Well, as far as I’m concerned it does. In poetry circles the word ‘Olympics’ is irrevocably associated with Michael Horovitz, who has been staging his Poetry Olympics events since 1959 – most famously the International Poetry Incarnation in 1965, when he and Allen Ginsberg filled the entire Royal Albert Hall and put on a massive poetry spectacular. (The film of this event, Peter Whitehead’s Wholly Communion, is required viewing; it used to be on YouTube but has been reissued by the BFI, and if anyone has a spare copy I’ll happily take delivery of it.) I mean, there were just over 2,000 people at this year’s TS Eliot reading in the Royal Festival Hall, which is tremendous. But the Royal Albert Hall holds over 5,000 and on that day in May 1965 it was packed out.
That was 53 Poetry Olympics ago. ‘Torchbearer’ Michael Horovitz is nothing if not a busy man.
This week’s event is an Olympic torch in an Olympic year, in an Olympic city, and it’s the Olympian torch of poetry and music and words and performance, in the non-corporate Greek spirit, and in the puckish spirit of Socrates at his busiest, corrupting the young.
If I weren’t teaching I would be there; as it is I might try and go along after my class – it’s no disrespect to them, bless them, but I’m a bit gutted to miss this one. And it may, just may, be the only chance you’ll ever get to see Damon Albarn, Molly Parkin and Steven Berkoff on one stage (I know people who might think that was a good thing! But it’s still a reason to go). It’s also a chance to warm up for the Southbank’s Poetry Parnassus festival in the last week in June, with poets from all the countries participating in the (sport) Olympics – ut first, this time, with a homegrown crew. Children of Albion arise and get ye to the South Bank!