The Poem

Garrett Kaoru Hongo’s “The Cadence of Silk” consists of one long stanza of forty-two lines that describes the poet’s relationship to the game of basketball in general, and to the play of two teams in particular. The poem begins with the poet recounting how he originally became interested in basketball in Seattle, then continues with a description of his current favorite team, in Los Angeles. The poem directs the reader to the intricate details of the basketball game in such a way that even if the reader is not interested in sports, the cadence of the game will appear interesting.

The poem’s single stanza may be deceptive in its simplicity, but the poet is actually very carefully leading the reader from the speaker’s initial fascination with one sports team to his interpretations of the intricate details of the sport once he settles upon a home-team favorite. The poet’s purpose is merely to reveal his own fascination with the game, rather than to convince the reader that basketball is a worthwhile sport. While basketball is unlikely subject matter for poetry, the poet wins the reader over by mimicking the sounds of the sport through language choice and images.

While basketball is a game of hundreds of quickly executed plays, the poet takes the time in the second half of the poem to describe just one play performed by one of his favorite players. Through his detail of this single event the poet draws out the action of the poem to a conclusion that is as satisfying to the reader as the completion of an attempted basket is to the basketball fan. Thus, the poem imitates the pleasure derived from the sport by delivering the same spontaneity and success within the poem. The poet demonstrates his skills with language just as the sportsman demonstrates his skill with the ball.

Forms and Devices

The combination of lyrical description and narrative is typical of Hongo’s technique. His narrative skill lies in his use of specific language, on his ability to tell an interesting story, and on his genuine interest in and enthusiasm for his subject. A successful narrative poem must achieve two goals: tell a story and present the story in a musical or metaphorical manner so that the reader is transformed by the story as one is by any poem. Hongo uses the language of basketball in detailed and effective lines that convey the meaning of the action of the game, while not overburdening the meter of the poem with unnecessary language or meaning. The actual game of basketball is one that requires an economy of movement in order to achieve the goal; likewise, Hongo’s poem must make minimal use of language in order to accomplish its simple description without losing the readers who may not be familiar with the game.

“The Cadence of Silk” relies upon ordinary language, a few sports terms which are defined, and the juxtaposition of mundane images to convey the action and nuances of the basketball game the poet is describing. The simple language welcomes the reader like an afternoon spent on a couch watching sports, yet the occasional technical term or rich and aptly placed adjective awakens in the reader the knowledge that some other sort of perfection is being sought by the poet as well. Sports terminology is a language of duosyllabic terms: “rebound,” “outbound,” “downcourt,” “scoopshot,” “point guard,” and “backspin,” for example, all serve to place the poem in an active sort of rhythm. However, the poet can surprise the reader with...

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