Hockey Summit of the Arts Program Guide, 2009
AMAZONS: AN INTIMATE MEMOIR BY THE FIRST WOMAN EVER TO PLAY IN THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE BY CLEO BIRDWELL (DON DELILLO)
My father vowed that Any Daughter Of His would grow up to be the first woman drafted into the NHL. And at 6’2” on skates, I’m getting used to being called Amazonian at every game. Neither of these facts prepared me for Cleo Birdwell’s Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League.
Of course, Manon Rhéaume is the only woman who played the big leagues, and no Birdwell was ever listed on a New York Rangers roster. Cleo Birdwell is a pseudonym of iconic U.S. novelist Don DeLillo, who has never publicly admitted to writing Amazons.
The story behind the novel is as quirky as its premise: DeLillo’s publisher rejected the book, but allowed him to shop it elsewhere if his authorship was hidden. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston took it on, hiring a beautiful model to play the part of New York Ranger-turned-author Cleo Birdwell. She appeared on the back cover in full hockey gear, and her book-signing performance (also dressed as a Ranger) at the American Booksellers Association convention was a huge hit.
Amazons outsold DeLillo’s previous works almost threefold, and a signed first edition will set you back more considerably than any of his other novels. The paperback edition went out of print in the mid ’80s, but DeLillo has not permitted the book to be republished.
Should you read this book? Not for new insight into the game. In 1980, the year of its first printing, Sports Illustrated panned it, criticizing, “Birdwell keeps saying, ‘All I want to do is play hockey,’ but she doesn’t play much of it.” SI’s biggest complaint: too much sex.
Birdwell is kept busy bedding every major male character in the book. It’s a woman’s first-person confessional account written by a man who would likely find an uninhibited, sexy woman in a hockey jersey attractive—which only makes the peculiar plot and bizarre backstory even stranger. What woman would write something like, “the nightmarish bruises on my downy white thighs”?
Good “hockey” stories aren’t about the mechanics of the game, anyway. Amazons is a light, entertaining read that I highly recommend to members of the Hockey Association of the Arts; though, I likely won’t go out of my way to glowingly endorse it to Dad.
CLUTCH: HOCKEY LOVE LETTERS BY SAWAKO NAKAYASU
Clutch is a collection of hockey love poems written by a Japanese-born woman who moved to the U.S. at the age of six. The beautifully designed chapbook was published by TinFish Press in Hawaii, which is not exactly a hockey hotspot. To make things even more interesting, the poems are visual—if no one reads poetry anymore, most people don’t know that a visual form of it exists. Heck, most poets don’t know or care to know about visual poetry. For these reasons, Clutch is as eccentric as Amazons, or more so.
Nakayasu wraps each of her short lyrics in square brackets, reminding of hockey pucks:
[ intimations at the nearest blade [ ] curve—rescind—extenuate—[ ]or wrap aroundings at the fastdoor, to the[ ]quick eyes spin to the play—circomfiting this here, or andlessness ] speeden’d weight continues, [whistle] holding ]
Longer poems sprawl for pages, sometimes looking like long passes or breakaways on frozen canals. Reading the title poem is a sport for the eyes as the lines skate across the pages. You can’t read/play it the same way twice.
A Yoko Ono-esque “Ice Event: For 14 Performers and 1 Audience Member,” featuring a hollow hockey puck “about three feet in diameter; two feet high,” charms. Many playful Fluxus Events about love have been wonderfully performed, and the style suits hockey as well.
The poet equates love and hockey with violence too often for my tastes, “dropped g[ ]loves.” Even the title, “Clutch,” feels tense: what about release, and flow? I think of the U2 lyric, “Every poet is a thief / All kill their inspiration / And then sing about their grief.”
Helmets off though for attempting to capture some of the breathless excitement of love and hockey. ” The puck “kisses post” and lands “gently in the tender hand” of the goalie. Clutch ends with generous spirit:
Scared off by the blue on white,
then the red on white,
a small child holds my hand
with no points barred.
he wishes me lots of goals and
i wish him lots of skating.
Or beauty like that.