In the days of the ancient Greeks, poetry and sport went hand in hand at athletic festivals like the Olympics. Poets sang the praises of athletic champions and, at some festivals, even competed in official events, reciting or playing the lyre. Here at NPR, we're reviving that tradition with our own Poetry Games.
From the far reaches of the globe, we've invited poets to compose original works celebrating athletes and athletics. Each morning we'll read a new poem on Morning Edition; you can find all five poems right now by scrolling down this page. It will be up to you, our audience, to judge who wins the victor's crown. Cast your vote using the voting tool below.
Voting has closed. Check back later this week for an interview with the winning poet!
I have been dreaming
writing into a sport
in the Olympic Games
that is called, tentatively
in which I'd give
my simplest performance
the lightest and the liveliest
till it flies
lifting me, weightless
into a sky
It was my feet. They were oversized for my age, restless
and strong enough to do more than pick fruit or sell fish.
For kicks, in my hometown of two thousand, I tried taekwondo. I was five.
The neighbors, they thought of me as marimacha.
Women around me were tough, but they were no tomboys.
Dad, a fisherman by trade, was undeterred. He's good at cultivating.
He and I, we're driven people. The kind that look
beyond the horizon—westward and eastward in step.
Hence we outgrew the dirt roads of La Brecha (The Gap) in Sinaloa.
Did I choose the art; was it the art that chose me?
But for a white uniform, I had the essentials.
This was my calling: self-defense for which you needed no arms. Only fists.
Rock solid. And limber limbs and a feistiness
not antagonistic. Think dealing blows so less blows
are dealt — aiming to stop the fight, but not destroy your rival, your equal.
Where I am from, some folks do things differently.
My way's the way of the hand and foot, and unity
of purpose. On the tatami, I write their bodily calligraphy.
If a great idea is translated into a body,
Then Greg Louganis is an Einstein.
If a body is translated into a great idea,
Einstein is tralala oompah.
Which gods do chess grandmasters dream about?
It is time, my love, we all participate
In this outrageous activity.
Let bankers with pacemakers run the marathon.
Let naked sumo wrestlers decide our common fate.
Let us pierce the concrete with our heads.
Every time it's a top score
And we are in no hurry to get anywhere.
Translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry
My flat breath grows flatter. Who am I now, thick in the tricks
the body plays? No matter.
The fact of this day on fire and these arms twisted
in the effort to master another
draws me in time breathless to the afternoons as a boy slick
with sweat and laughter,
horizontal in a spin, one of us in control
and the other on his back and bested.
Later I would read in heaven's books
how my body was wrong, though limber and strong.
In the web of our efforts I aim to fix a position
where the other's strength ebbs and mine kicks in.
Strength splintered to pieces,
a shard in the other we each struggle to reach.
We give in turn, strip down and shift.
I reach for one limb with my right hand, grip harder to another with my left.
Our bodies flash their thunder and lack.
I strain for what I'm owed. I read heaven its riot act.
There is life here
Beneath the surface tension
bones, dreams and splintered muscles
and those that may never be replaced.
Pulling the weight of it,
you do not tread the water wounded
and in retreat
By the determined strokes of fate
you swim your own race
The shoulder of your strength leaning
against the turn —
the eye that didn't see that day,
stopping the clock on the vision of your time.
You continue to beat
into the heart of the spectacle
Manchester City, Beijing, Athens and London.
In no ordinary silence
do we watch
our own feared hopes waking
and now, breathless
in awe —
you are unforgettable.
Woman of scars, and triumph
the dance is fluid
tears of loss flowing
towards your many firsts
You are the Order of Ikhamanga
beautiful and unique
among the baobabs of the land
Your shape shifting,
The disabled-abled body
untempered by its tests —
"if you want to get there, you go on"
You have already won
You always do
And we do too
We are the believers.
The message in its possibility:
A new freestyle,
And in your own lane.