Off-season Workout, A Poem

Lafayette & FootballSome people think football is a matter of life and death.
I assure you, it’s much more serious than that. – Bill Shankly

Football and poetry have more in common than you might think. They’re both played on a field of sorts, each with its own specific rules, and each relies on teamwork. There’s a rhythm in the cadence of the QB, in the footwork of receivers. There are plosive sounds as vowels and consonants collide, not unlike the onomatopoetic nature of the game.

This is the first of several posts about football and poetry, and about how bringing the two together might just be one of the most important undertakings of my writing life.

“For what is a poem but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding:
it is the deepest part of autobiography.” – Robert Penn Warren

I’ve been called an intuitive poet. That’s another way of saying, I don’t have a formal background steeped in meter, or in rhythm and rhyme, or in the nuances of the line.

I tend to feel my way through a poem (as a reader, and as a writer).

That doesn’t mean I don’t write in form, from time to time, but mostly I write narrative poems in free verse.

Back in 2005 I came across the work of Sonya Sones, thanks to a lecture by my friend (world traveler and talented writer), Jennifer Anthony, who discussed the way many (if not most) aspects of communication were going the way of the sound byte.

Everything is abbreviated these days, presented in snippets. Even our stories are getting shorter and shorter, as flash fiction grows in popularity.

Jen’s presentation introduced me to a form I hadn’t been familiar with, the novel-in-verse. Given my love of poetry, and a particularly difficult story I wanted to tell (one of the few works of mine inspired by my own life), I realized the novel-in-verse format was perfect.

I spent a semester working with the very talented poet and mentor, Kathleen Driskell and began work on some of the poems for that story.

After I graduated, I was fortunate enough to receive a Ucross Foundation Fellowship and spent an amazing month in Wyoming writing around seventy-five poems for the project (nearly all just first drafts, of course, but it was a wonderful experience).

As happens sometimes, way led on to way. I put my poetry project aside, working on a few stand alone poems here and there, tweaking two of the original pieces I had for the novel-in-verse, submitting them (even publishing them). Eventually I found my way back to the page consistently and, as I mentioned before, I’ve been working hard to establish myself as an author of Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction.

Writing poetry tends to be a more analytical exercise for me and more emotional at the same time. Where writing prose allows me to express ideas, poetry tends to allow me to explore feelings. In that way, poetry differs from football. At least for me.

“Poetry is an act of peace.” – Pablo Neruda

“Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” – Paul Engle

“The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” – Jean Cocteau

“My role in society, or any artist or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.” – John Lennon

“The true poem rests between the words.” ― Vanna Bonta

Now that my Middle Grade novel, The Short Bus, is revised and sent out (that’s right, it’s finally been given its wings), I’m returning to my novel-in-verse, A Boy Called Mo, and I can’t wait!

Lafayette Before Football PracticeIt’s the story of an all-star football player. I won’t give away more than that just yet, but I will share one of the poems I wrote back when I was working on the project the first time.

I’m making a few changes to the format which I’m very excited about.

It’s probably just a coincidence, but here it is April, National Poetry Month, and I’m finally getting back to my novel-in-verse after several years away. That’s also pretty darn exciting.

Anyway, here’s one of the work-in-progress poems. I hope you like it. The protagonist of the story is a sixteen-year-old wide receiver named Chris. This is his story. And my story, too. Sort of.

Off-season Workout        

It’s back to pumping iron, followed by a jog to the store for a dozen eggs,
for the making of two soft hands, which started with me and dad
in the backyard my eighth-grade year, after I told him football was everything.

Now, it’s just me standing at the edge of the driveway tossing those smooth white shells
higher and higher into the air, like bones of some delicate thing that’s not quite here yet.

And it’s up to me to keep them from shattering, like babies falling from the sky.
That’s what he had told me to imagine and, at first, I had tried too hard.
My hands stiff like wood.

But you just need to put your fingers out all loose, like they’re not connected
the way we know. Like there are nets between them, webs that nothing can fall through.

Once you trust them to do their job they do.

Now, I can throw those eggs up forty-feet at least, and watch them back into my hands,
like a part of me that keeps returning even after I let it go.