Ashes poet prepares to resurrect tradition of cricketing English bards

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The Independent Online

As befits a sport of gentle rhythms and golden summer afternoons, cricket can boast more than its fair share of distinguished poet fans. Betjeman was inspired by the sound of leather on willow, as was A A Milne.

"Revered, beloved, O you whose job is but to serve throughout the season, To make, if so be it, a blob," wrote A A Milne in a defiant ode to his trusty cricket bat, while A E Housman once reflected gloomily on the dawn of a new season: "Now in Maytime to the wicket, Out I march with bat and pad, See the son of grief at cricket, Trying to be glad."

The Arts Council is seeking to revive the tradition when England begins its defence of the Ashes in Australia next week. The organisation disclosed yesterday it had appointed its first official cricket tour poet-in-residence for the series - a post to be taken up by the Derbyshire poet and novelist David Fine.

Fine has taken the plunge into sport before. He contributed The Old Trafford Treatment Room Chant to the "Football Poets" project, which is helping to get children interested in poetry. Composed to the rhythm of the conga (and slightly dated since the Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney's recovery from the injury) it goes: "Meta-meta-metatarsal, Meta-meta-metatarsal!"

Whether England win or lose, Fine's Ashes output will be more substantial. The former social worker will write 25 poems, one for each day's play of the series. The poems will be published on a website set up for the project and also broadcast with a talk from the poet via the BBC website for Derby.

"Wordsworth, Tennyson, Betjeman, Housman, Chesterton and Hughes have all gone out to bat for cricket, in verse," said Fine, who was inspired to suggest the idea to the Arts Council while listening to cricket when he was ill this year. "A line is a ball, a rhyme perhaps a wicket."

The poet, who is contributing £3,000 to the project, cited the former England fast bowler, John Snow, who published a collection of poetry in the early 1970s, as an example of the sport's tendency to inspire poetry. Even England's Barmy Army of followers were poetic he said, contributing 41 chants and songs for last year's Ashes tour.

He might also have mentioned Sir Henry Newbolt's anthem of death,Vitai Lampada: "There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight, Ten to make and the match to win", or Sir John Major, who recently had his Cricket Prayer read on the Today programme: "Oh, Lord, if I must die today, Please make it after close of play."

And, perhaps most appropriately considering England's recent form, there was Siegfried Sassoon's The Extra Inch: "O Batsman, rise and go and stop the rot, And go and stop the rot. It was indeed a rot. Six down for twenty-three."

Fine, who has been writing poetry for 18 years, will fly to Australia on Sunday.

Poetry inspired by cricket

VITAI LAMPADA Henry Newbolt

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight

Ten to make and the match to win

... The sand of the desert is sodden red,

Red with the wreck of a square that broke...

But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:

"Play up! play up! and play the game."

AT LORD'S Francis Thompson

And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,

And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host

As the run stealers flicker to and fro,

To and fro:

O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

MISSED P G Wodehouse

The sun in the heavens was eaming,

The breeze bore an odour of hay,

My flannels were spotless and gleaming,

My heart was unclouded and gay;

The ladies, all gaily apparelled,

Sat round looking on at the match,

In the tree-tops the dicky-birds carolled,

All was peace - till I bungled that catch.

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