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.


Illustration by Sean Ford.

For Shaquille

Where does a poem come from? I write something bad on a piece of paper, I crumple the piece of paper up, I slam-dunk the paper into the trash. I sink deeper into myself and think.

The dunk is conceptually exciting. The word itself like the sound of the thing! I'm surprised all poems aren't called “The Dunk”— then everyone would have to be impressed by them. If a poem is called “The Dunk” then very certainly it is one.


Like you're reading a poem at Barack Obama's inauguration and as soon as you read the words “The Dunk” you see Barack Obama pumping his fist like Yesss, she did it! At the end of the poem he shouts, “SWEET DUNK.”

Let's see, what do we know about the dunk. First no one could dunk, and then they all could. There occurred a kind of leap. The dunk evolved, and then stood upright, with too big a brain at the top of it, the ball.

I am playing a game, the ball is in my hands, I am looking to see who's open.


SHAQ has an excellent Twitter account that mostly consists of him telling various people that he is going to have sex with their mothers. Also one day he is gonna fight Jose Canseco, which, what form would that even take? SHAQ dunks the basketball of Jose, Jose bunts the baseball of SHAQ?

I don't even know what bunting is, really. It's good that I don't know very much about sports. That way the poem will have a certain ... freshness.


I think back to the only movie I've ever seen about basketball, which was a TV movie about a basketball player who knew instinctively where his teammates were going to be before they even got there! So he passed to empty spaces, but the passes always arrived in the hands of a player. This is as magical as shit ever gets. This is going in. If I were an extreme fucker, I would write something here about literature, like “Great literature foretells the human position, it passes to the places where we are going to be!”

It doesn't go in after all. Whoa, rejected by the hoop. Some hoops are hostile! Some poems want almost nothing to go in them at all!


Do I have any books about basketball in my house? No! What's all this shit about depressed married people in England? This doesn't help! England doesn't care about dunking! (Probably because they're still mad about George Washington dunking on King George III in the year of our Lord 1776???)

Possible diss George Washington might have made to King George III: “Boy, you couldn't even dunk a teabag.”