"What basketball and poetry have in common," he writes, "is that they each provide opportunities to be better than yourself — opportunities for transcendence." --Dunn
*This is a quote from Dunn taken from an interview done on NPR; the link is provided at the bottom of the page.*
The power of sports and the power of poetry is that it can, at times, provide the poet or the player with a sense of outwardly watching in, observing, to some extent, through another's eyes. For the poet or the athlete, there is a sense of voyeurism, an outer body experience that occurs in this art form. In Don Johnson's article, "Playing through the dark: "blindness" as a vehicle for transcendence in selected sports poems", he states that "[T]he power of darkness, the "dark side," the "dark other," are phrases traditionally associated with evil or, at the very least, the absence of good. [However,] for sports poets, especially those dealing with basketball, the opposite is often true. Playing through the dark often forces a reliance on other senses, other resources, which elevates the game to the point of going beyond" (Johnson).
Like this idea of outwardly looking in, Johnson's concept of a "reliance on other senses", can also be found in some of Stephen Dunn's poetry, specifically "Losing Steps". In this poem, the speaker states: "in a pickup game [ . . . ] it's clear/ you've begun to leave / fewer people behind (Dunn 2-4). Here the language suggests that Dunn's speaker is fading into the darkness, where less and less people become visible in the speaker's tunneled vision; the speaker is in his own dark world, which begins to enhance his skill, as in seen in the next line. The speaker states, "when you move / you're like the Southern Pacific / the first time a car kept up with it, / your opponent at your hip, / with you all the way / to the rim (Dunn 6-11). Again, there is a sense of a "reliance on other senses, [ . . . ] which elevate[s] the game to the point of going beyond" (Johnson). This idea is perpetuated through the use of the simile, comparing the first car against the speed of the Southern Pacific, which was a railroad. This suggests that the speaker is pushing himself beyond his current ability, going past the point of going beyond. The tone of the poem also suggest an inner dialogue, where the player is outwardly looking in as he makes his way to the rim. Similarly, Johnson reiterates this as he states, "darkness envelops the principals, all but eliminating their ordinary vision while at the same time elevating the intuitive, instinctual element in their games" (Johnson). Thus, this darkness in poetry and sports acts as a conduit, which focuses and enhances vision, turning the mediocre poet or athlete into a great one.
Johnson, Don. "Playing through the Dark: "blindness" as a Vehicle for Transcendence in Selected Sports Poems." Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 23.1 (2005): 1. Print.
In this interview, Dunn discusses his time on the basketball team at Hofstra and how riding the bench helped him develop an inner-life! Click play and listen to an interview with Stephen Dunn discussing his life as a poet and his life as an athlete!