Poet in the City volunteer John Whiting on an evening of Olympic-inspired event Poetry & Sport at Kings Place hosted by Clare Balding and featuring poetry read by past Olympic medallists.
Jayshree Viswanathan, PinC event manager introduced the participants noting that only Poet in the City could organise and event on the evening of an England World Cup football match. Unfortunately one of the stars the American track & field athlete Edwin Moses was unable to attend.
For those that attended it was a treat of an evening. The evening started and the discussion and poetry was punctuated with some exciting ‘sport-inspired’ music from Denys Baptiste and his jazz quartet. Clare Balding talked of the importance of the Olympic legacy quoting from Tennyson’s Ulysses (…To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.) words chosen to be carved, with others, on the Olympic wall. In introducing Tanni Grey Thompson she noted that in addition to winning gold medals she had set more than 30 world records and that she was now a Baroness and involved in House of Lords committees.
Tanni replied that she was an independent cross bench peer (working with a lot of old men) and that like training for sport most of it was boring but necessary to get to the good things. With Clare she discussed recent changes in attitude to Paralympic sports and that she and Chris Holmes were charged with the legacies side of Paralympics sports.
Tanni read three poems that had meant something to her:
Dignified by Sean Old Soldier’Brien;
The Present by Michael Donaghy; and
Talent by Carol Ann Duffy
Clare Balding introduced William Sieghart who was the inspiration behind the new compilation Winning Words which was launched that day and that many of the poems read were to be taken from the book William read Rudyard Kipling’s If – and following Romanian fencing medalist Laura Badea’s reading of three poems in Romanian he read an English translation of them. These were:
Running Girl by Gellu Naum;
A-Riding at Daybreak; and
A Lesson in Flight both by Nichita Stanescu.
Clare then introduced and interviewed Chris Holmes another prolific gold medallist, this time in swimming. Chris now works as Director of Paralympic Integration. Despite losing his sight suddenly at age 14 he considered that life has been a charmed journey for him. He had had 17 years of competitive swimming and the lessons he had learnt on the way helped him do his job today. He felt that poetry had parallels with sport in that it opened up that moment in which you learn about yourself.
He recited Happy the Man by John Dryden (…what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.) then told a story of his visit to one school where some pupils had thought he was Chris Hoy. One boy shouting out: “Oi mister. Where does your dog go when you are on your bike?” His dog was well behaved during the event but showed his dislike of Denys Baptiste’s saxophone.
The evening finished with William Sieghart reading:
What if this Road by Sheenagh Pugh;
High Flight (An Airman’s Ecstasy) by John Gillespie Magee;
Thinking by Walter D. Wintle; and
Invictus by William E. Henley.