From the origin of the Olympic games in ancient Greece, to the modern games of the twentieth century, poets played a central role along with sport. Each generation added their point of view.
Author Tony Perrottet wrote of ‘Poetry’s Relationship With the Olympics’.
“In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the buff athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming with olive oil. Spectators packing the sanctuary of Zeus sought perfection in both body and mind. Champion athletes commissioned great poets like Pindar to compose their victory odes, which were sung at lavish banquets by choruses of boys. (The refined cultural ambience could put contemporary opening ceremonies, with their parade of pop stars, to shame.) Philosophers and historians introduced cutting-edge work, while lesser-known poets set up stalls or orated from soapboxes.”
In 1912, a poem ‘Ode to Sport’ won the first gold literature medal of the modern games. But as Boston Globe reporter Amanda Katz discovered, a bit of intrigue accompanied the entry.
“Presented in full in both French and German versions, attributed to the duo of Georges Hohrod and Martin Eschbach, it was called “Ode to Sport”—a rhapsodic, nine-verse prose poem praising athletics as a model of “Joy,” “Audacity,” “Justice,” and other virtues. The judges went wild. As they wrote in their published review of the poem, “It is of the exact type that we sought for the competitions….It praises sport in a form that to the ear is very literary and very sporting.” So taken were the judges with this Olympic gold poem that they refused to award either the silver or the bronze.
Weeks later, however, according to Stanton, the judges were still trying to get a solid address where they could send Hohrod and Eschbach’s medal and certificate. Only sometime after that did the truth emerge: There was no Hohrod or Eschbach, and the perfect fit of the poem with the initial impulse behind the arts events was no accident. Worried that there wouldn’t be enough entries in his beloved arts competitions, the baron had written the poem himself.”
In London, four years ago, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy‘s poem ‘Eton Manor’ traced the 100 year history of the venue chosen for the Paralympics.
The Friday Poem this week is ‘Summer Olympics Look’ American poet J. Allyn Rosser‘s observation of how we view the Olympics @home.
Summer Olympics Look
Only five of us were arguing about the score
of a forward one-and-a-half triple twist
with absolutely rip entry, executed
by an unpronounceable stiff-stepping Russian,
because the sixth was busy in the kitchen.
I couldn’t help noticing how Jane had made
every surface sparkle, clutter-free, neat tray
of snacks, napkins fanned on the coffee table,
fresh daisies on the mantel and by the door.
The Russian’s entry was smooth, minimal splash,
but his come out had been a tiny bit clumsy.
So Jane’s future ex-husband said, anyway,
and when he called out that he wouldn’t mind
another beer as long as she was up,
and she called back that she’d just brought him one,
he had to say something. Because there it stood,
still frosty, darkening the coaster at his elbow.
He said now that’s the sign of a good wife,
like a good waitress, you’re hardly even aware
when she’s there. By now Jane had entered,
her arms crossed in a kind of tuck position.
Her approach was understated but forceful,
and the deftness of the look she sent him
when he finally looked up at her
was so pure and deep and swift, it left
hardly a ripple there in the room among us.
J. Allyn Rosser The Smithsonian Magazine, July 2012