fri 27/11/2020

'You must accept that muscle is machinery' | reviews, news & interviews

'You must accept that muscle is machinery'

'You must accept that muscle is machinery'

Exclusive poems from 'The Spalding Suite', a new stage play about basketball

Poetry in motion: Jason York and KM Drew Boateng in 'The Spalding Suite'Helen Maybanks

Basketball doesn’t often stray onto the arts pages. Cinema pays the occasional visit. White Men Can’t Jump starred Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as a pair of slamdunking hustlers. Hoop Dreams followed two inner-city college kids in Chicago as they tried to turn pro. The hero of Almodovar’s Live Flesh was a wheelchair-bound basketball player embodied by Javier Bardem. But what about theatre?

Basketball doesn’t often stray onto the arts pages. Cinema pays the occasional visit. White Men Can’t Jump starred Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as a pair of slamdunking hustlers. Hoop Dreams followed two inner-city college kids in Chicago as they tried to turn pro. The hero of Almodovar’s Live Flesh was a wheelchair-bound basketball player embodied by Javier Bardem. But what about theatre?

A bouncing ball is an unruly prop, so basketball (like other ball games) tends not to trespass onto the stage. A new play by spoken word artist Inua Ellams changes all that. The Spalding Suite explores basketball culture in the UK with the use of movement, live beatboxing, music and original poetry by six poets. As the play opens at the Southbank Centre, theartsdesk takes you courtside by exclusively publishing two of the play’s poems.

 

Wings

 

Jay //
Maybe you’ve heard a soft drumming in the distance,
a rapid thumping like a heartbeat, like skin slapping
floorboards or outdoor concrete to stop, sudden
as held breath, and you heard the khuwff of a net.

Matt //
Maybe you’ve seen a light footed thing glide past
the corner of your eye and when you turned, it was gone
like a game glimpsed flicking channels and after,
you marvelled at the quickness of a kid crossing over.

Yawo //
Maybe you’ve braved a cold spring, walked past a wire
fence, past buds on branches like frosted candy and
soon as snow resumed falling, you heard a voice curse
gravity with an anger you knew would never melt.

Archie //
Maybe you’ve glimpsed in a train station the broad-
shouldered wide-stride a lone figure cut through
the night, a basketball cradled like a child, and you
wondered how such athletes fall between the cracks.

Tom //
Maybe you’ve asked yourself why those who kick
are always championed over those who catch, those
who row over those who throw, those who bat
over those that bounce past. Perhaps it’s my fault;

Tom //
I never said Hi when once upon a time ago, you saw
me motionless beneath a backboard, palms poised
on a brink of a shot, looking through the rim as if
its wide open mouth held the answer to all things.

Archie //
Maybe the question is the story of our lives
and we hoped the answer was wings.

 Pictured below: Marcquelle Ward and Emmanuel Akwafo

 

Perfect body

 

Tom //
The average pro baller is six ft six
and two hundred and twenty pounds
of repetitive motion muscle –
toned to a body fat of seven percent.
Averaging a six ft wingspan,
the specimen should, from standing,
jump seventy centimetres,
fifteen more with a decent run.

To jump, the average baller
must begin the countermovement:
the contraction of the hip, knee
and ankle extensors which work
to reduce gravitational force.
In addition, upper limbs
must swing downwards, back
and up for maximum lift.

To shoot, the average baller
stands staggered: one foot
edged towards the basket, both
shoulder-width apart. The ball
must rest in the cup of the palm,
aligned with the elbow, in line
with the rim. Always apply
a backspin rotation by flicking
the wrist at the point of release.

The jump shot combines
the upward thrust with good velocity
and perfect timing. At the peak
of the jump, release the basketball
at fifty-two degrees
above the horizontal. Six miles
per second is adequate speed.

The perfect body is an impossible breed,
a streamlined mongrel, a mashup,
a hybrid, an amalgamation
of stolen limbs, a beautiful monster
with no guarantees

for to play the game of basketball,
to make the math work, to know
which split/
       /second is worthy of your rise
you must accept that muscle is machinery,
all that dark meat is dead without a drive –
the internal belief matter bends to your will,
that chaos is a current crackling through
your veins, that you are raw arrogance,
danger personified.

  • The Spalding Suite is at the Southbank Centre until 2 May then on tour until 6 June

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters