Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, February 16, 2009

Indiana Basketball, Homer Drew, and "Jumpshots in the Dark"

Readers of “One Poet’s Notes” are aware this site serves as the editor’s blog for Valparaiso Poetry Review, an online journal hosted by Valparaiso University. With its location in Indiana, the university’s identity in sports naturally focuses on basketball. After all, throughout the state communities have long regarded winter as the season when news of high school basketball games dominates not only the sports sections of local papers, but often also front page headlines. In Hoosiers: The Fabulous Basketball Life of Indiana, Phillip M. Hoose describes the environment: “In Hoosierland, the pulse of winter life is the high school team, the Sabbath is Friday night, and the temple is your home gym. It’s a place where you grew up, a room where, if you really had to, you could find your parents, and where you can look after your children. It’s a place that others call ‘the snake pit,’ or ‘the lion’s den,’ but for you it’s a place to gather with most of the people you know for a common, assumed, unspoken purpose: to root.”

Easily, the images most associated with the ardor folks in Indiana hold for basketball are contained in the movie Hoosiers. Although the film features a fictional little town in a time past, the narrative arrives as a version of the legendary run to the state boys basketball championship by the small rural town high school of Milan in 1954. Perhaps the height of Hoosier Hysteria happened decades later in 1990 when Damon Bailey’s Bedford North Lawrence High School team won the state championship in a dramatic game before 41,000 spectators at the Indianapolis Hoosier Dome, while ESPN televised the event to millions more.

Despite the university’s position in Valparaiso, the town’s high school basketball history is similar to that of hundreds of other towns in the state, and a passion for basketball exists here as well. In fact, during the 1994 season the Valparaiso High School basketball team experienced a magical stretch as they swept through the regular schedule undefeated, worked their way past the sectionals and regionals in dramatic fashion, and eventually played for the state championship in the Hoosier Dome before falling in overtime to South Bend Clay. Many of us in town followed the team throughout the season, caravans of automobiles driving to away games, and we knew with every contest we were witnessing something special.

Indeed, the closing minutes of regulation of the championship game, when Valparaiso lost a lead to a last second three-point shot after seemingly assured of victory, are often replayed by memory and the coaching strategy debated in coffee shops by those of us who attended the game. Similarly, we argue the state’s switch to class basketball in the years since then. Many believe, as I do, the change ruined much of the enthusiasm and uniqueness of the single statewide tournament that gained fame throughout the country, and we regret the tremendous excitement felt in the past will not be experienced by those growing up now.

The star player of that Valparaiso High School team, Bryce Drew, was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, but just as importantly also won the Trestor Award, treasured by many since it is given to the player in the basketball finals who excels in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership, and athletic ability. Most of us in the local area already had followed Bryce since he was a freshman and frequently the smallest player on the court, and we had seen him struggle through health problems due to a heart condition causing irregular beats that demanded a series of surgeries. Indeed, I recall watching a game when he would stop by the side of the court while play continued around him, pausing to gather himself a minute before resuming.

Bryce had come to Valparaiso because his father, Homer, had accepted the head-coaching job at the university. Previously, Homer had coached a dozen years at smaller Indiana colleges, Bethel and Indiana University-South Bend, with great success; however, Valparaiso University presented a serious challenge he was willing to accept, and the university seemed a perfect fit for Homer and his family. Since the university had elevated its basketball program to Division I in the 1978-79 season, the school’s win-loss records were abysmal, never even reaching the .500 level. Therefore, by the time Homer Drew took the reins in 1988-89, lifting the basketball program to the highest division appeared to many to have been a doubtful decision by the university administration.

Nevertheless, Drew moved forward with optimism and quickly changed the tone, beating a top-20 ranked Notre Dame team with an undersized and inexperienced group in the first home sellout. Indeed, I still can see myself in a You Tube video of the game, sitting behind the Notre Dame bench, listening as Digger Phelps assured his players there was no way they would lose, and then watching the stunned expressions on their faces as the underdog Valpo team tied the score at the buzzer in regulation and won in overtime.

Homer’s squads improved gradually, especially when he skillfully recruited his own son to join the team. The atmosphere of Hoosier Hysteria connected to Indiana high school basketball always had seeped into the setting at university games, and it still did; however, Valparaiso University’s basketball team became a perennial leader in its conference and began to make appearances in the NCAA tournament, even establishing an indelible mark in the March Madness highlights when Bryce Drew hit a memorable last-second shot to lead the team to an upset victory that placed them in the Sweet Sixteen in 1998. Still today, whenever I am at writers’ conferences and attendees spot my affiliation on a nametag, they oftentimes will begin conversation by recalling “the shot” that made Valparaiso University famous to many watching the tournament on television more than ten years ago.

Last Friday I originally had intended to attend another writers’ conference, the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Chicago; however, for a couple of reasons my plans changed, and instead I was able to be present at the university basketball game that evening. I even hosted a relative visiting from out of state. Like many faculty members at Valparaiso, I have had basketball season tickets for more than twenty years, though I sit with my father-in-law—a life-long Hoosier and an expert on Indiana high school basketball—in a section filled with local townspeople rather than university staff and an area that is comfortably reminiscent of the bleachers at the high school. I have seen most of the games Homer Drew has coached since 1988, and fortunately, Friday evening I witnessed Homer win his 600th basketball game, a feat accomplished only by a little more than 30 coaches in the history of Division I basketball.

Therefore, today Valparaiso Poetry Review and I salute Homer Drew for his accomplishment and for the contributions he has made over the years as a member of Valparaiso University and a citizen in the local community. Few figures in sport have his impeccable image as a courteous and considerate gentleman or the great respect from his peers that Homer commands. His Midwestern values of hard work and a positive attitude, combined with faith and an unending encouragement for the underdog, reflect the best characteristics tied to Indiana communities and their special regard for basketball at all levels.

Perhaps today, as a nod to Homer Drew, the following poem by Daniel Henry, with its mix of Indiana basketball and poetic allusions, published in the Fall/Winter 2001-2002 issue (Volume III, Number 1) of Valparaiso Poetry Review, would be an appropriate work for reintroduction to readers:


Winter nights in Indiana
we played with gloves
in my driveway cleared of snow,
high school games
on the radio.
Tonight, breathing hard,
an empty gym in late March,
I gauge each shot
by cracks in that driveway
sold years ago;
I clang all of them,
spin the turnaround
off the base of the rim,
run down the ball
to keep it
from crossing black lines.

There are sweeping metaphors
to be drawn here;
talk about continuity,
about loss and the chase
of a ball—I could say I make
most long set shots
after whispering lines of poetry;
it would be true and irrelevant,
true and useless.

I feel too old now for metaphors;
there is, always, a soft bounce
back into my hands, and when
I am distracted by love
or Stafford or Merwin,
the long sweet
somewhere off in the darkness.

—Daniel Henry

1 comment:

Marilyn Litt said...

A kiss off the glass for this tribute.