Yusef Komunyakaa Questions and Answers

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How does Yusef Komunyakaa use style and structure to convey the speaker's attitude toward the game of basketball in the poem "Slam, Dunk, and Hook"?

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Komunyakaa employs a lot of playful, joyful structural (formal) and stylistic choices in this poem to express the speaker's joy in basketball.

Regarding the poem's style, Komunyakaa uses bright, playful, and movement-heavy language: "bad angels," "a high note hung there for a long second," "muscles were a bright motor," "swish of strings like silk," "a lyric slipknot of joy." Komunyakaa also uses a lot of body and animal imagery to describe the raw physicality of this game: "storybook sea monsters," "glide like a sparrow hawk," "glistening with sweat," and "swivels of bone and faith." The playful, movement-heavy language and the animal imagery tell us that the speaker finds uninhibited freedom and joy in the movement and the raw physicality of basketball. 

Also regarding style, Komunyakaa uses a lot of alliteration and assonance to create a musical, rhythmic quality to the poem. This musical rhythm helps drive the poem forward and also gives the speaker a sense of joy: "swish of strings like silk," "a high note hung," "dribble, drive to the inside & glide," "bodies spun on swivels," etc.

Regarding the structure, or form, the poem has relatively short lines, which help the poem move faster down the page, much like how a basketball player moves quickly across the court. Komunyakaa also uses a lot of very concise sentence fragments, or caesurae, in the middle of his poetic lines to create a lurching, staccato, stop-and-go kind of rhythm, especially in the poem's opening line: "Fast break. Lay ups." These midline caesurae once again mirror the way a basketball player might move across the court—dribbling the ball, turning, moving forward, stopping, doubling back—and convey the joy, freedom, and powerful self-expression the speaker finds in basketball.

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