Poet files #11

Linford Christie, secret romantic

The poets are always telling us that poetry is an integral element in what it is to be human. They say poetry is hardwired into our brains. It’s part of how we learn to speak, and its “heightened” or “patterned,” qualities, and its celebratory or incantatory powers come back to us when we need them most, at those moments in life when we most need the community – or attention – of others.

The poet James Fenton, in his excellent little book An Introduction to English Poetry, says that that word, “heightened,” may even be taken literally, as in raising one’s voice – that poetry is originally – and still, in other cultures – a means of making oneself heard. “The voice is raised, and that is where poetry begins.”

If we take these pundits at their word, it is no surprise to find that poetry extends into the world of championship-level sport.

Yes, for no less a personage than Linford Christie –  100-metre gold-medalist in all four major championships, the most decorated athlete in British history, the first European to break the 10-second barrier in 100 metres, OBE and former BBC Sports Personality of the year – that Linford Christie is now revealed to be a bit of a scribbler himself.

Oh yes.

For he was commandeered to give a bit of moral cheer to this year’s European Championships team, some of whom he was mentoring, and he did it with two poems. One of them, you could have predicted, was If Desiderata; the other was a poem of his own, called Barcelona 1992.

Athlete Jessica Ennis said: “It was inspiring. He wrote his own poem – oh my god I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling you this – and then he read another poem by someone else. His poem was about his experiences in Barcelona and going out there and how he performed. It was quite short but it was really funny.”

Kind of like Desiderata, then.

According to the Telegraph: “Christie clearly finds verse a more comfortable medium than speech for it was, by all accounts, so stirring that athletes have been asking him for a copy ever since. He is minded to bring out a collection.”

With a humility we might be happy to see from more poets, the champion said: “Now that there is all this interest maybe I will, but it’s just really trying to help the boys and girls to get the best out of themselves.”

But he might be jumping the gun here – I gather everyone’s asking for a copy of his inspirational ode, but nobody’s seen it yet.

We constantly hear in the poetry world that no one likes poetry, that poetry is ‘dead’. Poppycock. Poetry is in fact everywhere: wherever you go, if you scratch the surface you find a poet. Poet Files is an exclusive series in which Baroque in Hackney scrutinises the unlikely, and finds the secret poetry lurking there. Look for it every Saturday morning.

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