Shaquille O’Neal, Jonathan Safran Foer, and dunking: Where does a poem come from?

A Poet Who Knows Nothing About Sports Writes a Poem About the Slam Dunk

A Poet Who Knows Nothing About Sports Writes a Poem About the Slam Dunk

Reading between the lines.
Aug. 3 2012 11:52 PM

The Dunk, Through and Through

A poet who knows nothing about sports writes a poem about the slam dunk.

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Do I have any books about sports whatsoever? The closest I have is John Jeremiah Sullivan, who is a sportswriter's son. He offers the quote: “Nature does not make leaps.”— Leibniz. I beg to disagree, Leibniz!

Oooo look it's Nature, recently drafted by the No. 1 team The Sports, racing down the court like a force of you-know-what, going in for the biggest leap of all, and what? What's it doing? Dunking a human being perfectly into its own skin? YES IT IS!

A crowd materializes out of thin air and goes wild.


Tragically, the women of my family are saddled with unfortunate balance problems due to having sideways baby toes. Sometimes I fall down for no reason while I’m just standing there, inevitably uttering a sort of WHOOPS or UH-OH that implies that something happened to make me fall down but nothing ever did. A tragedy for sports, but a Triumph for Literature.


Let's go watch dunk bloopers for like an hour! It is just as important to study the spectacular failures as it is to study the spectacular successes. Sobering thought that is also very poetic: Has a dunk blooper ever ended with someone's death?


What is the state I enter into? A state like I've shot a hundred free throws, and I've reached the point where I'm making all of them, and the body's memory of how to do something has wholly taken over?

Except this is the brain's memory of how to do it, and my body is just a super-bad feeling in my thigh where I've kept my legs crossed for like four hours now, which certainly cannot be healthy.

The only proper word for it is “reverie,” and that is hardly a word to be taken seriously. Reveries are something Byron had. Think how much Byron would have loved the dunk, as a kind of sped-up sunset, as a metaphor for what he did to ladies!


Or like Donne wouldn't have written a dunk poem. He would totally have written a death sonnet about the dunk and called it, “The Sickest Dunk Can Never Die.” Shakespeare I guess would have dunked from half-court, taking steps three at a time in the air, and everyone else would have gotten pissed and gone home.

Emily Dickinson is Muggsy Bogues?

Who is the Harlem Globetrotters of literature? Whoever I decide it is, that is gonna be the WORST burn.

(Hahaha it's totally Jonathan Safran Foer, isn't it.)


How long has it been now, days or weeks, and I am still happy to stay inside the poem, though I get a little feeling like it wants me out. Lots of time on the clock. The clock is running out. When the period of work is over I feel it, like one of those gentle doors that, closing, rests at the last moment on a cushion of air.

When that door closes it is closed, and I have to find another way in tomorrow. I am playing a game, I am looking for an opening.


Read the poem whose creation is chronicled here, "The Descent of the Dunk” by Patricia Lockwood.

See all the pieces in this month’s Slate Book Review.

Patricia Lockwood's poems have recently appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and Tin House. Her first collection, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, is forthcoming from Octopus Books in September.