Texas Tech University

Poetry Slam Dunk: English Professor Writes Sonnets for Men's Basketball Team

Glenys Young

March 11, 2020

John Poch is combining his love of literature with his love of college sports.

To poet John Poch, the make-or-break foul shots at the end of a basketball game are like the final two lines of a sonnet.

"If you don't nail that, well, what are you doing?" he asks.

image
John Poch

While you may never have mentally paired basketball and poetry, Poch has. He's been doing it all season, in fact. The Texas Tech University English professor and avid college basketball fan has been writing sonnets about each player on the Texas Tech men's team and publishing them on Twitter.

While Poch admits the idea seems silly, he is taking the art of it seriously, both in writing and revising.

"I find flaws, and I work on them a bit more," he said. "I also crack up at some of my own rhymes and observations. I think technically – get it, Tech? – these are pretty doggone good, but it's not my absolute best work. In some way, they're like fun puzzles to perform."

Poch says he enjoys college sports, especially basketball, because any team can win on any given day.

image

"Small schools like Gonzaga or Butler or the less-likely Texas Tech might end up playing for the championship," he said. "Being a poet makes me a bit of an underdog, so maybe I'm relating in this way? I love excellence in any form, and athletics is something wonderful to celebrate."

Choosing to write about sports isn't common in poetry, but Poch certainly isn't the first to do it. Arguably one of the most well-known poems in American literature today is "Casey at the Bat," a baseball poem published in 1888. But Poch's idea goes back quite a bit farther – he found inspiration in the works of Pindar, an Ancient Greek lyric poet who wrote about Olympic athletes in the fifth century B.C.

"Pindar is considered one of the first lyric poets in the history of mankind," Poch said. "The fact that he was writing directly toward and about sports should be fascinating to any poet. Very few poets write about athletics, but why not? Beats politics."

Although emulating Pindar in focus, Poch is doing things his own way. Usually thought of as love poems, sonnets can have any topic. The term "sonnet" merely refers to the form of the poem – 14 lines using a rhyme scheme, with 10 syllables per line.

image

"Pindar wrote odes, not sonnets, but I gotta be me," he said. "And odes are too much."

While he admits there isn't much overlap between poetry and basketball, Poch finds one in the other.

"I think in the most beautiful basketball, the play is very unselfish, and the passing is really so much the key to winning," he observed. "Poetry gets written in a very lonely place with you at your desk, alone, so I'd say it's not very like basketball. It's solitary, like track and field, where you're competing only against yourself and the legends that came before you.

"But there are aspects to basketball that are clearly poetic to me, like shooting from the free-throw line. That's solitary and very much like writing a good line in a sonnet. You've got to understand the line."

Poch then muses that, being Italian, Davide Moretti may have a stronger connection to great Italian poets like Dante and suggests that may be why Moretti is such a great foul shooter.

"Doing this, I feel like I'm part of the team, even though that's a fantasy," Poch explained. "I don't know these guys and they surely don't, and won't, know a thing about me. But I like to imagine I'm getting into their heads and into the huddle, as any fan probably does, but I do it in my own way, perhaps a little more thoughtfully."


That thoughtfulness is what Poch hopes will carry over to those who read his sonnets.

"I hope people look a little closer at these guys as athletes, as students and as complicated human beings," he said. "I hope they begin to see what some of these guys do best, and that they see this expressed through poetry, rather than some game recap the next day. I hope people see that poetry isn't just about feelings but can be about anything in this amazing, beautiful world."

Poch's latest book of poetry, "Texases," was published last year.