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What my musings are all about...

Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.

The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.

The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Dear Basketball

Dear Basketball, that won Kobe Bryant an Oscar, is a touching and poignant personal meditation of gratitude to a sport that meant so much to him. Any athlete who has embarked on the journey from childhood athlete to adult professional athlete couldn't help but be touched by Kobe's reflections. I cheered when he won. Together with the art, it was splendid.

Later, however, I worried that Kobe's writing is referred to as a poem. I've been teaching poetry, writing poetry and reading poetry for a long time. Dear Basketball seemed to me to fall short of my understanding of poetry. It lacked simile or metaphor or imagery. In the end, as touching as it was, it didn't provide an insight into something of the world, never understood before, which is, for me, one of the most important results of a good poem.

I fussed in my head over this. You have to understand I've been a poet now far longer than I ever was a basketball player, and longer than I was an English teacher. I take poetry as seriously as Steph Curry takes his jump-shot. When I read Hallmark cards, I gag. Most of the poetry I find on poetry websites, and hear at slams or open mics is simply a bunch of feelings, written vertically that have been expressed before to the point of cliche -  sentimental, overly emotional, and boring.

However, Dear Basketball, is not emotionally boring or sentimental. It is heartfelt. It is warmly understated. It made me feel good. Which still leaves me wondering if it is a poem. I'll have to fuss over this some more. In the meantime, instead of a poem to end my blog as I usually do, here are a number of definitions of poetry by some of the great poets of our time. You make up your own mind
about Dear Basketball.

"One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he [she] said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves."
                                                                 W.H. Auden

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

                                                                Emily Dickinson 

"Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful."

                                                                 Rita Dove

Sunday, March 4, 2018

I Had to Smile and Other Olympic Stories

From the first time I saw Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, NBC's figure skating analysts and their outrageously glittery and coordinated clothing, I made certain never to miss their opening performances. The heck with the skaters. Considering our American skater's poor showings, Tara and Johnny turned out to be our Gold Medal winners. It occurred to me how Johnny's outfits must have seemed to all the homophobic Donald Trump supporters, which made me smile even more. Costumes aside, the pair's analysis was professional and entertaining. Let's hear it for creativity and diversity.

Ester Ledecka deserves more love from the press than she's getting, in our paper, one tiny rectangle at the bottom of page 3C. To remind folks, Ledecka won two separate Golds in two separate events, the women's Super G and the snowboarding parallel giant slalom. That's sort of like winning the batting championship in cricket and baseball. Or like winning Olympic Gold in the hop-skip- and jump and the long-jump.

Women's Hockey winning the Gold over Canada was, as I've mentioned before, a WOW down to the wire victory, and American Curlers defeating the Swedes for a Gold was awesome. After this, can the Olympics' big shots keep bowling out of the Summer games?

I'm still grooving over the enchanting and physically demanding performances of the Russian women skaters as they won Gold and Silver for their unmentioned country. Bet the Russian are celebrating anyway.

I've left out a bunch of winning performers, but congrats to all. I enjoyed the Olympics a great deal, even while suffering through endless and stupid commercials.

On another subject: it looks like college basketball is going to go through another scandal; bribery this time. Back in my day, it was point shaving. Lonzo Ball was quoted as saying just pay the guys, they are all getting paid anyway, assuming that will stop the under-the-table money agents are handing out to college players. It might help, but probably not because colleges can't compete, even if there was the slightest chance the NCAA would let them, with some of the big bucks being offered.
Sean Miller of U of Arizona, what were you thinking? Were any of these guys you were fronting for bucks worth your career? Tip of the iceberg, someone told me.

March Madnes coming up. My wife is planning a vacation.

Skier   by Robert Francis

He swings down like the flourish of a pen
Signing a signature in white on white.

The silence of hsi skis reciprocates
The silence of the world around him.

Wind is his one competitor
In the coool sinding and unsinding down.

On incandescent feet he falls
Unfalling, trailing white foam, white fire.

I"m Going to Miss March Madness or Maybe Not

Basketball scandals have been around for a long time. The year I graduated from college in 1961, the colleges were gripped in a point shaving scandal. I remember after my senior season at Saint Mary's College talking to fellow college All Stars about the implications while we were on a tour playing against the Harlem Globetrotters. The consensus was that NBA was going to ban a bunch of players, many of which were considered first round NBA draft choices, like Doug Moe of the University of North Carolina. A month later what we thought would happen happened, players were banned from the NBA. Prior scandals were about point shaving. Although the roots - money and greed - are the same, the present 2017/18 scandal is different. It is systemic and  includes coaches, administrators, sports agents, athletic equipment and clothing manufacturers as well as players and their families. From the players point of view, they are being squeezed in the middle. Despite the fact they took the cash, I agree in this case they are mostly the victims. They know the universities they're representing are making big bucks, while they are, "denied even a modest stipend comparable to that of any other student who works 20-25 hours per week in the campus library or registrar's office." according to sport writer and columnist, Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee ( Read her article that lays out the problem and presents the solution: An accelerated G League that develops NBA-ready-high school basketball players similar to MBL's farm system. I agree with her.

Right now all we have is hypocrisy. No basketball aficionado, if he or she is being honest, can say with a straight face that the NCAA basketball program is not a minor league for the NBA. A development system works in Europe. It works in baseball. It can work for U.S.A basketball.

Oh, but what about the loss of March Madness? What about the fun of studying the teams, discussing and arguing about the rankings, what teams on the bubble, one's Sweet Sixteen picks, the Elite Eight, the Final Four? What about your college making it for the first time in 20 years and you and your buddies are stoked and buy airline tickets and game tickets and reserve hotel rooms and imagine the camaraderie of the hotel tavern, the occasional breaking into the school song: Oh Bells of Saint Mary's/I hear your are calling. . ./ the young loves, the true loves /that come from the hills? 

But does March Madness have to disappear? I suggest it doesn't have to. There are still going to be lots of high school basketball players left to make up solid college teams. Many of these player, such as myself years ago when I left high school, would not be ready to go immediately into the NBA or even into a G League. Granted, I would have thrived as an athlete in the European model, but my four years playing college ball prepared me for the NBA while earning me a college degree. I suggest that there will still be lots and lots of players who will choose the college option.The entertainment value would not be the same without some of the great college stars, but the competition would not diminish. And the joy of witnessing one's college team succeed would not disappear. In addition, I suggest that the incentive to play for one college vs another college would finally become an honest one: a free room and board education. (Of course, thanks to Ailine Voisin, with a normal student work stipend.)

Of course, the big time One and Done universities, such as Kentucky, would have to rethink their programs. But coaches are still coaches. Their salaries would have to drop, maybe (oh horrors) be in sync with the rest of the academic faculty. Recruiting would probably become more localized. The number of scholarships available would be less. There would be a precipitous drop in the number of assistant coaches. Lots of adjustment. Still. . . doable and. . .

I'm not even sure the money from TV or sporting good manufacturers would dry up entirely. The "Rah, rah, sis, boom bah of alums and students and families of athletes and friends of families of athletes would not not disappear. Interest would be sightly muted, but still high. And what about TV having to fill their time slots? Thinking as an advertiser, I believe I could sell amateurism again: the cheer leaders, the stands filled with the school colors, the school bands, the school songs, the cute mascots.Not a problem.

March Madness will rise again, not quite so Mad, but alive and well. I can't wait to make my picks.

The Olympic are over, but I want to honor our men's curling team that won Gold with a poem.

Curling   by Tom Meschery

Let's hear it for curling, a sport in which
two brooms, like blockers in the NFL
(I'm thinking Packers, Greenbay in the snow)
lead the running back, a guy named Stone
(not exceptionally fast, but relentless)
down the icy field; masked fans in parkas,
sipping from flasks. They're watching curling 
on local ice, while I'm enjoying building
this extended metaphor, thinking that Milton,
had he a sense of humor, which there's no
evidence he possessed, might have appreciated.

My wife also enjoys curling. "What's not to like
about a sport played with brooms?" she asks.
"The ice needs cleaning, and the players
are only doing what any good wife would do,"
which comes before vacuuming, a rule
in her sport that must never be broken.