The most recent challenge was to submit an ode to a piece of sporting equipment. There is a long and distinguished tradition of verse inspired by sport, going all the way back to Pindar’s odes celebrating ancient Greek athletic achievement. (As London mayor, Boris Johnson commissioned a poem in the style of Pindar to mark the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games.)
Some entries adopted the grand ceremonial tone and structure of classical odes Pindaric, Horatian or Sapphic. Others took the more modern, anything-goes route.
Ian Barker and Philip Machin earn an honourable mention, as does Adrian Fry’s clever, Kipling-esque entry. The winners below are rewarded with £25 each. Sylvia Fairley pockets the bonus fiver.
Your wooden frame with woven leather thongs
made countless schoolgirls long to hold your shaft
while making passes — singing sporting songs,
they’d catch and cradle as they gaily laughed.
They little thought that once there was a day
when warriors had solved disputes through sport
and you were painted, feathered, for the fray
where Cherokee and Choctaw fiercely fought.
Now metal’s in your shaft, your head is plastic,
at times you’re blest with balls of neon green;
the players helmeted, the risks more drastic,
the spirit is competitive and keen.
But do you still recall when braves would spar —
or miss the schoolgirls’ cradling, feel downcast?
A crosse to bear — stick with it, you’ll go far,
for time moves on, you can’t bring back the past.
O rower, with thy firm and earnest air,
Bereft of stern, of prow, of keel, of hull,
To thee the dull slouch must — and oft — repair,
For only on thy seat do sluggards scull:
Whene’er my body’s made a proper horlicks
Of fitness, then do both thy blades bring cheers,
As, with the soothing art of thy hydraulics,
My oars speed past some phantom Chiswick Piers,
Pulled through my paces by a force of will.
Hail to thy pulleys! Hail to thy hidden pistons!
Hail to thy flywheel’s ergometric skill!
Hear as they break this sweating fool’s resistance!
In parallel, my spine and outstretched thigh,
My rowlocks warm, oblivious to chatter —
Ah! see how imagined rivers rush on by,
As, garage-locked, I grace my own regatta.
Much had I travelled in the realms of golf,
And many goodly greens and fairways seen.
I’d chipped, I’d putted, driven and teed off,
For many miles on Good Walks Spoiled had been,
With double, triple bogeys well peed off,
And feeling under par, no longer keen
To hunker in a bunker all day long.
My handicap? A chronic idleness —
O what could heal this wearisome distress?
O Attic shape! To thee belongs this song:
To thee, O Golf Cart! Saviour! Mean machine!
For, charioted by thee, I feel serene,
From tee to tee, transported now with joy,
Invincible, like Styx-dipped brave Achilles,
Who drags the lifeless Hector, doing wheelies,
Triumphant, round the topless towers of Troy.
My heart quakes, and a lousy glumness gains
A hold on me and fills me with dismay,
Then, as my terror mounts and courage wanes,
I feel the sudden urge to run away.
’Tis not through fear of failure, for I see,
Whilst gazing on thy giddy height with dread,
That failure is, like death, a certainty
Were I to brave the task which looms ahead.
Too often have I seen thee standing proud
Before my eyes, a heavy, solid lump
That mocks me while my peers about me crowd,
All jeering, urging me to run and jump!
Thy sombre presence saps my sagging pride,
Just to behold thee drowns me in remorse,
For never shall I clear, with legs astride,
Thy fearsome bulk thou vintage vaulting horse.
Let me be a sit-down athlete.
Let me bundle up inside
This craft to hear the winter wind roar
Out its fandom when I ride.
Down the icy half-pipe racing,
Fleetly flexing let me slide
Through the curves that sling and bob this
Dauntless vessel side-to-side.
Shimmy under me, sleek streaker,
Let me feel that I’m astride
Some mighty surge of nature’s current —
Avalanche or surf’s-up tide.
Hurl me downward. Let the force of
Gravity be all my guide.
Fling me, chill me, high-speed thrill me —
Take me on a bobsleigh ride!
It rests at peace now in a higher place —
The ritual move to loft from understairs —
A wing-nut press obscures its oval face,
As over it drifts dust in deepening layers.
Its time had passed, the age of wooden frames,
Of drum-tight strings and racket with a q,
When tech designs had not yet come to rule,
With all their newly-fashionable names.
Its makers were among the blighted few
With racquets now pathetically old-school.
In truth I too was ready to give way:
The ball and net and court would not align;
My service barely put the ball in play;
The racket blameless: all the faults were mine.
Its fate reminds me, as it ever must,
Of all my sporting dreams that came to dust.
There is a spoof version of ‘Favourite Things’ as it might have been sung by an elderly Julie Andrews (‘Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,/ Walkers and handrails and new dental fitting/ Bundles of magazines tied up in string, These are a few of my favourite things…’) You are invited to -provide your own spoof version of the song for the constituency/demographic of your choice. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 3 October.