Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bring on the fighting kids

Nicola Adams

By Sheilagh Dyson

Desperately casting round for something to write in this week’s post, I gratefully received this gift from Carol Ann Duffy via Saturday’s Guardian. I was at the time feeling exhausted, elated, proud, angry, heartened, depressed, exhilarated, overjoyed, resentful, comforted from three magical days remorselessly tramping round London and the Olympic stadium and park. I had seen the mighty Mo run in the 5000 metre heats. I had heard the stadium crowd cheer to the rafters every British competitor – and reserve the warmest applause of all for Sarah Attar and Waroud Sawalha, Muslim women running for Saudi Arabia and Palestine respectively, both finishing last in their 800 metre heats – but both there, competing, representing their countries with pride. I had enjoyed the thoughtful, exuberant planting of wild flowers all around the Olympic Park and the serene canalside walk in the shadow of the Stadium. I had revelled in the comradeship of a shared experience, the smiles, the tumult of humankind, united in a maelstrom of celebration.

I needed someone to sum it all up for me – the joy of the sporting competition; the anger at the fur coat no knickers juxtaposition of the money lavished on the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ with the shrinking number of playing fields and sporting facilities for ordinary kids in our country; the euphoria at another medal hard-won with years of sheer grind and dedication; the contemptible ease with which the money men have made ordinary people pay the full price, take all the blame for the spivs and crooks who litter the financial markets and play roulette with our lives; the renewed pride in being a member of one race, the human race; the unexpected feeling of being proud to be British (but not xenophobic), able to wave a Union Flag without feeling queasy about its hijacked connotations.

Lacking the energy and wit myself and with all these contradictions churning around in my punch drunk brain, I was relieved to find, of course, a poet to put it all into good humoured, rational perspective, to make some sense of the wonder and frustration of the last two glorious weeks. (This is why Carol Ann Duffy is the Poet Laureate and I am a student on the first rung of the ladder!)

I think her poem admirably captures a moment, a mood, a spirit, a defiance and I love it. It also exhorts us to reject the craven, weasel words of the government and to take back the power from those who have ruthlessly grabbed it from us to shore up their own undiminished wealth and privilege. The fighting kids will show us the way – hooray.

Translating the British, 2012, by Carol Ann Duffy

A summer of rain, then a gap in the clouds

and The Queen jumped from the sky

to the cheering crowds.

We speak Shakespeare here,

a hundred tongues, one-voiced; the moon bronze or silver,

sun gold, from Cardiff to Edinburgh

by way of London Town,

on the Giant's Causeway;

we say we want to be who we truly are,

now, we roar it. Welcome to us.

We've had our pockets picked,

the soft, white hands of bankers,

bold as brass, filching our gold, our silver;

we want it back.

We are Mo Farah lifting the 10,000 metres gold.

We want new running-tracks in his name.

For Jessica Ennis, the same; for the Brownlee brothers,

Rutherford, Ohuruogu, Whitlock, Tweddle,

for every medal earned,

we want school playing fields returned.

Enough of the soundbite abstract nouns,

austerity, policy, legacy, of tightening metaphorical belts;

we got on our real bikes,

for we are Bradley Wiggins,

side-burned, Mod, god;

we are Sir Chris Hoy,

Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Kenny, Hindes,

Clancy, Burke, Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas,

Olympian names.

We want more cycle lanes.

Or we saddled our steed,

or we paddled our own canoe,

or we rowed in an eight or a four or a two;

our names, Glover and Stanning; Baillie and Stott;

Adlington, Ainslie, Wilson, Murray,

Valegro (Dujardin's horse).

We saw what we did. We are Nicola Adams and Jade Jones,

bring on the fighting kids.

We sense new weather.

We are on our marks. We are all in this together.


So, is that an example of free verse? Blank verse? Who cares - I’m on my hols from college and not in the business of stylistic analysis just at the minute! The poetic form doesn’t really matter, if I enjoy the language and emotion of a poem. Increasingly, poets tend to agree. Ezra Pound, writing in 1916, said ‘To create a new rhythm – as the expression of new moods – and not to copy the old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist upon ‘free-verse’ as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as a principle of liberty.  We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional form. In poetry a new cadence means a new idea.’  In other words, it is down to the poet how they wish to express what they want to say, in the form they want to say it. And that is the strength and beauty of poetry precisely.

Woroud Sawalha



Louise Barklam said...

Wholeheartedly agree! I got goosebumps reading this Sheilagh, thanks for this post. ;-) x

Louise Barklam said...

Wholeheartedly agree! I got goosebumps reading this Sheilagh, thanks for this post. ;-) x

Christo Heyworth said...

I envy you for being there, Shelagh, though watching it all unfold on TV has given me the mix of emotions you make vivid.
The Poet Laureate has done all of us a favour by capturing the essence, and a word of thanks to the camerapeople and presenters on the BBC for bringing the experience into the nation's front rooms.
Of course we get back to ordinary life, but please don't let us resume the recent British default setting of GLUM.
Tnx, Shelagh.

Standard said...

You know what? I expected to have no interest or enjoyment of the Olympics at all but ended up both fascinated and quite teary in places. I have the same thing with poetry. I spend my entire life telling myself I don't like it but then someone like Duffy pulls that out of the drawer. Seing as it's still ok to be all British an that at the mo I shall tip my imaginary bowler and cry 'HERE HERE M'AAM, HERE HERE!'

vicky ellis said...

Brilliant post Sheilagh, a delight to read. I love the Duffy poem and your writing supports it beautifully. Thanks!

Ashley R Lister said...


I can only echo what's already been said. Excellent choice of poem and a cool personal insight into your take on the Olympic Games.


Shaun said...

I'm throwing the cat in amongst the pigeons here (since our own has already gone out fighting), I thought CAD let herself down a little with this one.
Now, I'm not saying it isn't worthy. Well, actually, I am a bit. The World's Wife and Rapture are both incredible books- some of this more pressured writing seems a little rushed out to fit demand.
The troubles of being laureate.

Sheilagh, I have to say though, I enjoyed reading this post. Keep posting em up as well- your commitment to finding appropriate poems for each subjects has been impressive.