Once the NBA star Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in the unexpected form of a poem several days ago, it was probably inevitable that poets and critics would soon weigh in. Sure enough, today’s New York Times has a piece titled “Bryant the Bard Earns Mostly Positive Reviews.”
The article rightly notes this “was an exciting rare moment in which a poem entered mainstream culture,” and offers comments from poets Nick Twemlow (“It’s not the worst poem I’ve ever read”) and Jane Yeh (“it’ll be the most widely disseminated poem of the last decade or in recent history…no one reads poetry”).
Better yet, though, the article reports that Bryant’s decision to address basketball directly in his poem reminded Don Share, the poet and editor of Poetry magazine, of Kenneth Koch’s great late work, New Addresses:
Poets have had their own reading recommendations for Bryant. Don Share, the editor of Poetry magazine, said he would advise Bryant to read two works. The first was “New Addresses,” a book of poetry by Kenneth Koch, which contains a series of epistolary poems, similar to Bryant’s, like “To Piano Lessons” and “To Jewishness.” The other was “The Victory Odes” of the ancient Greek poet Pindar, which Share called “the most famous poems of athleticism in Western culture.” He thought Bryant could be inspired.
I hope someone gives Kobe a copy of Koch’s New Addresses soon. And maybe we can look forward to future poems in this vein from Kobe’s pen — like “To Retirement” or “To My Old Jersey.”