Lucy Vickery

This sporting life

In Competition No. 3066 you were invited 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.
Sylvia Fairley
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.

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