Posts Tagged ‘The Basketball Diaries’

Horizontal divider

Jim Carroll: 1949-2009

posted: 10.7.09 by archived

by Cecilia Seiter

Poet, musician, and author Jim Carroll died of a heart attack in New York on September 11th of this year. He was best known for his memoir, The Basketball Diaries, about his high school years playing basketball for a private school, while simultaneously supporting his growing heroin addiction. The New York Times has a good obituary; The Guardian writes about Carroll’s poetic legacy; for a more personal remembrance, with pictures, poetry, and an interview, try poet Tom Clark’s blog.

While learning more about Jim Carroll’s life, and reading some of his poetry (I picked up Fear of Dreaming, which contains selected poems from 1969-1993) what struck me was how inextricably linked his life and works were to New York City. Born on the Lower East Side, spending his adolescence in Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, and going to high school on the Upper West Side, Carroll had the run of Manhattan from a young age. The poetry workshops on St. Mark’s Place, which he attended starting in 1965, encouraged his writing. And, what better place than Manhattan during the sixties and seventies to find the mix of art, drugs, and rock and roll that were so influential to his work?

In many of his poems, Carroll refers to specific streets and and places in New York, as if to let the reader in on the places where he hangs out. These references also ground the poems in geographical reality, and invite the reader’s knowledge of the street or neighborhood to  enhance the experience of reading the poem.

You could do your own walking tour of Manhattan based on Carroll’s poetry, though the streets aren’t the same anymore. In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Carroll himself said,

The New York that’s in my poems is the New York that’s in my head…I walked past Times Square the other night and it was just like being in Vegas or something. But it wasn’t the sleazy Vegas. I can remember when I was a kid going up to Times Square and it was this breathtaking sense of depravity, which I think every kid should go through and be exposed to. Now, it’s more like Disneyland or something.

Jim Carroll is definitely worth watching and listening to. You can hear him read his poem “Heroin” here, thanks to the Paris Review (who first published his poetry in 1968, and published excerpts from The Basketball Diaries in 1970). This video, from the film Poetry in Motion (1982), shows Carroll reading “Just Visiting”, from “The Book of Nods” (the clip ends with some bonus footage of Charles Bukowski).

A final thought on writing poetry (versus playing basketball) from Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973:

Poetry has too many variations. Mr. Frost was right about one thing: there are always promises to keep, and variations on that theme. With basketball you can correct your own mistakes, immediately and beautifully, in midair.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Comments Off on Jim Carroll: 1949-2009
Categories: Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Popular Culture
Read All archived