Poetry Prompt: Overturning Sports Clichés


This post is part of a series of weekly found poetry prompts. If you have an idea for a found poetry source, email Senior Poetry Editor Beth Ayer. Photo: Linebacker and running back Holly Curtis, by Joel Preston Smith. See more about this photo after the post.

The prompt is simple:

Pillage some sports writing (nonviolently) and write a remix, erasure, or other found poem with the sports articles, book, or other text as source.

Thoughts on sports writing:

During last month’s Oulipost project, several poets commented on using the sports section of the newspaper as source text for poems. They said things like “the sports section is the worst!” or commented that the language was notably distinct from that in the rest of the newspaper in a variety of ways. I referenced the sports section once or twice during the project, and noticed that I used the text somewhat differently from other articles. Instead of finding the sports commentary restrictive for poetry, I found it uniquely useful. Sports journalists employ descriptive language frequently, from dressing up the narrative of a game to creating an image of a particular player. The descriptions may be (at times) cliche or predictable. But any source text brings with it the distinctive nature of that genre or author. What can you do to transform a tired cliché?

This New York Times article outlines a writing exercise for modeling descriptive writing with students using sports stories. The authors reason that sports journalists face a unique challenge: they must take a series of events that sometimes amount—on the surface—to little more than “this team won against that one” and make it sound interesting. This is no dig against sports. A play-by-play needs to be dressed up a bit to convey vivid action to the audience not present. In the Times lesson, students are asked to consider questions like “Why do you think the Giants victory is described as ‘exquisite’?” I’d love to hear their answers.

For another angle on sports lingo, check out this recent piece on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, “ESPN’s Top Draft Analysts Workshop Your Short Story.” You won’t regret it.

And for good measure, here is a list of some of the most played-out sports clichés.

Please share your poems in the comments!

About the above photo

Joel Preston Smith took this photo of Holly Custis, a linebacker and running back for the The Portland Fighting Fillies, a women’s semi-pro football team in Portland, Oregon. They’re part of the Women’s Football Alliance, fielding 63 teams throughout the U.S. The league plays full-contact football, and follows NCAA rules. See more work from this photographer at his website.

More info about the history of women’s football in the U.S.


  • May 9, 2014

    Susan Powers Bourne

    Dirty Ice: Found Poem
    YouTube Comment by Willoughby Bourne
    Susan Powers Bourne

    That’s just dirty play.

    Honestly a little surprised by the number

    of people who think

    Marchand shouldn’t have fallen to the ice.

    Have a player fly, elbow you

    in the side of the head — see how you feel.

    Like really? Granted —

    he gets under people’s skin, initiates a lot;

    but at least take off the gloves

    to get at him and deliver a good clean hit.

    ‘Least ways, that’s what I say.

  • May 10, 2014

    Lewis Oakwood

    To The Beat Of Drums On The Loudspeakers

    Friday night, in a chilly, rain-soaked stadium,
    two fighter-artists come charging up the aisle
    to the beat of drums on the loudspeakers

    “let ’em fight!….let ’em fight!”

    they meet and fight with uncommon courage
    face-to-face they flail at one another—
    a four-fisted, toe-to-toe epic that sweeps
    like a malevolent wind from corner to corner
    and along the ropes, drifting only occasionally
    to the center of the ring

    “let ’em fight!….let ’em fight!”

    and again, out the fighters go—
    feinting with the jab, shooting the overhand right,
    throwing the hook, bulling inside
    and pounding the body

    “let ’em fight!….let ’em fight!”

    the two men fight with a fury, fly at each other
    head to head and toe to toe,
    lefts and rights come off all points of the compass
    and the blows raise a constant sweat spray in the air

    “let ’em fight!….let ’em fight!”


    June 30, 1980 ‘Right On For Roberto’ http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1123556/index.htm

  • May 13, 2014


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