Poet’s Corner: Dispatches from the Olympic Games

Poetic acrobatics, endurance and musings by Priscila Uppal - a London 2012 LRC blog.

Sep 24

Summer Sport Poetry Competition: Winners Announced!

Thank you to everyone who submitted to the Summer Sport Poetry Competition. As in elite athletics, the many talented competitors made judging challenging. How many points for technical merit vs. artistic impression? How to inch one poem in front of another without the aid of a photo finish? Thank you for the array of sports to choose from, including poems on synchronized swimming, football, golf, tennis, rowing, running, racewalking, baseball, basketball, fencing, ultimate frisbee, and more.

In the end, I decided on an array of approaches to the subject of sport:an enthusiastic fan, a reflective competitor, a novel view of sports equipment, and a found poem.

There is certainly enough material here to warrant further sports poetry competitions, perhaps a special issue of a magazine or literary journal devoted to sports poetry or even an anthology. Congratulations to the winners. - Priscila Uppal

Below are the four winners of the 2012 Summer Sport Poetry Competition. All four will be receiving prize packs, and the poem that took gold will appear in the upcoming November 2012 print issue of the LRC.


GOLD (Grand Prize Winner): “Summer Sport” by Heather Davidson


It’s you, weightlifter, who could bring me

Persian gold when you win and this is

the only good anyone knows. A static

acrobat, an iron tiger, a juggler in pose.

Anvils and axles greased with sweat,

a face more set in scowl than skin.

The barbell for your body and half of

someone else’s, yours again. Weight is

what you train past, a grip like crushing

eggs and balance through the thighs.

Clean and jerk, glass holds back the world.

I want another trick, what else can you do.

Crouch and animals run through

the deltoid, the triceps. Bounce the bar

off your chest, hold it up and you live,

there is nothing they can do.



SILVER: A haiku by kjmunro


golden maple leaves

bounce

on the backyard trampoline



BRONZE: "Towards a Definition of Sport" by David Huebert and "No Man’s Land" by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews


"Towards a Definition of Sport"

     words overheard in Canadian pubs and locker rooms


Soccer is not a sport.

It’s just a bunch of long-haired pretty boys

with bright shoes and fancy socks,

diving every time they get touched.

If there’s no body contact it’s not a sport.

Rugby’s not a sport, it’s a bunch of

ogres rolling around in the mud.

Football is basically just a version of war.

I think the guy who won the gold

in dressage is like ninety years old.

Baseball is not a sport, it’s a pastime.

Golf’s not a sport, it’s a leisure activity.

I think they should rename boxing

facepunching and see how many kids sign up.

We’re watching beach volleyball,

or as I like to call it, “tits and ass.”

Table tennis, seriously?

Synchronized swimming, really?

When did they take bowling out of the Olympics?

Maybe there should be more guns

so the Americans could get even more medals.

We should probably have hockey in the summer too.



"No Man’s Land"


There is a certain comfort in the symmetry

Of striking pressurized air

Of optic yellow felt

As it is precisely loosed

From the left hand’s grip,

While with well thought out,

Taut-weaved racket precision,

A backhanded right one smashes it across the court

A world over the net at center

Stretching its’ equator to the tentative,

Invisible dragons lurking in the sidelines.

Adrenaline primes you into that zone

Of brain-body synchrony

Where you anticipate all angles

Of your opponent’s rebuttals.

Simultaneously you shadow

Her moves as you rally, lunge

Your weight diagonally through air

Onto the gravity of rubberized concrete

To block all coups

Re-entering the dharma

Of a frantic little Dutch boy,

Should any hint of loss overtake

You. Your country.

One fault, like one drop of ocean

Beginning to stream through some tiny crack

In the solid wall of your well rehearsed,

Calculated resistance.

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Sep 10

Poem: An Athlete Epitaph

Born in Canada—

DNF.

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Sep 10

Sports Tourism and Farewell

Above: Priscila Uppal. “See you in 2014 in Sochi, Russia! (You never know…)”

Flame extinguished, the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics are now officially over. As is the summer and the generating portion of my Summer Sport Poems project. But for those of you, like me, who are feeling a little blue at the prospect of waiting two more years for winter Olympic and Paralympic action from Sochi, Russia, and are nervously biting nails over the NHL negotiations (we diehard Toronto Maple Leafs fans never learn), I would like to draw your attention to a wonderful resource that can not only expand your knowledge and range of options in our existing global sports circuit, but can also help you plan your travel calendar.

The book is A Year of Sports Travel published by Lonely Planet and it is organized by month and week to enable you to either look up what sports events are on during your vacation time or to help you plan when you might want to take time off. While the book includes all the biggies such as the World Cup, the PGA Masters, and Wimbledon, as well as the World Championships, for the majority of the Olympic sports such as race walking or beach volleyball or figure skating or curling, the delight of the book rests in discovering activities you’ve never even heard of before. Take for instance camel wrestling in Turkey or yukigassen, Japan’s national snowball fighting competitions, or the Kabaddi World Championships (the only combat sport to integrate yoga) or extreme unicycling, or Italy’s Battaglia Delle Arange (Battle of the Oranges), a massive food fight involving 400,000 kg of oranges. Or how about attending the Nude Olympics in Australia, where the most common injury is sunburn, or World Championship Chess Boxing, where four-minute sessions of speed chess are followed by three-minute bouts of boxing.

While the majority of these events are open only to the elite athlete or professional, a few are open to contestants willing to travel and pay the requisite participation fees. And the sport that has truly captured my imagination is culinary as well as aerobic-based: Cheese Rolling. Where? Cooper’s Hiss, Brockworth, England. When? Last Monday in May. What? Competitors chase a handmade 7lb circle of Double Gloucestershire cheese down the hill, rolling, sliding, tumbling to be either the first to the bottom or the first to grab the cheese. The Prize? You get to keep the cheese. Dangers? Thirty-three people were injured in 1997 so police cancelled the event the following year, but you can’t keep good cheese down and the event was revived. Why? Perhaps it’s because I once studied 19th century Canadian poet James McIntyre, who wrote numerous odes to cheese becoming informally known as the ‘Chaucer of Cheese’ (I’m not joking), but I giggle out loud every time I turn to this page of the book. Oh yes, let’s chase the cheese, I hear a voice say in my head. Why not? And my husband grows slightly nervous as to what our next adventure will be.

I guarantee if you take a look through this book you’ll find something that will lead you to Google your favourite travel planning websites. It’s one way of ordering the year and the future, and might make the difference between Australia this year or Norway the next.


Farewell


Some athletes claim to suffer from Post-Olympic Stress Disorder. I think I might end up suffering from Post-Poet’s Corner Stress Disorder. It’s been an exhilarating, but exhausting run. I must maintain my momentum to review and edit these poems for their eventual publication as the book Summer Sport: Poems with Mansfield Press (winter/spring 2013).


Here are the stats:


Canada Olympic Medal Count: 18 Medals: 1 Gold, 5 Silver, 12 Bronze


Canada Paralympic Medal Count: 30 Medals : 7 Gold, 14 Silver, 9 Bronze


Priscila Uppal Poem Count: 70 poems (published primarily here at the Literary Review of Canada and the Canadian Athletes Now website, but also in The Toronto Star and on CBC, truck and PBS National News and RCI websites)


Priscila Uppal Blog Posts Count: 16


[And in between the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I returned to Toronto to race in the Women’s Run in Sunnybrook Park and smashed my personal best time of 23:10 with a 22:29 finish, earning me a first place plaque for my age group and a 10th place overall finish in the race!]


I would like now to extend my utmost gratitude to all the organizations and individuals who have made this project possible, including Access Copyright, The Ontario Arts Council, The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and The Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. A huge thank you to everyone at the Literary Review of Canada and Canadian Athletes Now. And of course to all my fellow sports and arts fans and the various travellers I’ve met along the way.


If you’ve enjoyed the poems and posts or watching the Olympics and Paralympics, please consider making a donation to the Canadian Athletes Now Fund or to the Literary Review of Canada. Or even my purchasing a copy of Winter Sport: Poems or pre-ordering Summer Sport: Poems (I donate my royalties from these books to Canadian Athletes Now Fund).


Perhaps I’ll see you next May at Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth, England?


Wishing you physical and creative health,


Priscila Uppal

***

Check out our London 2012 Olympics Poetry round-up, featuring links to 38 of Priscila’s Olympics-inspired poetry from the London 2012 Games around the web.

Stay tuned for our announcement of the Summer Sports Poetry Competition winners on September 24!

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Sep 10

Poem: Afterwards

After the canoes and kayaks have been lifted out

of the water, the painted lines on fields and courts erased,

the nets lowered, the bicycles sent for tune-ups, the scoreboards

reprogrammed, the trunks and singlets tossed in the wash,

sneakers unlaced, pools drained, gloves hung, mats soaked

in vinegar, the show jumps dismantled, ticket stubs

recycled, the starting blocks stored, hurdles stacked,

concession stands closed down.


After the flags have been reverently folded

and all the medals and tears distributed.


You pack up your kits and board your planes and trains,

returning to your home countries for brief respites and parades,

icing your sprains and other sore spots, managing your families

and egos, and stroking memories of when you exposed

yourself to the whims of history.


We wash our faces, and turn off our televisions,

stop frantically checking our devices for good news,

and go back to our own daily grinds,

our private successes and failures,

with heavy hearts and heavier dreams

which award us few medals and fewer fans,

our unknown journeys but known eventual destination

diligently training for our own fearfully perfect dismounts.

***

For more Paralympics-inspired poetry by Priscila Uppal, check out “Three Fates" and "World Record Jukebox.”

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Sep 09

Poem: Rules of the Republic of Paralympic

At customs officials welcome passports by cheers.


Everyone you encounter is immediately identified numerically

according to level of ability.


Roads are sectioned into individual lanes.



Paperwork is filed by relay.


Pain: an unlimited resource used for fuel.


Engineers and architects work round the block

on cutting-edge renovations.


Medical reports are written in invisible ink. After applying

lemon juice and tears, an image of your future self appears.


One ought never be caught being a couch potato.


In the event of a false-start, the guilty party is called back

to the line for a second chance.


All lovers are mandated to remain within 50 centimetres

of each other at all times.

***

Interested in more Paralympics-themed poetry? Check out “Ode to Kiss Cams" or "Party Games.”

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Sep 07

Portraits of the Games

Above: Priscila Uppal (with her now famous patriotic red hair decorated with several Canadian flags) with friend Tracy Carbert (who had never before attended a live sporting event) at the Copper Box in Olympic Park to watch Goalball.

While I have mostly been keeping strictly to the Olympic and Paralympic time schedules, I have ventured away from Olympic Park, the ExCel Centre, and the Lord’s Cricket Grounds on occasion to take in some of the city’s theatre and art. I was lucky to catch the end of a second sold-out run of London Road, a unique and moving musical about the effects of a serial killer on the town of Ipswich, where many of the lines from the songs were taken from actual transcripts and interviews with residents. The next night, I cringed and laughed at Abigail’s Party, by the playwright and filmmaker Mike Leigh, to my mind a comedic version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I was also able to squeeze in two trips to the Tate Modern, my favourite museum in London, to see the showcase of Britain’s most famous living visual artist, Damien Hirst (the exhibition was filled with baffled adult tourists and amused children strolling about live butterflies birthing from cocoons, sliced cows and calves, a gigantic shark, and pills, pills, pills galore), as well as another special exhibition devoted to Edvard Munch, which highlighted successfully the influence of photography and early films on his painterly techniques.

But no trip to London would be fully complete to me if it did not include a visit to London’s National Portrait Gallery. As an English Literature scholar, each room is an experience of déjà vu, of pinpointing which portraits are featured on which book covers of half our home library, from the stately portraits of Tudors to the history paintings to the self-portraits. I usually spend a good fifteen minutes alone with the portraits of Sir Philip Sidney and John Donne as if I were gazing at yearbook photos of old loves.

As a special exhibit, the National Portrait Gallery features “Road to 2012,” a three-year project with photographers Anderson and Low, Jillian Edelstein, Brian Griffin, Emma Hardy, Nadav Kander, Finlay MacKay, Katherine Green, and Bettini von Zwehl; more than 100 commissioned portraits to celebrate the British involved in the Games, the largest photographic commission the National Portrait Gallery has ever undertaken.

The results are varied, both in style of portrait and success. Kander’s black-and-white photographs of some of the country’s youngest athletes are striking in their pensive, dramatic quality, giving the youth a berth and density usually saved for the more experienced subject. A second sequence by Kandar features life-sized cut-outs of a selection of Torch Bearers from the 8,000 nominated from across the U.K. Many were selected due to either their struggles with illness or other forms of adversity as well as for volunteer work in the community. One stand-out is Diana Gould, 100 years old, who was applauded for running exercise classes in the retirement flats where she lives.

“People only want to look at photographs of famous people,” my photographer friend frequently laments when strolling through art galleries. And this is usually true. Therefore, the exhibition features many of Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, such as diver Tom Daley, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, and wheelchair racer David Weir, as well as the Mayor of London and Her Royal Highness Kate Duchess of Cambridge. However, when faced with unfamiliar faces, it is some of the details on the placards, like those offered in the Torch Bearer series, which draw the viewer to take a second or even third glance at the stranger at the centre of the frame.

Two notable instances are courtesy of Jillian Edelstein, who photographed many of the people responsible for the complex logistics of the world’s largest sporting event. Reading the placard for the portrait of Jan Matthews, Head of Catering, one learns that she is responsible for the staggering number of 14 million meals for over 77 days (the World Cup has 750 athletes, the Olympics and Paralympics 17,500). We are also introduced to Robert Hillier, the man responsible for supplying over 4,000 semi-mature trees to Olympic Park.

Inevitably, it is more likely that the portraits of those athletes who achieved a pinnacle of success at the Olympics, whose faces we have been looking into in their moments of intense focus and unbridled joy, who have the better chance of remaining on the walls of the gallery for years to come, but the project also gives pause to reflect upon how many thousands of people, besides the competing athletes, are necessary to carry out the minute details which result in our experience of the full glorious picture.

***

Professor and poet Priscila Uppal has been writing daily poems and sports art reviews while in London for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Check out all of her Paralympics-inspired posts, and read her personal and moving account of why the Paralympics is not just another sporting event.

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Sep 07

Poems: Paralympic Haiku

Wheelchair Rugby Haiku

You plead not guilty

to murder. Guilty to break-

ing and entering.


Boccia Love Haiku

Cards on the table.

You interfere with my plans.

The jack up your sleeve.


Goalball Love Haiku

Passed around the heart

Rings with displeasure. Hold me.

I will bless your hands.

***

Love sports-inspired haiku? Priscila Uppal posted three more during the London 2012 Olympics, and reviewed the book Football Haiku.

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Sep 06

Poem: Ode to Kiss Cams

Nothing like peer pressure

to counter our natures.


Embarrassed by public displays

of affection, the tyranny of the screen

intervenes, turning spectators

into temporary tabloids.


A mother smooches her child.

Sulky teenagers stick out their tongues.

First dates get to first base.

Complacent couples ignite repressed sparks.

The elderly elicit squirms or aaahhs.

Quarreling friends remember their manners.

Passionate lovers are grateful for any excuse.


Immediate intimacy

with barely enough time to register

performance anxiety.


The crowd embraces random serendipity.


You were hoping, tonight, to go home

with a little love in your heart.

You didn’t expect to be the one to give it.

***

Check out other Olympics and Paralympics-inspired poems by Priscila Uppal.

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Sep 05

Sport as Rehabilitation

The Paralympic Games are a visceral example of how sport can contribute to the process of physical rehabilitation. However, as new studies are showing, and as many doctors and counsellors and teachers have known for years, sport can also contribute to the process of mental, emotional, social, and spiritual rehabilitation.

One book that heralds this philosophy is author and musician Dave Bidini’s mesmerizing Home and Away: In Search of Dreams at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer (published in 2010), researched as Bidini followed Homeless Team Canada to the World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, a tournament with 56 teams and over 600 players. This book is not only an engaging and precisely written documentary of sport activity, but, and more importantly, a moving narrative that will shatter readers’ preconceptions about the lives of the homeless and that could be used to promote and raise awareness about the benefits of sport to those who suffer from mental illness, addictions, post-traumatic stress, domestic and child abuse, political oppression, as well as other afflictions and personal misfortunes. I love this book and have been recommending it to everyone I know.

Mel Young and Harold Schmied—a Scotsman and an Austrian—dreamed up the Homeless World Cup while attending a conference in 2002 about street newspapers in the hopes of drawing attention to the growing numbers of homeless people around the world. Bidini’s book is also contributing to the cause as it introduces us to a whole range of characters who have found themselves homeless for a myriad of reasons, everything from addiction issues (and yes, there are a lot of addiction issues among the homeless, but the book also demonstrates how easy it is to fall into the traps of addiction and how truly difficult it is to claw your way out), to neglectful or violent parents, to divorce (not being able to afford child care payments, for instance), to bad luck in business, to the effects of the recession, to fleeing political persecution. The majority possess skills and talents, everything from managing businesses to carpentry skills to winning cheesecake-making competitions (I’m not kidding, and this was one of the male goalies). Homeless Team Canada even boasts a former Team Canada athlete. All of those involved in the World Cup of soccer have stories, and it’s the stories that make the outcome of the events truly matter.

Soccer provides routine that many are desperate for. It also provides support and friendship and a place to test and build one’s physical and mental strength. It also offers escape, release, and a temporary erasure of memory. As a once-violent player claims, “When I’m playing soccer, I’ve got fresh air coming at me. If I’m kicking a ball, I’m not hurting anyone. Playing sports, you don’t think about negative things; it’s a way of keeping those devils and demons at bay.”

One of the most compelling stories is that of teenager Krystal, who ends up being the most prolific female soccer player in the tournament. Bidini, a skilled story-teller, knows she is in fact our protagonist because she has yet to live her life and through her we can see if soccer can actually make the difference between her living the rest of her days on the street or finding herself a safe and comfortable home. For so many of these players, much has been taken from them: possessions, shelter, friends, family, even their humanity (one woman says the parade is the first time she’s been in the streets where people aren’t giving her the finger, yelling, or spitting at her). Sport gives them back a piece of themselves. For Krystal, sport gives her an identity, something she seems to have lost with the death of her mother at a young age. After successfully scoring on a penalty shot, she tells Bidini: “It’s something that no one can take from me, no matter what else happens.”

I’m reminded of my dear friend Ann Peel, who was Executive Director of the charity Right to Play, and her countless stories of how boys and girls living in refugee camps were physically and spiritually transformed when sport was introduced into their daily lives. The children started to smile again, to groom themselves, to hint at the future. For me, I hope the future in this country will include equal access to sports and arts programs, two cultural activities that have been proven to keep kids in school and to tie personal identity to national identity. In other words, two activities that give us a home.

***

Priscila Uppal has been writing daily sports-inspired poems and reviewing sports art throughout the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Don’t miss her review of Tragedy on the Mountain: A Quadriplegic’s Journey from Paralysis to Paralympics by Brent Poppen and the 2005 documentary, Murderball.

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Sep 05

Poem: Party Games

Girls at a slumber party

in comfy pants and tight Ts

bunched like bean bags

on the floor, giggling uncontrollably

at the antics of truth or dare.


Truth: I prefer the world from this angle.

Dare: Dance on your hands.


Truth: I believe the floor pinches me.

Dare: Reveal your bruises.


Truth: Alternating positions unnerves me.

Dare: Spike the punch.


No boys allowed,

the girls bump and grind

comparing body types

making goofy home videos

and pigging out on power.


Secrets passed

through holes in the net.

***

Today’s London 2012 Paralympics-inspired poem was inspired by Sitting Volleyball.

Sitting Volleyball at the Excel Centre. It had never occurred to me that you could play volleyball by sliding yourself across the ground (I initially thought the athletes would be competing in wheelchairs). The game looked genuinely fun and intimate, dynamic but less aggressive than conventional volleyball. - Priscila Uppal

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