Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: ON ONE-ON-ONE

May
06

What I Was Reading:

I was excited to discover that essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib has a new column with the Paris Review called Notes on Hoops where he reflects on “the golden age of basketball movies.” Abdurraqib’s writing is always a poetic combination of personal reflection, commentary, insight, and analysis. In On One-On-One he writes about the 2000 movie Love & Basketball. He opens by addressing the reader directly:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a basketball hoop, ornamented by a clean net, glows even as a starless nighttime empties its dark pockets over a cracked court. Before I can talk about the way when a well-worn ball begins to lose its grip it spins wildly in your palm, but is still the ball you have known and therefore you must care for, as you would an elder who whispers the secrets of past and future worlds into your ear. Before that, it must be said that you, reading this now, from whatever cavern you are riding out this ongoing symphony of storms, could beat me in a game of one-on-one if the opportunity arose.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Abdurraqib gets my attention right away. When he says, “Before any of this unfolds…” I know there is something he needs to say before he gets into his reflection on Love & Basketball, and now I’m curious.
  • By making it known that anyone reading his column could beat him in a game of one-on-one, he is being clear that, although he loves basketball, one-on-one is not his strength. Later in this paragraph Abdurraqib goes on to admit, “It is not my game and never has been, though it isn’t for lack of trying.” He wants us to know from the very beginning the experience he brings to the discussion.
  • The repetition of “Before” at the beginning of the first four sentences creates a cohesion between them—each one progresses to the next, culminating with what it is that must be said: that one-on-one isn’t his game.
  • On the way to the fourth sentence, he uses “Before I can talk about…” to give some clues about what he is eventually going to discuss. These two sentences are filled with such beautiful imagery, they can only have been written for someone who loves the game and has played it enough to develop an intimate knowledge.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use the same structure as a model for your own writing:

Before any of this __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before that, it must be said __________

  • Experiment with the technique of addressing the audience directly in your introduction.
  • Try out a similar form of repetition for effect.

Here’s my version:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a cat, snuggled into a lap, purrs musically as the peaceful hush of evening takes over a busy household. Before I can talk about the way when the gentle pawing begins, even though it is an hour before your alarm is set to go off, you must still rise and fill the dishes before the meowing begins and wakes everyone. Before that, it must be said that I was once a dog person.

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