Poetry: Tennis

July 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: At this time of year maybe even more than usual, grown-ups play games like golf and tennis. Often we give ourselves instructive advice about the games, sometimes with crazy metaphors like “imagine the ball as a loaf of bread. You hitting every slice.”

In the days when I was really obsessed with tennis, I wrote a poem about the game. And the poem turns out to be largely about advice. It’s in iambic pentameter. This is from the section called “Strategy”:

Hit to the weakness. All things being equal,
Hit crosscourt rather than down the line, because
If you hit crosscourt back to him, then he

Can only hit back toward you (crosscourt)
Or parallel to you (down the line) but never
Away from you, the way that you can hit

Away from him if he hits down the line.
Besides, the net is lowest in the middle,
The court itself is longest corner-to-corner,

So that a crosscourt stroke is the most secure,
And that should be your plan, the plan you need
For winning . . .

And here is the final section, “Winning”:

Call questionable balls his way, not yours:
You lose the point but have your concentration,
The grail of self-respect. Wear white. Mind losing.

Walk, never run, between points: it will save
Your breath, and hy pnotize him, and be may think
That you are tired, until your terrible

Swift sword amazes him. By understanding
Your body, you will conquer your fatigue.
By understanding your desire to win

And all your other desirs, you will conquer
Discouragement. And you will conquer distraction
By understanding the world, and all its parts.