Why do you think the author uses words such as idiot pumps, rubber elbows, and bucketed in the poem "The Ex-Basketball Player?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The poet Dylan Thomas wrote,

A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.

While John Updike is mainly a novelist and no match for Dylan Thomas, his poem certainly accomplishes the goal of shaping the universe of Flick Webb, an "ex-basketball player." The imagery of Flick hovering over the "idiot pumps" suggests that the former star of the basketball team was once like a celebrity among the common folk. These "idiot pumps" also represent the opposing team of five other players who would be on the court with the star player; no competition for Flick, their efforts against him would be futile as they have "rubber elbows" that hang uselessly and "low."

In the next stanza Updike writes of Flick's former glory when he "bucketed" 390 points for the year, a county record. "bucketed" means he scored, but it also connotes the expert shooting of Flick into the "bucket" made by the basketball hoop and net.  

The description of Flick as a superior basketball player in high school is, then, in sharp contrast to what he has now become, a "has-been." For, he "never learned a trade" and spends his days changing flat tires and pumping gas. And the only admiring crowd he has are the "bright applauding tiers/Of Necco wafer, Nibs, and Juju Beads"--packaged candy. 

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