The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312

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.

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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

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683

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 other descriptions of the play as “undulant ballet” or “action, smooth/ and strenuous as Gorgiasian rhetoric.” Here the language asks more of the reader than simply a fan’s adoration of the game. Clearly the poet owes more than casual allegiance to the sport as well.

There is no attempt at rhyme in this poem, although a certain rhythm is set up by the aforementioned doubled words, which continue throughout the poem. The point that the poet makes in the narrative of the poem is that the action of play of basketball is smooth and has a certain music and cadence to it caused by the movements of the players. In the last half of the poem, his description of a single basketball shot by his favorite player serves to illustrate this physical music. The poet uses language that moves from one line to the next without hesitation and requires long breaths to speak, just as the successful execution of a basketball shot may require numerous movements all fluidly consecutive to get the ball through the hoop.

In addition to the use of language the poet uses a vivid image in the last section of the poem describing the basket. The play is described in a fluid terms itself: The player is “sleek as [an] arctic seal,” then the ball is “slick as spit,” and then, finally, the player is a waiter balancing glasses of champagne, the ultimate celebratory fluid. These images flow together easily until they reach the climax of the poem’s last lines, where the basketball “slashes through/ the basket’s silk net with a small,/ sonorous splash of completion.” The poet is generous in his use of images of the player, first characterizing him as a waiter, then characterizing his jump as “popcorn-like,” and then describing his arching play as “slung dextrously.”

The poet uses conversational language. Phrases such as “in my opinion,” “frankly,” and “in the parlance of the game,” all serve to create a homely image for the poem. However, the poet surprises the reader by comparing the game to “Gorgiasian rhetoric,” a term that suggests the complicated nature of the game. Gorgias was a Greek philosopher from c. 483-c. 376 b.c.e. whose highly regarded powers of oratory and persuasion included rhythmic and musical effects, symmetrical clauses and poetic diction. Through this reference, the poet suggests the intricate and carefully orchestrated aspects of the game of basketball.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

Gunew, Sneja. “Gendered Reading Tactics: Public Intellectuals and Community in Diaspora.” Resources for Feminist Research 29, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 2001): 57-73.

Hongo, Garrett. “A Vicious Kind of Tenderness: An Interview with Garrett Hongo.” Interview by Alice Evans. Poets and Writers 20, no. 5 (September/October, 1992): 36-46.

Ikeda, Stewart David. “The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America.” Ploughshares 20, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 202-205.

Jarman, Mark. Review of Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i, by Garrett Hongo. The Southern Review 32, no. 2 (Spring, 1996): 337-344.

Monaghan, Peter. “How a Small, Nondescript Writing Program Achieved Distinction.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 44, no. 33 (April 24, 1998): A13-A15.

Muratori, Fred. Review of The River of Heaven, by Garrett Hongo. Library Journal 113 (May 1, 1988): 81-82.

Pettingell, Phoebe. “The River of Heaven.” The New Leader 71, no. 10 (June 13, 1988): 16.

Schultz, Robert. “Passionate Virtuosity.” Hudson Review 42 (Spring, 1992): 149-157.

Slowik, Mary. “Beyond Lot’s Wife: The Immigration Poems of Marilyn Chin, Garrett Hongo, Li-Young Lee, and David Mura.” MELUS 25, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 2000): 221-242.

Yu, Larry. “Under Western Eyes: Personal Essays from Asian America.” Amerasia Journal 22, no. 3 (Winter, 1996): 169-172.

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