As a former/lifelong member of the Michael Jordan fan club, I was really excited to ask Nick Rattner this question about basketball and poetry, and I was even more excited by his response.
Nick and his Frequency students are hosting a reading this coming Wednesday (Oct. 30) at 7PM, 186 Carpenter Street. I hope to see you there!
Nick, your Frequency bio describes you as a poet and sometimes basketball journalist (among many other things). Are these modes of writing completely separate to you? Is there a point where basketball and poetry meet?
Long before I learned to read, I played basketball. We had a mini-hoop in our basement where I spent several hundred hours impersonating Dr. J and Larry Bird. In high school, everyday after school for about three hours, I would play in pick-up games, now impersonating Michael Jordan. I played on a team in college (impersonating Allen Iverson) and for many years after (more humbly, as myself). After I blew out my knees and realized a career in the NBA was probably not going to happen (though, you know, who knows?), writing about basketball seemed a good way to prolong my lifelong love affair. But, as we all know, writing about something you love can only faintly approximate the feeling of being in love. So, for me, the connection between the feeling I have while playing basketball and the feeling I have while writing about basketball exists at the level of avocation but not intoxication.And the journey to find one’s voice, for me, is akin to my youthful process of trying to be and, for hours at a time, actually being Dr J or Larry Bird. Your imagination is that powerful when you’re a kid. When I started writing, I was Allen Ginsberg. No, really, I was. Then, Catullus, Petrarch, Byron, Simic, some vague concoction of Zen monks and long-bearded Chinese poets, Rimbaud, Vallejo. You are those other people until you become yourself, which happens to us all, if only here and there, fitfully, eventually, no matter how comically and/or tragically we evade. Your knees go. What remains is the belief in the moment and in your brain or soul or whatever’s ability to spontaneously react, to find the right physical reaction to the moment, a reaction you’ve been preparing for with everything you’ve got. Probably, the human interior is more complex than an NBA regulation basketball court. It’s definitely harder to play against oneself. But the movement of images through rhythm, for me the most basic definition of poetry, could apply just as well to basketball, provided we are willing, perhaps strong enough, to think of ourselves as an image who is nothing more and nothing less than a spontaneous reaction to all other images.
Nick Rattner is a poet, sometime basketball journalist, Editor at Ugly Duckling Presse, and co-translator with Marta del Pozo of Yván Yauri’s Viento de fuego / Fire Wind (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) and Czár Gutierrez’s La caida del equilibrista. Previous occupations include teaching English in the sierra of Perú, refurbishing industrial buildings for a concrete company in northern New England, and creating exhibits for the Museum of American Finance. He holds a Masters in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and teaches at Holyoke Community College.