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One of my all-time favourite sports poems is by one of my all-time favourite novelists, John Updike. The poem is about a former star high school athlete who now pumps gas for a living. It contains character, setting, plot, and conflict, and it is full of the kind of pathos one might expect from a Shakespearean tragedy.
The Ex-Basketball Player
Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps –
Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Off work, he hangs around Mae's Luncheonette.
From the collection The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures (1958)
The Try Out by Charles Ghigna is another prose poem that presents a tragic sports figure. This poem is similar to The Ex-Basketball Player in its use of character, plot, setting, and conflict, but it has the extra ingredient most often found in fiction – the use of dialogue. In The Try-Out, the athlete's tragedy is the result of how one moment of miscommunication can change a life forever.
The All-State boy from Alabama
On a silent count of three,
From the collection A Fury of Motion: Poems for Boys (2003)
Notice how both of these poems focus the reader's attention on detail. What is not stated is as important as what is stated. A few well-chosen images (nouns) and strong well-chosen verbs present a striking scene in which we learn of the athlete's all-consuming relationship to the ball. The basketball becomes the symbol of the youth's life. When it stops, so does the athlete.
Perhaps you are a writer more comfortable with fiction, and so you have shied away from writing poetry because you thought there were too many rules. If this is the case, you might find the prose poem the perfect format for putting your own poetry into motion.
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