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)

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:

the loser

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
ever since.

"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!

Late Round

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.


granddaddy said...

I'm not taking this to the desert island with me, but as soon as I stop blogging, I'm ordering it for my son who keeps up with boxing, an activity for which his peace-loving siblings and I often pummel him (albeit in a good-hearted, gentle, and loving way). What?! It's offered new at $595.11! (I couldn't wait.)
Maybe I'll find a book of poems about soccer.

Being the old-fashioned football fan that I am, I used to beat him gently about the header and fakes for having season tickets to FC Dallas games. But I gave him Eduardo Galeano's Soccer in Sun and Shadow. It's doesn't rise to the standards of every other Galeano work, but what does?

And, while I'm plugging good writing related to sports and my son who keeps up with boxing, he frequently sends me absolutely great writing from Despite my persistent abuse regarding his tastes in sport. What a guy!

granddaddy said...

Hey, I guess even Amazon has typos. Or some other glitches. I just ordered Perfect in their etc. for under $30, and I'll give my son a copy of this post and a promise for Christmas. (Also Madden 13, but don't tell.)

It's one of those Look Inside offers, and look I did, finding further prooflets of the value of your Wish List, but there's no way I'm taking this to the island. Except that I could practice reciting Clay Comes Out to Meet Liston until I could fool the coconuts and seagulls with my impersonation of the author.

Once again, The Widening Spell (TWS) makes its mark on commerce!