Monday, May 4, 2009

If you didn't know, I am a sports fan. I grew up playing every sport imaginable as a child in the East Bay and later Modesto, California, and eventually focused my energies and love on soccer, a beautiful art of the world, and I kept playing at the university and on club teams after college. A few recent blog posts (by Barbara Jane Reyes and Patrick Rosal, specifically) in the poetry world have got me thinking about boxing and its intersection with poets and writers. I didn't watch the Pacquiao fight, and I don't follow boxing as much as I used to, but I've heard Manny is the real deal. I got to thinking about the fights I watched in the 1980's---Sugar Ray Leonard versus Roberto Duran, Muhammad Ali versus Larry Holmes, and the best fight ever---Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns versus "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler. Any boxing fan has to have that fight on his or her list of top five boxing matches in history. Later, in the 1990's, I saw many of Mike Tyson's fights, those explosive and punishing fights that often ended within a few minutes (remember what he did to Michael Spinks?).

And so I remembered one of the best essays on boxing I have ever read, June Jordan's "Requiem for the Champ," about Mike Tyson's upbringing and our hyper-masculine media/ violent culture. I remembered (none other than) Joyce Carol Oates' sincere love for boxing, which she got from her father, and her acclaimed book, On Boxing. I remembered one of my favorite new poets, Kevin A. Gonzalez, and his poem, "The Night Tito Trinidad KO'ed Richard Mayorga," which he calls a political poem, but does not refer in depth to the actual fight.

And there's Philip Levine. He has one of the best blurbs I've read, on the back of What Will Suffice: Contemporary Poets on the Art of Poetry, a great book of Ars Poeticas from Agha Shahid Ali, John Ashbery, Rita Dove, Peter Everwine, Garrett Hongo, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ann Lauterbach, Juan Felipe Herrera, Larry Levis, and Naomi Shiab Nye, and dozens of others.

Levine writes:

"Did Ray Robinson have a vision of why boxing mattered and a notion of how it should be practiced? I would doubt it, although after a time I'm sure he knew from experience it required the best his mind and body could give, and I'm sure he worked very hard so they could give their best. The night he took the middleweight title from Jake LaMotta he must have known that all his work and his talent had come together at the perfect moment, and he was the greatest fighter in the world: he knew all there was about his art, and he acted on that knowledge. Such is the nature of genius.

I live in a different world, perhaps the same world grass lives in, and at certain times I grow and green without the least notion of why one day is different than another. Afterwards I'm amazed at what I've done and feel victorious without having defeated anything or anyone. The next morning I'm in the dark working without the least confidence I know anything useful or final about the making of poems."

Read more:

Barbara Jane Reyes writes about Manny Pacquiao and defers to Patrick Rosal's grasp of boxing's terminology, in his recount of the fight.

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