Crystal Set #5: The Basketball Article by Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair Books, 1975)

The Basketball Article by Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair Books, 1975). I think Cassandra sent me a pdf of The Basketball Article. I printed it out and stapled it together. It sat on a shelf for a while, then I read it, re-read it, saw there was an essay about it in The Color of Vowels that I didn’t read, saw it mentioned in an essay by Daniel Kane about Angel Hair, read it again. This is Bernadette’s note at the beginning, dated July 15, 1975:

THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE was conceived in November 1974 & written in April 1975 as an assignment for OUI magazine. We got to go to all the Nets games we wanted through Barney Kremenko, Publicity, but Jim Wergeles of the Knicks balked, “What do you girls really do?” We heard he was a jock. We went to the first women’s basketball game held in Madison Square Garden. We wrote a review that was rejected for being too technical. We tried not to make THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE too technical so it was rejected by a group of editors a few of whom thought it “was a minor masterpiece,” the others “couldn’t tell what the hell was going on” in it. We were rejected by the Village Voice for whom the work was not technical enough. An agent told us THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE was fragmented and could not be handled. We never got into the locker room. A purely prophetic work in the tradition of social realism, THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE is duplicated here in an edition of 100 copies, by a Gestetner 420 mimeograph machine using green film stencils no. 62. We express our thanks to Mr. DeBusschere, Mr. Kremenko, Mr. Padgett, Mr. Rezek, Mr. Robertson, & Mr. Warsh.

Is there a school for sports announcers? They should all have to read this. The note is such an amazing performance of the intricacies and tensions of how the female poets of the “second generation” New York school fucked with and played against the warp and mess of gender expectations in the 70s. The whole book takes those issues of male dominance and exposes them in the scene and celebrity of basketball. Two women conceiving together in spite of the jocks, how technical mastery or a failure to master (mister) is noticed/received/reviled, what it means to be seen and given access (publicity/privaticity), to have or not have titles, to be whole or in pieces, what it means to (mis)represent an ideology, to be rejected/accepted/handled/owned/duplicated, the clout of expertise and the disregard of being inept, the prophetic in the easily reproduced and popularly reported. “We never got into the locker room.” To be a charlatan, to be marginal, and to write out of and through the thrill and profanity of those deficiencies not as deficiencies but as channels of renewal. Joyful, flamboyant little aporias as the clock ticks down.

The Basketball Article predates the funny ESPN office commercials by 30 years, and undoes all of them. It’s only 13 pages long, but the prose has this irreducible audacity that so excellently combines Anne and Bernadette’s hilarious charm with their insistence on performing the complications of consumption and desire attached to being a female body. They talk about wearing lipstick to the games and flirting with the players. “We begin to dress in red, white and blue, we do not stand up for the national anthem.” They talk about how baffling they are to players, managers, and the press. “We enter their consciousness. We carry a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets with us.” They talk about their female bodies and the male bodies of the players and the exaggerations of bodies. “It’d be interesting to put Oscar Robertson into a dream laboratory. He never crossed his legs.” They talk about how they love it and couldn’t give a shit less. “We were sitting in our hotel suite at the Plankinton House in Milwaukee drinking Tequila Sunrises.” It’s really about pleasure, the pleasures of ritual and attention, how sports direct our pleasures, how poetry directs our pleasures. It wants us to talk about that space. The fact that they called it The Basketball Article, with the emphasis on the definite article “the” and how it names the text as a singular, authoritative gesture, like saying we, Bernadette and Anne, are going to write the article about basketball, is totally indicative of their audacity on a larger scale. Also, there’s a joke at the end of the book about Full Court Press, an amazing press that put out Frank O'Hara’s Selected Plays.

The picture on the cover of The Basketball Article is of a man speaking, who looks like a basketball player at a press conference, and a woman not speaking looking at the man. The picture really foregrounds the problems of reverence that Bernadette performs in her introductory note when she thanks the basketball people along with “Mr. Padgett” and “Mr. Warsh.” Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, who edited Angel Hair together, used to be married. Bernadette and Lewis started seeing each other in 1975 and were having children together soon after. Anne and Bernadette’s shared pleasure in making this book, and their shared pleasure in these men, and how they articulate that pleasure on their own terms, is an incredibly radical sexual-poetic statement. It’s funny that Ron Padgett is mentioned though. Ron seems to continually end up being the butt of the joke whenever Bernadette, Anne, Alice, or Eileen talk about their relationships with male poets during that time. I’m writing this in Minneapolis where today someone told me they saw Ron read at a Swedenborgian Church. I want to play basketball with all of the poets at the Swedenborgian Church.