Poetry Analysis Short Essay


Please write a compare and contrast essay that responds to the following prompt: Basketball figures prominently in both Yusef Komunyakka’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” and Edward Hirsch’s “Fast Break.” In a 750-1000 word essay, compare and contrast the two poems, analyzing the literary devices each writer uses to explore the speaker’s attitude toward the game of basketball and each poem’s distinct theme.

Poetry Essay points to keep in mind for timed essay
Read the prompt to know what you’re looking for, underlining “the charge”;
Read the poem twice, either first quickly for meaning or slowly, as aloud;
On second reading, mark for the terms in the prompt;
Use a prewriting strategy (I like listing) to record main ideas to develop;
Within 10 minutes, start writing your essay for 20 minutes or so;
Make sure you treat the prompt – consider “echo words” to indicate to your reader
that you’re focused on what is called for in the prompt;
Make your topic sentences matter and use direct evidence from the poem, with
lines cited (avoid paraphrasing!);
Leave 3 minutes to proofread.
Many AP poetry prompts ask you to consider “poetic devices.” Here are some devices
you’d find helpful to know and be able to spot in a poem:
Sound devices: Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance, Onomatopoeia
Structure/Form (e.g., Italian vs. English sonnet, villanelle, lyric, pastoral, elegy, ballad)
Element of Style: Figurative Language: Allusion, Metaphor, Simile, Irony;
personification; hyperbole, symbolism
Other ELEMENTS OF STYLE: Diction, Syntax, Imagery, Tone and Mood
Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook”
Fast breaks. Lay up. With Mercury’s
Insignia on our sneakers,
We outmaneuvered the footwork
Of bad angels. Nothing but a hot
Swish of strings like silk
Ten feet out. In the roundhouse
Labyrinth our bodies
Created, we could almost
Last forever, poised in midair
Like storybook sea monsters.
A high note hung there
A long second. Off
The rim. We’d corkscrew
Up & dunk balls that exploded
The skullcap of hope & good
Intention. Bug-eyed, lanky,
All hands & feet…sprung rhythm.
We were metaphysical when girls
Cheered on the sidelines.
Tangled up in a falling,
Muscles were a bright motor
Double-flashing to the metal hoop
Nailed to our oak.
When Sonny Boy’s mama died
He played nonstop all day, so hard
Our backboard splintered.
Glistening with sweat, we jibed
& rolled the ball off our
fingertips. Trouble
Was there slapping a blackjack
Against an open palm.
Dribble, drive to the inside, feint,
& glide like a sparrow hawk.
Lay ups. Fast breaks.
We had moves we didn’t know
We had. Our bodies spun
On swivels of bone & faith,
Through a lyric slipknot
Of joy, & we knew we were
Beautiful & dangerous.
Edward Hirsch “Fast Break”
In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946-1984
A hook shot kisses the rim and
hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop
and for once our gangly starting center
boxes out his man and times his jump
perfectly, gathering the orange leather
from the air like a cherished possession
and spinning around to throw a strike
to the outlet who is already shoveling
an underhand pass toward the other guard
scissoring past a flat-footed defender
who looks stunned and nailed to the floor
in the wrong direction, trying to catch sight
of a high, gliding dribble and a man
letting the play develop in front of him
in slow motion, almost exactly
like a coach’s drawing on the blackboard,
both forwards racing down the court
the way that forwards should, fanning out
and filling the lanes in tandem, moving
together as brothers passing the ball
between them without a dribble, without
a single bounce hitting the hardwood
until the guard finally lunges out
and commits to the wrong man
while the power-forward explodes past them
in a fury, taking the ball into the air
by himself now and laying it gently
against the glass for a lay-up,
but losing his balance in the process,
inexplicably falling, hitting the floor
with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country
and swiveling back to see an orange blur
floating perfectly through the net.
Basketball is central to both poems, but the poets use it in different ways. (too broad)
In both poems, the game of basketball is the means the poets use to dramatize the way the
speaker is involved with the sport; however, each speaker’s involvement is different. (too
narrowly focused on the meaning of the poem without specifying which resources of
language will be discussed)
In these two poems, the point of view, images, and rhythmic structure of the two poems
are different. (focused two narrowly on the resources of language and ignores the theme)
Working thesis: In both poems, the game of basketball is the means the poets use to
dramatize an intense experience; however, the point of view, imagery, and rhythm of the
two poems convey different experiences.
Text-by-text organization
Although both Komunyakaa and Hirsch depict basketball as a transformative experience,
the rhythm and imagery in the poems illustrate just how different those experiences are.
Topic Sentence One
In “Slam, Dunk, and Hook,” the prevalent images of struggle alongside the fragmented
rhythm of the verse suggest that life is a battleground both on and off the court for the
Topic Sentence Two
In “Fast Break,” the fluid structure and positive connotations of the words in the poem
suggest that the players are achieving a singular moment of grace on the court, which is
intended to be appreciated as fine art.
Pro/con: Structure is essentially two sections; Logical pattern but puts pressure on intro
and conclusion to emphasize the connections between the two poems (time
constraints/restricted length +)
Element-by-element organization
In these two poems, the point of view, images, and rhythmic structure reveal the
relationship between the players and the sport they love, but a world of difference
separates the experience of basketball for each of the speakers.
Topic Sentence
Though both poems are told from a first-person point of view, the speakers are connected
to the game in different ways.
Topic Sentence
While the two poets use syntax in a different manner, in both cases it establishes a
rhythm that reflects the pace of the game.
Topic Sentence
The diction and imagery reflect the meaning of the game of basketball to each speaker.
Pro/con You are comparing and contrasting as you go, rather than waiting until the end.
Transition Vocabulary:
In comparison; compared to; like; similar to; likewise; also; similarly; in the same way;
as in…so in the other; moreover
In contrast; on the one hand…on the other hand; conversely; on the contrary; unlike;
however; although; yet; still; but; even though; nevertheless; regardless; despite; while
Internal Citation
(Komunyakaa ll. 6-7)
(Hirsch l. 33)
Example of a Scholarly title that achieves the two goals:
One Game, Two Lives: Comparing and Analyzing “Fast Break” and “Slam, Dunk, &

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