Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Sporting Pages

The newest issue of The Writer's Chronicle includes an essay I wrote about how sports work in literature. My examples range from "The Funeral Games of Patroclus" in The Iliad to the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa, from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Deirdre McNamer’s lovely novel, One Sweet Quarrel. Here’s an essay excerpt:

"Beauty, danger, stress, action, character revelation. Literature and sports are natural siblings. I’m always troubled that some smart, literary people (readers and writers) don’t see that relationship and disdain sports, whether in real life or on the page. A risk writers face in choosing sports as a subject is that a reader will prejudge such work as silly or slight. Some readers, I’m sure, passed over this article the moment they noticed “sport” in the title. I have met fellow literary travelers who proclaim sports to be confusing, a waste of time, and something to deride; these are often people who resent the adulation associated with sports and the money that follows, who see sports as celebrating body over mind (“Why don’t thousands of cheering fans show up for readings?”). I’m no longer surprised by this attitude, but I still don’t understand it. There exist curious readers and writers who will delight in arcanum gathered from a Paul Theroux travelogue, or in the mysteries of glove making revealed in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, who will immediately turn from a book that has a football on the cover. Don’t they understand, I cry out to the ghosts of Shoeless Joe and Pistol Pete and the Four Horsemen (no, no, the other four horsemen), that the games we play and watch and write about are complicated dramatic works with protagonists, antagonists, rising action, climax and denouement, in which acts are periods or quarters or halves, and in which characters don’t know the script, scripts that are often tragic because athletes fail more often than they succeed?"

The Writer’s Chronicle is difficult to find on newsstands, as it is mostly a benefit of belonging to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, aka AWP. But hey, maybe you should join?

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