by Erika Luckert
We rarely think of sports as a subject for poetry, and yet, when I speak to devoted sports fans or athletes about their passions, they invariably wax poetic. I recently taught a residency at a middle school where one of the most impressive poems was written by an avid sports fan, Julio. Julio’s level of commitment to working on this poem was equivalent to his commitment to sports—he brought the poem in week after week, improving it, re-reading it, revising it. So, inspired by Julio, here is a collection of poems that take sports as their topic. These poets adopt a wide range of approaches to the athletic world—they each have something different to offer a student writer or sports fan seeking inspiration.
May Swenson, “Analysis of Baseball”
This rhythmic, sonically-driven poem parses baseball into short lines and simple words, to entertaining effect:
ball gets hit
(pow) when bat
to a place
has to quit
Sherman Alexie, “Victory”
This poem recounts the trials of a twelve-year-old and his cursed basketball shoes:
When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught
Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God.
Alice Major, “I never thought I’d write a hockey poem”
You don’t have to be a sports fan to find inspiration in athletics. Canadian poet Alice Major was thinking about quantum physics when she began to write this unlikely hockey poem:
A mile or two away, on the frozen-cloud surface
of the real arena,
a winter sport is superimposed on spring.
of overtime, and young men battle back and forth,
trying to collapse
wave on wave of possibility to a point
of dense rubber
observed at last in one net or another.
Ada Limón, “How To Triumph Like a Girl”
This poem, written in admiration of the “lady horses” in the sport of horse racing, takes empowerment from the body of the racehorse itself:
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me
James Wright, “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio”
Never has football sounded so desperate and divine as in this James Wright poem. I’ve never been a football fan, but this one makes me want to watch every game to its end, if the end could be anything like his final stanza:
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.
Julio, “The Grief of the Mets”
And finally, here is Julio’s poem.
The Grief of the Mets
Sometimes it would feel good to feel a bit nostalgic
2015 a magical year but KC won’t have swept it
Be a Yankees fan but more playoffs more disappointment
Yeah we’re not that successful but we’ll try to wrong 2000
Cespedes can make a car show but he’ll hit no-doubters
Hitters fouled them off Let’s Go Mets is what we shouted
Came up short but we were still happy to stay back and
We would be proud to know we never bandwagoned
Grief in New York at its peak then we solved it
The home run that saved New York and spirits lofted
Blown with an All-Star pitching the first good game by the Marlins
Citi Field goes up in flames that better be the competition
They wanna give Thor and deGrom to the Yankees
deGrom is the best pitcher in the National League
Hear Nice For What pray for anything other than Strike 3
Need to bring back Portland bring back Conforto from 17
Why can’t we have another team like Eighty-Six
Ever since that team we’ve been fading since
I think God needs to send some type of providence
Seth Lugo in a spot start and nobody’s scoring yet
Isn’t it too evident
Heartbreak always happens you feel disappointment
Playoffs are just another edition of tournaments
Win some chips if I’m not there as my testament
Grief of a Mets fan, an underdevelopment