The Poetry of Jim Carroll, circa 1960 – circa 1970
On August 3, 1949, the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League merged, forming the National Basketball Association (NBA) we know today. Two days prior, poet Jim Carroll was born into the world.
Each of these new beginnings came of age during socially turbulent times in which one of the best distractions, the sport of basketball, was in a period of flux with an uncertain future.
Jim Carroll: poet and musician born August 1 1949, died September 11, 2009
The Basketball Diaries author and the NBA—together born, August 1949
Jim Carroll was an American author, poet, and punk musician perhaps best known for his autobiographical work The Basketball Diaries, which was eventually made into an urban-culture movie of the same name—with Leonardo DiCaprio portraying the poet Carroll.
But prior to that publication, Carroll published his first collection of poems entitled Organic Trains (1967) while still in high school.
*Good luck obtaining a published copy of Organic Trains in physical form. They’re apparently available, but are highly-valued:
However, this anthology of poems written by the city dweller can be found at the Catholic Boy tribute website: an “in-depth exploration of the work, biography, and legacy of New York poet/diarist/lyricist/performer Jim Carroll.”
Carroll’s Time of Growth
Carroll’s teen poetry collection reflects many of his daily experiences and thoughts, making it an illuminating and nostalgic resource of poetically-penned, slice-of-life urban imagery.
The Carroll family moved from Lower East Side Manhattan—where Jim’s dad owned a bar and the young Carroll attended Roman Catholic schools—to the Upper West Side neighborhood that homed the burgeoning poet throughout the adolescent and high school years that prompted much of Jim Carroll’s known work.
Carroll apparently became a skilled basketball player during his childhood years, as the dedicated writer was ultimately accepted to Manhattan’s elite Trinity School on a basketball scholarship.
The apt student kept a journal and wrote poems as he came of age and made way. His devoted habit of journaling throughout times of personal turmoil would lead to The Basketball Diaries (Age Twelve to Fifteen) manuscript, and eventual novel, to be followed decades later by the movie adaptation. The story covers Carroll’s chronicles of the years 1963-1966 and was first published June 1, 1978 during Carroll’s finally-achieved sobriety.
Let’s pivot now, from the brevity of a potentially idealizing introduction, and review what Joe Brown had to say in his 1995 article about the Basketball Diaries [movie] experience:
“Basketball Diaries” is based on the autobiographical writings of Jim Carroll, who vividly chronicled his disintegration from New York City high school basketball star to Bowery heroin addict and street hustler and the road back from ruin to acclaim as a writer and rocker.Continue Reading: ‘Basketball Diaries’ (1995) – The Washington Post
The controversially uncomfortable film reached newer generations, where the significance of its content remained largely veiled behind its graphic, often distant realities–itself in contrast to others’ experiences of the time, to popular perceptions of the world, to basketball, and in practically comical contrast to reigning perceptions of the Catholic church that surrounded Carroll growing up in his neighborhood. Carroll’s own perceptions are referenced at times throughout his writing. (Keep in mind that the Diaries book had been released in the late 70s, well before accusations of abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic church began to receive wide public attention during the late 1980s.)
Jim Carroll was an eloquent wordsmith whose poetry flowed along an unhemmed, contemporary adolescence. It’s most interesting to know his work prior to seeing The Basketball Diaries movie.
Anyone who has seen the movie but not reviewed the work that inspired it truly misses out: familiarity with Carroll’s works enriches our experience of the individual perspective offered throughout the life of the inspired, tragically fortunate poet, while the movie he’s known for drives home the tragic risks of not sticking to your game.
The Distances – a poem by Jim Carroll, April 1969
Poetry Magazine 1969 Table of Contents listing:
Read “The Distances” in Poetry Magazine by clicking the caption link above.
(See the entire issue!)
Jim Carroll at Wikipedia
Jim Carroll at Poetry Foundation (an extensive list of works)