Winning lines: Can poetry inspire Team GB at London 2012 Olympics?

Inspiring words from some of our leading poets are being installed at Olympic venues. We publish them for the first time, and William Sieghart, who helped select them, explains his motivation

Poetry is all around us. From the 1950s onwards poets and poetry became subsumed into other parts of our culture, writing advertising copy, song lyrics, chants on the football terraces, jingles and rap music. We are always using it, because we need to – whether to mend heartbreak, to inspire ourselves, to offer to loved ones, or to cheer on our football teams. Poetry is something we should celebrate.

My hope is that people will draw on our greatest cultural contribution to the world in 2012 and be inspired to cover Britain in poetry. I think that the Olympics is a passing event, which will be gone from London in a matter of weeks. What everyone is craving is a genuine legacy. We can point to the legacy of the Olympic Park itself, but across the nation what would be wonderful is if poetry could be writ large: on the walls of local authority buildings, of hospitals, in playgrounds, even in landscape. To find poetry a permanent presence in our towns and cities would be a wonderful legacy for 2012 that could be around for many generations to come. To help spread the word. Winning Words, a project of the Forward Arts Foundation, has published an online poetry archive on the idea of inspiration (at www.winningwordspoetry.com/ inspiring-words)

Last year, the Olympic Delivery Authority's Art in the Park programme and Winning Words asked the nation for suggestions of a line of inspiring poetry to be installed on the wall of the Olympic Village. We received a wonderfully broad range of suggestions, some directly about sport, many not. The selection of Tennyson's “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” is a very good summation of Olympic values and what the build-up to the competition is about. As the last line of “Ulysses”, Tennyson's poem about ancient Ithaca, it also has a link to the Olympic theme.

Five of our country's leading poets were commissioned by the Olympic Delivery Authority and Winning Words to create new poetry to be installed permanently in the Olympic Park. The five poems are published here for the first time. They include Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's poem, “Eton Manor”, which can be found at the entrance to the Paralympic wheelchair tennis venue. The poem captures the spirit of the venue's previous existence as the Eton Manor Boys' Club.

All the commissioned poets were asked what inspires them about the area of the Olympic Park and its surrounds. Lemn Sissay has written about the Bryant and May match factory which still exists next to the Olympic Park and the extraordinary story of the first trade-union strike, which took place there. John Burnside has focused on Sylvia Pankhurst, the famed suffragette – and keen cyclist – who worked in Bow for some years. Caroline Bird's poem is about the life and work of Joan Littlewood, the life-force behind Stratford East Theatre, and who in the 1960s had a vision for an arts centre – never to be built – on what is now the Olympic Park. Jo Shapcott's commission for Winning Words reflects on the history of the Olympic site and the eight kilometres of waterways that run in and around it.

These poems are inspiring because they answer our great need for continuity. They tell of what was there before, not just what is new. New technology gives us ever more immediacy, but we also live in history and continuity. By bringing poetry into the Olympic Park we seek to provide something that will inspire athletes and spectators. Visitors can stop and look, read, think and feel. They can look around them, and not in a hurry.

Can you see poetry where you are? Or is there somewhere you would like to see it? I have always loved visiting old sites and finding inscriptions that have lasted over time. All across the country you can still see painted walls from the Victorian era of people selling their goods. Winning Words with the support of our sponsor Bloomberg is animating London with poetry. With your help we will be able to extend this across the country.

Whether you live in a tiny hamlet or a large city, I invite you to ask where poetry can go, and what you can do about it. Whether painted, planted or carved, put some poetry into your world.

William Sieghart is founder of Forward Arts Foundation and Winning Words (winningwords poetry.com)

 

Eton Manor

By Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate

The past is all around us, in the air,

the acres here were once 'the Wilderness'-

“Blimey, it's fit for a millionaire”-

where Eton Manor Boys Club came to train;

or, in the Clubhouse, (built 1913)

translated poverty to self-esteem,

camaraderie, and optimism

similed in smiles.

 

Hackney Wick –

fleas, flies, bin-lids, Clarnico's Jam; the poor

enclosed by railway, marshland, factories, canal-

where Wellesley, Villiers, Wagg, Cadogan came,

philanthropists, to clear a glorious space;

connect the power of place to human hope,

through World War One, the Blitz, till 1967...

on this spot, functional, free, real- heaven.

 

This is legacy –

young lives respected, cherished, valued, helped

to sprint, swim, bowl, box, play, excel, belong;

believe community is self in multitude-

the way the past still dedicates to us

its distant, present light. The same high sky,

same East End moon, above this reclaimed wilderness,

where relay boys are raced by running ghosts.

 

Bicycling for Ladies

By John Burnside

Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.

H. G. Wells

Factory Girls

after talking to Sylvia and other speakers I thought

that here is something I can dedicate myself to help

in some way to put things right

Nellie Cressall

Imperial Triumph; Golden Sunbeam;

Ladies' Light Weight No. 17, (The Suffragette);

between the morning and the evening wash

they dream of riding out, like Pankhurst girls,

in Rational Dress, on shiny new machines,

to Waltham Abbey, Thornwood, Magdalen Lever;

(I stand and rejoice every time I see

a woman ride by on a wheel)

though no kind word can ever wash away

the lavender and lilac of their days,

and not for them the solitude of some

far crossroads, with its litany of names

from ancient times,

they want to ride for hours, on country lanes

through Saxon woods and miles of ripening grain

and end up at some point of no return,

like changelings, in some faded picture book

from childhood, going headlong through the dark

to some new realm , where no mere man is king.

The Bow Cyclists

not merely for votes but towards an egalitarian

society

Sylvia Pankhurst

I dreamed you came again

through the smog of time,

match-girls and broom-makers,

cycling from street to street

with The Women's Dreadnought;

the houses lit for miles,

like beacons

and a true friend

stepping from every door

to greet you, brushing flakes

of lanolin or matchwood from her sleeves,

the dawn light on her face

and some fresh scent

of elsewhere on the wind, as she resumes

the life she set aside, a grief ago.

The marches are done with,

the hunger strikes, danger of death

forgotten, as the sun cuts through the fog

 

Ulysses (extract)

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

To strive, to seek, to find, and yet not to yield

...that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts

Made weak by time and fate but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and yet not to yield.

 

The Fun Palace

By Caroline Bird

It is a love story. Joan and her theatre workshop.

They found a crumbling old slum in E15. They slept

illegally in the eaves like ghosts with unfinished business.

She created Oh What A Lovely War. She shovelled rubble

from Angel Lane. She said, 'Let the waters close over me.'

She was an outsider. She grafted. She changed the world.

It is a love story. Joan and her theatre workshop.

They rehearsed in a graveyard while bombs were falling.

She loved a ripper. A ripper is a miner who breaks new tunnels

out of stone. He almost got a lion cub into Ormesby Hall.

Gerry stood in front of bulldozers to save the Theatre Royal.

She tore up scripts. She guffawed. She changed the world.

It is a love story. Joan and her theatre workshop.

She directed Macbeth at school. She plunged

the fake sword into the hidden butcher's meat and

the Mother Superior fainted. She wanted a university

of the streets. No cup and saucer hats. She chain-smoked.

She said, 'To hell with them.' She changed the world.

It is a love story. Joan Littlewood and her theatr e.

She was blacklisted from Broadcasting House.

She knew that two tons of coal equalled more

than two ounces of cheese. The Fun Palace was never built

on the banks of the River Lea. She almost cracked it.

She kicked the bucket. She changed the world.

 

The Spark Catchers

By Lemn Sissay

Tide twists on the Thames and lifts the Lea to the brim of Bow

Where shoals of sirens work by way of the waves.

At the fire factory the fortress of lames

In tidal shifts East London Lampades made

Millions of matches that lit candles for the well-to-do

And the ne'er-do-well to do alike. Strike.

The greatest threat to their lives was

The sulferuous spite filled spit of diablo

The molten madness of a spark

They became spark catchers and on the word “strike”

a parched arched woman would dive

With hand outstretched to catch the light.

And Land like a crouching tiger with fist high

Holding the malevolent flare tight

'til it became an ash dot in the palm. Strike.

The women applauded the magnificent grace

The skill it took, the pirouette in mid air

The precision, perfection and the peace.

Beneath stars by the bending bridge of Bow

In the silver sheen of a phosphorous moon

They practised Spark Catching.

“The fist the earth the spark its core

The fist the body the spark its heart“

The Matchmakers march. Strike.

Lampades The Torch bearers

The Catchers of light.

Sparks fly Matchmakers strike.

there is a certain

electricity between us

a spark.

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

Living is in Living is in Living is in Living is in

 

Wild Swimmer

By Jo Shapcott

I

Open this box

breathe

dive in

 

II

you are mostly water

glide

in your element

 

III

Surface in the Bow Back Rivers, quite at home

because you are small and tidal like them.

Here, the River Lea became a man-made mesh

of streams and channels to drain the marsh,

a maze for lightermen, of channels through

old waste, today's liquid green corridors.

Count off rivers as you swim: Bow Creek, the Waterworks,

the Channelsea, the City Mill, Hennikers Ditch.

Swimming through time is rough: all swamp

and sewage until the Northern Outfall drain

where you don't swim but give a grateful nod

as you plunge with kingfishers, otters, voles.

 

IV

Backstroke through the past

and remember how Alfred the Great

dug the Channelsea to keep out Danes

and how the mill streams powered on

through centuries. Waterworks were King.

Swoop underwater through the Prescott Channel,

touching pieces of the lost Euston Arch as you go

and break surface among reeds, oak, willow, ash.

Shoot under the stadium itself,

where the little Pudding Mill River runs:

at last dive up into a building shaped like a wave

and swim your heart out, for you are all gold.

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players