympics you can see these rounded cups through the lame and jacket. As a poet, sometimes I feel this way, that I've geared up like a poet, but that my lines about motherhood, about sex, my method of engagement, my very words have flagged me as a woman poet, and then I'm standing there with plastic breasts that are the same size and shape as every other woman poet. But if our breasts matter at all, our breasts are different. III. Only one person, that I know of, has died from fencing. Vladimir Viktorovich Smirnov. He was the gold medalist in men's Individual Foil at the 1980 Summer Olympics. In 1981, he won the World Championships. In 1982, he returned to the World Championships and fenced with Matthias Behr. During the bout, Behr lunged, landed his point on Smirnov's chest, the blade bent, as it should, but then snapped, and Behr's forward motion continued, driving the broken blade through Smirnov's mask and into his brain. While death was not immediate, death did come. Safety precautions changed. So changed the metals of the weapons, the mesh of the masks. But I know, maybe all fencers know, it could happen again. The full force of the body, the power of forward momentum, the frequency of broken blades, the mesh still only mesh, and our fragile faces. IV. Poetry is dangerous. It can be. We don't typically use the word danger. We use words like risks and stakes. The risks of the poet and the stakes of the poem. But danger is implicit, sometimes explicit. I've always valued the danger in poetry. I might value it above all else in poetry.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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. Hagler is exhibiting what’s called effective aggression. This happens time and time again throughout the fight. The TV commentator calls Hagler “plodding”, but in small increments he’s mastering the space. *... Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today, after a few hours of watching Olympic archery and beach volleyball I made my way to Abbott Kinney Blvd. in Venice, got a really perfect iced green tea at Intelligensia Coffee and felt genuinely happy to be alive. That’s surprising in some ways since over the course of the last few weeks I’ve lost my apartment, watched my laptop die not once but twice and moved more deeply into my research for a book of prose I’m writing that focuses on my mother’s suicide and the general and uncomfortable question (for me, anyway) of why she killed herself and why I, seemingly, will not. Suffice to say it’s been a pretty brutal few weeks. I think I feel so great because of the Olympics. I’ve got to say I love all of it, starting with the trials and continuing right onto the opening ceremonies last night. I gather a lot of folks didn’t like the Opening Ceremonies but I thought the James Bond bit was funny and the fireworks were great. And how can you not love all those athletes smiling and taking photos and marching alongside their teams of 200 or 20 or 2? I love that there’s an Independent Olympic Athlete’s delegation for athletes like South Sudanese runner Guor Marial, who can’t run for South Sudan because the newly formed country doesn’t have an Olympic body and will not run under the flag of Sudan because as says, "My family lost 28 members in the war with Sudan. Millions of my people were killed by Sudan forces. I can only forgive, but I cannot honor and glorify a country that killed my people." I love that every single Olympic team has at least one woman athlete (a first) and that, for the first time, the American team has more women than men. And I love Caster Semenya’s raised fist as she walked into the stadium holding her flag. Which is to say, I love that tremendous joy and unspeakable tragedy can live in the same body and in the same moment of time. When it’s packaged by the media this balance can be destroyed and come off as melodrama. But one can simply go back to the athletes themselves as they do what they do best and find all of these seemingly opposing forces working themselves into something extraordinary. Take gymnast John Orozco, who I really don’t know much about. I learned about him during the months leading up to the games. One Saturday I was having some trouble getting out of my pajamas to go to the coffee shop and write. I may have been having some trouble doing a number of things related to going outdoors. I turned on the television in hopes of finding some baseball or bull riding. I wanted to watch someone do something super hard and make it look effortless. And I wanted to watch closely enough that I could begin to see the decisions they were making that made it... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Manny, Summer’s Done and Gone. I was at this party in the Hollywood hills and everyone was reading poems aloud. Really. And not even a bunch of poets. There were artists and curators and human rights activists and lawyers. There was a famous actress. There was a journalist who’d been imprisoned in Iran for a hundred days. It was beautiful and also typical of this city. Los Angeles. My heart. My home. Every dream I ever had and how the light looked when I shut my eyes as a child. There was a beautiful man there. He was wearing a white t-shirt. When we parked and walked to the house he was standing on the deck above and leaned over and smiled down at us and said, “Hi!” His girlfriend was wearing one of those long summer dresses so particular to LA in the 70’s all the way up to now. Elegant. It made my heart hurt in my chest a bit. Or, it made my heart want more room to grow and be able to replicate the intensity and pleasure of gorgeous people smiling at you as you walk up the stairs of a house on the hill so you can sit around and eat pizza and read poems. We all read. Someone read Jack Gilbert. Someone read Yeats. A man got up and said, “I was late to my first meeting today because I was looking for this cummings poem.” A woman read Milosz off of her Blackberry. I thought how impossible it is to make anyone understand the beauty of Los Angeles. Then the man in the white t-shirt got up and said, “I’m going to read from this poem by Tennyson.” And he started to read from, “The Lotus Eaters.” He had this battered Norton and he would sometimes read a note about a line. At some point he looked at us and said, “I think this is the only city where you can read this poem without any irony.” Which was funny. The famous actress got up and read two versions of a Neruda poem. She seemed nervous. It’s funny how poetry can do that to people. I remembered how much I love Neruda. How the first girl I really loved used to read those poems aloud. I stopped reading him for awhile after graduate school. It was so great to hear those poems again, to just love poems and not worry anymore what anyone says. I feel the same way about the Beach Boys. Lately I’ve been listening to “Good Vibrations” on loop. It reminds me of Sunkist soda because they used to play that song on the commercials. I think I asked my dad to buy me a Beach Boys album because of it. I couldn’t listen to that song sitting down. I had to run around or play basketball with the outdoor speakers on. There’s just so much pressure in that song. From the beginning all that sound and it is like... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Abandon, Attack, Big Ringing It, Bonk, Broom Wagon, Domestique, Grupetto, Tubular, Velo, Wheel Sucker, Lead Out, Paceline, Popped. Blown, Had it, Knackered, Stuffed, Squirrel, Velo, Wheel Sucker!Bike racing terminology! I don’t understand a word of it! Ciao Tutti! Hello from Italy. Sports Desk is back for a second season and we are broadcasting live from Civitella di Ranieri in Italy where yours truly is working on poems, essays, gaining weight and writing about all manner of Italian sports. Look at our office! I haven’t been to Italy since I was sixteen years old and I haven’t really ridden a bike since I was twelve and had an unfortunate encounter with a car and a ditch. Does that stop me from loving bike racing? It does not. Do I understand the minutiae of bike racing? I do not. But these 6 weeks are about learning. Everything. Learning how to live with 15 remarkable artists in a castle (easy). Learning how to step away from the administrative work of the day to day and believe one is worthy of the gift of a castle and a turret with sunlight and blood oranges and a snoring owl in the eaves and time to make your art (harder). Learning how to ask for directions, cheese, a kilo of gelato, the most perfect pork sandwich, guidance, more wine, less wine, envelopes, you name it. I’m a kid again. I’m a kid in a castle. Just like Maurizio’s son who’s playing outside as I type this. If I ever wanted a chance to learn about bike racing I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than right now in Italy. I know lots of you are getting hungry for the World Cup (we’ll get there) but from May 8-30th Italy has its eyes on an army of cyclists who started in the Netherlands and are making their way to Verona. Giro D’Italia! The name alone feels good in your body. Most of us who don’t know squat about racing just know about the Tour de France. The Giro has been around since 1909 and, along with the Tour and the Vuelta a España, is part of the Triple Crown of cycling. As opposed to the Tour de France’s famous yellow leader’s jersey the Giro goes pink in honor of La Gazzetta dello Sports whose pages are pink. It’s a gorgeous thing, that jersey. When the helicopters fly overhead to film the Giro you just see all that green of the hillsides and all those bodies and then just this lone pink jersey making its way through the pack. But what does it mean? Like a sonnet or a villanelle or the famous saganaki recipe your grandmother gave you it’s easy for the thing to just seem like a list of rules and phrases that don’t add up to much. It can feel like some other language you can sort of understand but don’t have access to. Well. Yesterday the Giro D’Italia rode past the home of Robert... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
We were in her apartment in Manchester, VT. The one above the liquor store that she moved to after she left the house across from the junk car lot and Jimmy left to go to California and get straight. We had just finished dinner and she was showing me the cameos her mother gave her. I never understood why anyone liked cameos but I sat and looked at them. I liked the color of the background. Slate blue like the walls in her bedroom. The white face of some woman I didn’t know made me uncomfortable somehow and maybe I said that. I don’t remember. It was a good night. I remember we ate Dinty Moore Beef Stew, which I loved and never ate at home. She used to make lasagna and other big meals but the last few times I’d visited we just ate canned stuff, which was awesome. I didn’t know if maybe it was easier for her to chew. I tried not to think about her fake teeth because it made me feel funny just like hearing her snore at night when we had to sleep in those twin beds at her mother’s house on the visits when she needed someone else around with us. Anyway, I didn’t ask questions. I liked the taste a lot and she was happy that I liked it. That’s what her friend Melissa said one day when she came upstairs to meet me. She said, “You’re making her really happy.” And then we looked at a painting my mom was working on. It was maybe something about the resurrection. She was really into that. After she killed herself I remember being given a catalogue of some show of hers and the painting on the cover was called, “He is Risen.” It’s in storage in Brooklyn where I used to live. Anyway, it must have been spring because I remember the light was coming in the windows of her place and we were sitting on the couch and she said, “I was thinking I might move to Santa Fe and start a gallery.” And I said, “Yeah?” And she said, “I mean I would really love it there. There are mountains and the light is so beautiful. I have an artistic spirit. I could really start over.” I remember wondering if there were really mountains there but what I said was, “It would be so great. And you could paint and go for walks and meet people and I could come visit and maybe even stay for awhile.” And she said she was really going to do that. She was really going to make a change. Gabrielle Calvocoressi writes the Sports Desk column for the Best American Poetry blog. She is the daughter of Diane Jule Daw. Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I’ve said it before but I feel like the most appropriate author photo for a writer with a significant other is a picture of said writer doing something like sitting with their head in their hands or staring at the ceiling or lying in the fetal position under the dining room table weeping and behind them their partner staring at them with a look that says, “Really? Isn’t this what we did yesterday?” Take my partner, Penelope Cruz.* Today in Los Angeles, in between interviews and a photo shoot and doing her doctoral work, she sat down next to me on the couch and said, “If you do not figure out what to write for Sports Desk I don’t want to think what’s going to happen to you.” I might have put a sort of curse on myself earlier in the day and said something like, “If I don’t finish this post today then…” It’s not worth getting into the exact nature of the curse. It does involve my abilities to sit down and also process Thai food. “Just say it,” she said. In addition to being a very fine actress, Penelope knows that I have a secret. For the last two weeks she has been urging me to write about it and I’ve done things like sit on the couch and stare at the ceiling and say, “You don’t even like sports. You can’t understand.” I don’t want to brag but some people have told me my theatrical abilities are “really something.” The thing is, she’s right. All these weeks I’ve been holding back. I’ve been getting requests for the next Sports Desk column and everyone seems to want the same thing. Penelope gets off of skype with Pedro and says, “For goodness sakes just tell them.” And then she kisses me. A lot. Fine. I do not give a damn about March Madness. Go ahead. Tell me how great it is. That it’s the only sport you like. That we get to see basketball the way an old white guy from Canada intended it. It’s about the love of the game. It’s about the little guy. It’s about the school you teach for and so who cares that you don’t like sports because OH MY GOD, BAYLOR!!!!! I told Penelope this was going to be the post where I lost all my readers. It’s not that I don’t like college basketball. I actually love it. I particularly love women’s basketball. I’m from Connecticut. I grew up during the era of Rebecca Lobo and the first truly great UConn women’s team. Every kid in Connecticut wore a UConn jersey at one point or another. I love the fact that women’s games sell out even more than the men’s and I love the fact that last year, coming home from Columbia, MO I sat on the shuttle to St. Louis with a family member of UConn’s star player, Maya Moore and we talked all about how amazing that program is... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I. I have a VHS somewhere of Martina Navratilova winning her ninth Wimbledon. I taped every match of hers that summer and would watch them over and over. I’m not sure I knew at that point what it was I was looking for. It’s true she was amazing. Nobody played like her, nobody was as strong. The baseline is boring as a suburb and Martina left it behind and came to the net. If you watch videos of her on YouTube you can feel when she’s about to come forward. The crowd gets excited and she’s so fast and you don’t need to know anything about tennis to know it’s over for her opponent. She’s super muscular. She doesn’t look “American” in the way that the other U.S. players of that era do. Which makes sense because she defected from Czechoslovakia. She’s big and strong and tough. She yells and she cries and the crowds took a long time to like her. By the time she won the ninth Wimbledon Chris Evert was out of the sport. It’s undeniable though that a good deal of the American public’s perception of Navratilova was shaped by the rivalry between the two and Evert’s not so subtle comments about Navratilova’s “swagger.” Martina Navratilova was involved with Rita Mae Brown for many years. I read about it in her autobiography, ­ ­Martina. It was a trade paperback I’d saved up to buy. That was the year all the boys wore Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. I picked up one of those sample sheets at G. Fox and placed in the book as a bookmark. The summer of the ninth Wimbledon she wasn’t with Brown anymore. She was with Judy Nelson, the former wife of a Fort Worth doctor. They were raising Nelson’s two teenage sons. Judy didn’t look like any other lesbians I’d seen. She was super made up, had big hair, wore a lot of jewels and expensive sunglasses. And there she was, sitting in the family box for each match, often next to Billie Jean King, the first openly gay professional athlete. I was transfixed. The commentators called her Navratilova’s “friend.” I knew what that word meant. I wanted one of those. (When I was in second grade I rode the bus to and from school. Some afternoons our bus driver’s teenage daughter, Candy, would ride with her mother. She was pretty and nice. I was one of the last stops (I think) and so I was sort of alone on the bus with them. Sometimes her boyfriend, Keith, would ride along. She’d sit on his lap or rest her head on his chest. He played football and his hair was always slicked back. He’d link his arms around her waist. They’d kiss when her mother wasn’t looking. I’d walk past them getting off the bus and they’d always say goodbye really nicely. I’d walk home wondering what it would be like to have a girl feel that safe with me, to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Dear Tiger, Good morning from Los Angeles. All week long I’ve been watching the Olympics and thinking what to write about for my Sports Desk column. Truth be told I’m a little late. I’m falling into all of the old clichés about poet sports columnists: by the time we’re done revising it’s next season. But it’s hard. There’s so much amazing stuff to write about. Like Torah Bright. First of all, I had never watched women’s snowboard half-pipe before. Let me tell you, if I had one ounce of physical ability that would totally be my event. The speed, the tricks, the fact that you seem to get to wear your iPod when you compete. Man. Totally. And I just love the fact that the commentators are young enough that they have no problem saying someone like Torah is better than a vast majority of the men. You don’t really hear that talk among the older sportscasters. But it’s true. Anybody who watches sports can tell. She’s just so good. You know, she had a ton of concussions in the past year and it didn’t always seem like she would be able to compete. But there she was, just ripping it up. And the crowd was going crazy for her. That’s something else I love about snow boarding at the Olympics. Everyone just seems to be having so much fun. Even when they lose, the boarders tend to be smiling. I mean, you can tell it kills them and nobody could ever think that they don’t care. At the same time it seems to me like they know they’re also part of a culture born from skate boarding and surfing and the punk scene in Southern California. So there’s this sense of being glad to be on such a big stage and also knowing it isn’t necessarily where they’re from. I love that. How the Olympics has room for all kinds of different values and world views. Like Torah. She’s a Mormon. She doesn’t make a big deal of it but she doesn’t hide it either. She also says there’s a ghost in her house. She can also fly or at least that’s how it looks. The other person I love is Bode Miller. I know. I know. Why do I have to love all the famous American athletes? Well, I did get really excited by Simon Amman, the Swiss ski jumper who just won his fourth Olympic gold (a record in the sport). I love the way it looks when those guys come off the jump and just shoot through the air. Here he is in 2002: Also, he looks like a superhero. Which is very cool. I tried to rock a spandex suit like that once and I was told in no uncertain terms never to do that again. Which is why I became a poet. Because I can wear my spandex outfit and helmet at home and nobody will ever know. Anyway. Bode. I just love him.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Sports Desk: Super Bowl Edition Hard to imagine a more joy filled Super Bowl than the one we got to witness Sunday night. Even with the Focus on Family ad being shown and The Who taking up space that could have been filled by lots of bands who would have better represented the spirit of Miami and the two teams playing in the game, the fact remains that we saw pretty much everything that is great about sports and the people who play them. We saw Colts guard Kyle DeVan who went from being a substitute teacher to playing in the biggest game of the season. Jeff Saturday, the Colts Center, was an electrician during a year away from the NFL. Drew Brees, the QB for The Saints, has been called too little to play in the NFL. All in all it was a day of second chances and good lessons about hard work and perseverance. Two days later it still feels awfully good to think about that game. And yet, like the jambalaya I made on Sunday, time makes everything deeper and a bit more complicated. Today the words “New Orleans” are still on the lips and the sports pages of America. But what about next week? What about our responsibility to that city and the people who live in it? One reason Drew Brees is a hero in New Orleans is that he went there after the storm and made a commitment to lead that team to victory as a means of lifting the city up and helping it get back on its feet. I wonder what that means after the game. I’ve been doing a good deal of research on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for another project of mine. I decided I’d take the lead of that Google ad everyone was talking about after the Super Bowl: I typed in the words “MLK New Orleans.” The results weren’t nearly as romantic but they were perhaps a better indicator of where that city stands than any of the pre-game coverage. When you type those words (let your soundtrack be the VIP Ladies All Stars second line band) the first link you’ll see is “MLK Charter School.” First you’ll see the address and then you’ll see a link to their homepage: The photos of smiling students and an admiring President only tell part of the story. One of the ways New Orleans has begun to “come back” is to hand its schools over to the corporate charter system. Dr. King Charter School is a part of a network sponsored by Capital One, the same company that makes a good deal of its money providing credit cards to people with bad credit. The day after the Super Bowl Capital One, citing the current economic climate, announced interest rates on most cards’ outstanding balances will jump from 8.01 percent to 15.31. People have all kinds of different opinions on the corporate charter system. President Obama is a big fan... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
This past week I took a hell of a spill. It was a nice day and I thought I’d go for my usual walk as way of moving into the writing day. I’ve started playing music on my Blackberry and that is a bad idea, as evidenced by the fact that one moment I was walking across Ogden Street deciding between Coldplay and Sigur Ros and the next I was laid flat out on the corner. A nice guy came up and sat down beside me and asked if I was okay. I shook my head and said, “I don’t know. I just went down. I’m not really sure what happened.” We sat there for a few seconds and then he helped me up and I made my way home to clean up and sit in a pile of ice. The whole way home I played the fall in my head. Two seconds. It probably took me two seconds to look away and up hurting for a week. Which is to say, I would be a disaster as a Bull Rider. Nobody played football this past Sunday since there’s a week off between the playoffs and the Super Bowl. But lots of sports happened, foremost among them for my money was the 2010 Tampa Invitational on the Professional Bull Riders tour. It’s no joke. Not to me or an ever-increasing fan base or the folks who market the NFL and also the PBR. Fox Sports has started broadcasting bull riding on Sundays alongside their football coverage. It may be seen as small town but anyone who’s been following knows it is big business. More than 100 million viewers watch PBR every year. As opposed to football, bull riding has a global presence, particularly in Mexico and South America. Adriano Moraes, one of the greatest bull riders in the history of the sport, is just one of the many riders from Brazil. One time, Moraes tore his bicep, had it wrapped and kept riding. Here’s Ty Murray (he’s married to the poet, Jewel) to tell you about the rules: 8 seconds. Count it out. It is pound for pound the most dangerous sport in the world. This week in Tampa was interesting because a new group of riders came to the forefront. Like football, it’s hard on the body and most careers aren’t long. Wiley Peterson from Fort Hall, Idaho won and went home with a whopping $27, 590.40. Comparatively speaking there’s not a lot of money in bull riding. Another reason it should among the favorite sports of poets. Bull riding is a sport that functions within the myth of the American heartland but is actually more indicative of the fact that ranching (the root of the sport) is a global tradition upon which this country was built. Like all sports worth watching Pro Bull Riding sits at the uneasy intersection of culture, class and faith. One can learn a lot about the Americas by watching the riders and the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Jan. 18, 2010. Martin Luther King Day Edition. It’s a shame the Baltimore Ravens lost this week. I was pulling for them for all kinds of reasons. First, I love Peyton Manning but I’m a little tired of those Colts. I tend to be in the group that feels that team doesn’t really have it without him and as much as I love and respect virtuosity I do like to see a team where the talent is pretty equal across the board. I like some smash-mouth football. And I like Baltimore. I like the food. I like the music. I love Spank Rock so much I just can’t keep still. And there’s a way the sky gets orange at sunset and washes over all that brick that makes you think, “Oh, yeah. Orioles.” And just smile in amazement. Like New Orleans it is a city that could use a championship to bring continued national attention to the devastating racial and class divisions that have created an unending cycle of poverty and violence. Both are cities that should be in the mind of any compassionate American. They show us what is best and worst in us. Which is a lot like sports. The other reason I wanted Baltimore to stick around a bit has to do with Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (right). On April 23, 2009 Ayanbadejo wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Huffington post in which he asked what the big deal was about same-sex marriage and came out against Prop 8. The world may be changing but it’s no small thing for a NFL player to speak out against homophobia. One need only look at the recent behavior of Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Larry Johnson whose twitterfeed was the site of numerous homophobic comments directed at fans after his team lost. It’s not surprising that homophobia still has a fairly open presence in professional sports but it’s unfortunate. And it makes the comments of Ayanbadejo all the more heartening. So I was rooting for The Ravens and was awfully sad to see them go. Luckily there’s another team I love that happens to have a player who’s spoken out against Proposition 8. Enter Scott Fujita and the New Orleans Saints. Fujita is also a Linebacker. I know what you’re thinking. Why do Linebackers like homosexuals so much? It’s a mystery. I got bullied by a lot of football players in Middle School and now I wonder if Todd and Jimmy (the only two who really left me alone) were actually linebackers. I’d like to think so. It’s good to have allegiances and yesterday as I watched the Tivo’d games I found myself just liking that position better. I’m kidding but only kind of. Sports are about stories and allegiances. I try to tell that to my friends who love to write poems and hate to watch sports. Every game has a narrative arc that is, in many ways, influenced by the stories of the players. Scott Fujita is no... Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2010 at The Best American Poetry