NOVELIST and sports nut Jeff Parker was, for no particular reason, cutting and pasting quotes from NBA star Metta World Peace when something happened. His computer program squeezed the text to fit a small space, and the line breaks made the words look like a poem: Phil Jackson, he's the Zen master / so you can just hear him in your head / saying don't shoot don't shoot / and Bam! I shot it.
Parker, who teaches writing at the University of Tampa, decided that it was a poem, added some more lines and posted it online, where it became a minor Internet sensation.
Parker and collaborator Pasha Malla then embarked on a larger project - taking the sometimes famous, sometimes obscure statements that athletes make at press conferences and turning them into poetry, now assembled into the hilarious and sometimes inspiring book Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion, just published by Featherproof Books.
Philadelphia is well-represented. The famous image of Allen Iverson turning his ear toward the crowd graces the cover, and a highlight is "Practice" - essentially a word-for-word recapitulation of Iverson's "practice" rant.
There are found-object poems by other athletes who've spent time in Philadelphia: Darryl Dawkins, Tim Tebow, Nick Young, Pete Rose, Terrell Owens. Parker talked with Daily News writer Gary Thompson about his new book.
How do you decide what quotes and athletes to use?
Some of them sort of suggest themselves. Obviously you have Muhammad Ali, who has that natural intellectual and linguistic dexterity. Or there were some that were just so well known, like Iverson's.
And there were some that might be too obvious, like Yogi Berra, so we shied away from those.
Actually we did end up using Yogi Berra, and looking back I'm glad we did, but the poem is very small.
You've presented "Practice" as a simple prose poem. Why?
First of all, we felt like the Iverson rant was one we just couldn't ignore. It was just so iconic, in the way that it elevated the banality of the postgame interview to the realm of the surreal, the absurd, in a really kind of powerful way.
And we realized that it was already pure poetry. There was nothing we could do to make it more profound. The only thing we did was figure out where the poem should begin, because the entire text is much longer.
And we decided to capitalize the "p" in practice.
Most of these poems are works of free verse, but Darryl Dawkins gave you a bounty of rhyme and meter and structure. In "From the Planet Lovetron," he describes his dunks, including: The Mama Shakin' / Rim Breakin' / Teeth Shakin' / Get-Out-the-Wayin' / Backboard Swayin' / Game Delayin' / If -You-Ain't Groovin' / You-Best-Get-Movin' / Dunk.
That's probably one of my favorite poems in the book. It's so sad that he passed away. That's a man who had a beautiful way with language.
He's on a par with Ali, really, in the wizardry he applies to words.
You have Nick Young, whose poem unsurprisingly has the line "shots go up," and you have Terrell Owens in a piece that appears on the surface to be about his notorious self-regard. Like most of the poems in the book, it takes on additional meaning as you study it.
Terrell has had so many infamous foot-in-mouth moments, and so he looms as a kind of obvious soft target. That really didn't interest us.
We wanted to take some of the things that he'd said and distill them down to the kind of human statement that can get obfuscated in the hype that surrounds some of his comments. It's sort of like he is explaining himself, as someone who's been misrepresented.
Your Tim Tebow entry is a poem about Sundays, which turns into a kind of verbal Norman Rockwell portrait of football, family, church and ice cream.
In researching these, you're listening to a couple hundred hours of YouTube interviews.
In listening to Tebow, you're sort of looking for those moments when he went off script and revealed something that changes the well-known narrative of the Christian football player, and we stumbled across this little riff when he kind of tangentially linked all of that to a childhood memory.