Some Call It Ballin'

Issue 3: Fall 2014

"...but in joy create for others the house, the poem, the game of athletic beauty" — Dudley Randall

Dear Readers,

Seven weeks ago, I moved to Philadelphia, which has been pretty great in just about every way. I do get a bit of homesickness for family and friends, most of whom are in North Jersey and New York City, a greater metropolitan area that I have lived in for more than four decades. Well, I’ll cut to the chase. I haven’t worn my Ichiro or Jeter t-shirts outside. Shumpert either. I don’t own a Victor Cruz jersey or any Giants gear for that matter, but you get the idea. It seems I'm going to be acting out some of my geographic anxieties for some time. I was even aching to watch the Rangers make their run to the finals this year. I'll have to limit my absolutely irrational fanaticism for NY Sports to mostly my living room, especially when it erupts because of a bad defensive rotation or some genius taking two dribbles past half court and launching a 25 footer when the Knicks are down nine. I live in Philly and if writing about place my whole poetry career hasn’t taught me how a city’s soul is in one’s bones, being a New York sports fan in Philadelphia, which infamously booed Santa Claus, will teach me lessons—perhaps in survival.

I imagine one piece of writing I'll go back to for guidance is “Exit from Hockeytown”, by Matthew Olzmann, in which he plainly asserts, “This is a story about cities and memory.” Then he takes us on a whimsical tour through the eyes of a Red Wings fan living in North Carolina. Part of that memory is a visit to the library and a recollection of Calvino, but also the sound of a frozen lake cracking. It’s the memory of a mother and a beloved team. I love how Matthew mends lists and sensual memory and data and voices to compose a very subtle but endearing fantasy—a wish even, for his city and his family. 

Isn’t it the wish that is embedded in the lyric impulse? In Sarah Dohrmann’s “On Swimming”, she fuses the elegy and the ode in essay form. I suppose the ode could be Pindaric in spirit, summoning something of the heroic, but also the beloved spirit of Horace, that individual lyric voice. So much of the essay is about what Sarah doesn’t want to say—what the story isn’t about. In this way, her essay is an ode to silence. It’s about the silences that society enforces and how they are often the same silences the story wants to break. This is an intimate and tough look at one writer’s love of swimming and an interrogation of the competitive spirit. Where, after all, does it come from? In Sarah’s case, it is bound up in a family’s grief and a father’s complicated expressions of love.

Roger Bonair-Agard’s personal meditation on the World Cup, “Why We Watch(ed) Brazil Or Why the Score Doesn’t Matter”, is an impassioned study of cultural desire, the postcolonial subject, and a Pan-African style. “Socrates,” for example, “was everything we understood ourselves (read: wanted) to be, even before we boys could articulate it. He was a doctor of both medicine and philosophy, a hard-drinking, handsome, playboy who also spoke passionately on the side of the Brazilians most disenfranchised – the black and the poor. “ It is a short catalog of heroes and an extended paean to men who came from nations who were considered simply vanquished peoples, uncivilized, savage even, but who have, in a relatively very short period of time, transformed the very soul of football.

Indeed, one of the reasons we watch sports recalls one of the reasons why we read literature: to be transformed—or at least moved. Cate Lycurgus is a skilled maker of scenes in “Sure As 6-4-3.” She has a poet’s ear, of course, the way her lines cut a shape not just on the page but in the air (you might want to read whole passages of this essay loud). And if you look carefully enough, you realize that she is writing about attention to the strange and the beautiful. Cate is talking about how she was educated into a kind of love for baseball—how love and attention are mutually nurturing. What is also incredible about the essay is the two efforts of simultaneous attention of the writer—which I suppose is true of every good essayist: she is paying attention to her subject and she is paying attention to the language. Cate’s piece, in that way, is an impressive feat of writing and a beautiful tribute and record of her thrill for baseball.  It is also a lovely account of being changed by watching. 

Ross Gay, one of our editors, escaped to Vermont for an artist residency to work on a novel. Ross and I have been friends a long time, and one thing I know about him is the way he seeks out a basketball court to get his workouts in. If he can find a regular run, he’s in his element. If he can find a workout partner, nirvana. Enter Hazel Meyer, visual artist, who is not only working on her handle and release, but is making nets. They hung out on and off the court during residency. Out of that meeting, a friendship emerged; and out of that friendship an essay, “No Pressure No Diamonds”, which is a ranging exploration of the metonymic associations between Hazel’s work, the game of basketball, and the history of the black body. In his signature style—effusive and intellectual—Ross yokes together philosophy, sport, and art and gives us an inspired close reading of a wonderful visual artist.

If you know A. Van Jordan as a poet, you know that he is an incredible storyteller (and that those stories can come in incredibly inventive forms and be conveyed in a variety of modes). “What We Win When We Lose” Van’s essay on wrestling, acknowledges that is a sport that can be brutal on the body, but he reminds us of the intellectual and strategic challenges of the fight. Furthermore, The Fight certainly has larger metaphorical implications; they are lessons in navigating and confronting figures of power: “Every move in wrestling—every hold, every throw—has an escape or a reversal.”  One of the things I love about Van’s writing is how his stories are built image by image then suddenly crystallize into epigrammatic moments. The image, for Jordan, is a didactic tool. As readers, we are watching pure sensory information coalesce into truth—no matter how contingent that truth is. He mends that process of discovery with a moving recollection of his father. 

If poetry is news that stays news, then we like to think our writers at Some Call It Ballin’ are blurring  genres: essays that are poetry that are news—that stay. We think this issue is a brilliant example in that regard. On behalf of the editorial staff at Some Call It Ballin’, I hope you enjoy our combined Spring-Summer issue. We’ll have a special review addendum before the summer is done. So stay tuned for that. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, and/or like us on Facebook. Check out our guidelines if you’d like to submit work. Please shoot us a note if you like what you read.

Special thanks to Anise Vance who was my independent study and did copyediting, editorial (both text and image) work, and admin tasks. Also, I want to recognize Nick Rosal, who has done another incredible job with the original illustrations. Finally, if you’re wondering how we get our feel and our look, you have to credit Karissa Chen. She works over-overtime to get our magazine looking as good as it does.


—Patrick Rosal, Co-Editor