It's a straightforward, although somewhat quirky book--an anthology of poems about boxing. We normally don't think of pugilistics as the sport of poets. This collection, however, proves otherwise, putting on a show between the oldest sport and the oldest art, most often leaving poetry standing in the center of the ring when the final bell has rung. These are not poems in name only, offerings by amateurs who can't write their way out of a paper bag--they are written by heavy-weights who go can go the distance, but most often knock us out in the first stanza! From Addonizio to Zimmer, Robert Hedin and Michael Waters have put together an anthology where both the poets and the boxers they write about deserve their title, champion!
What poet more emblematic of a brawling boxer than Bukowski? Here is his offering from Perfect in their Art:
and the next I remembered I'm on a table,
everybody's gone; the head of bravery
under light, scowling, flailing me down . . .
and then some toad stood there, smoking a cigar:
"Kid you're no fighter," he told me,
and I got up and knocked him over a chair;
it was like a scene in a movie, and
he stayed there on his big rump and said
over and over: "Jesus, Jesus, whatsamatta wit
you?" and I got up and dressed,
the tape still on my hands, and when I got home
I tore the tape off my hands and
wrote my first poem,
and I've been fighting
"While some may maintain that boxing is not a metaphor for life," writes Budd Schulberg in his Foreward, "the range of poetry selected in this provocative and entertaining anthology seems to off a rather eloquent rebuttal." He continues:
One poet watching the desperate action in the ring sees the desperate battle with his overmatched wife in the grimy ring of their marriage. Another sees an old black fighter as doing battle for his race against centuries of oppression. A third sees boxing as the ultimate test of pride and character and human dignity. Poetry breathes metaphors as lungs do air. These are poems we want to go back and reread because the more they tell us about boxing, the more they tell us about the human condition.
Here is a poem that perfectly enacts Schulberg's analogy between boxing and life (in this case between boxing and love), from one of my most favorite poets: Kim Addonizio. It's one of the more than one hundred reasons (one for each poem) that Perfect in their Art is on my top ten list of poetry books for holiday gifts!
When the fighters slow down, moving towards each other
as though underwater, gloves laboring to rise
before their faces, each punch followed by a clutch
when they hold on like exhausted lovers,
I think of us in the last months, and of the night
you stood in my kitchen, drunk, throwing wild combinations
at the air, at something between us that would not
go down. I watch the two of them
planted in that ring, unable to trust their legs,
the bell's reprieve suspended in some impossible distance,
and I remember my voice, cursing our life together
until there was nothing either one of us would fight for.
These men, you'd say, have heart--they keep on,
though neither remembers his strategy
or hears the shouts from his corner. And it's true
you had more heart than I did, until that night
you gave us up, finally, and dropped crying to your knees
on my kitchen floor. The fighters stagger and fall together,
flailing against the ropes. They embrace
and are separated, but they don't let go.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
My Top Ten Poetry Books That Should Be On Your Holiday Wish List: Perfect In Their Art (Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali)
was born in the Midwest, grew up in New Mexico, and has lived in the San Francisco bay area for two decades. Terry has published in numerous literary journals, including Best New Poets 2012, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Great River Review, New Millennium Writings, and The Comstock Review. His work has garnered six Pushcart Prize nominations. He is the winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Review Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry. His chapbook, Altar Call, was a winner in the the 2013 San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival, and appears in the Anthology, Diesel. His chapbook, If They Have Ears to Hear, won the 2012 Copperdome Poetry Chapbook Contest, and is available from Southeast Missouri State University Press. His first full-length collection of poems, In This Room (CW Books, 2016), is now available, and his second, Dharma Rain, was released by Saint Julian Press in October of 2016. Terry is a 2008 poetry MFA graduate of New England College, and a free-lance poetry consultant. For more information about him and his work see www.terrylucas.com