«Poetry Olympics»

Poetry Olympics

presents a special anthology issue —
(Number 12)
on the occasion
of the celebration
of the conception
of the first —
— launched from Poets' Corner,
Wenstminster Abbey, London —
on Friday, 26th September, 1980
with readings by
John Cooper Clarke, Gregory Corso, Linton Kwesi Johnson,
Dennis Lee, Edward Limonov, Stephen Spender,
Anne Stevenson and Derek Walcott
— whose poetry and prose are to be read herein —
alongside those of their peers (see back cover) to inform the future of
the —
Poetry Olympics
— with ever
Poetry Olympics Special : Price 75p

// Piedmont, Bisley, near Stroud: «New Departures», 1980,
paperback, 42 p.,
ISBN : 0-902689-08-8,
dimensions: 297⨉210⨉3 mm (DIN A4)



for the dramatised, announcement of the first POETRY OLYMPICS

with an international readings festival, from POETS' CORNER

-- beginning with the voice of Dylan Thomas and Wordsworth on Westminster Bridge

-- followed with consecutive readings by



-- interspersed with renderings by Frances & Michael Horovitz, co-compering from the songs & poetry of Sappho, Blake, Andrei Voznesensky and Bela Akhmadulina.

Programme co-ordinated by Michael Horovitz

New Departures & the Poetry Olympics thank Laurence Baylis, Hugh Davidson, Walter Cairns and the London Poetry Secretariat for their help.

Up Olympus --


For whisper and orchestra

Edward Limonov

(Russia — b. 1943, Kharkov — emigrated to USA 1974, now resident in Paris)

I kiss my Russian Revolution
On her sweaty, boyish light brown locks
Which spill out from under a sailor's hat
or a soldier's sheepskin headpiece.

I kiss her white, Russian hands covered with scratches
I cry and I say:
«My white, white one! My red, red one!
My gay and my beautiful, forgive me!

I've accepted the Georgian general's service cap for you,
All those, military and civilian
Who grew up on your grave,
All those fat and disgusting worms of the grave,
Those whom I am against. And who are against me and my verse!»

I weep for you in New York. In a city of damp Atlantic winds. Where the infection grows endlessly. Where people are slaves in service of lords, who at the same time are slaves, too.

And at night. Me in my dirty hotel. Lonely Russian, dumb. I dream of you, I dream of you all the time. Of you. Who died young and innocent, beautiful, smiling, still alive. With scarlet lips — white neck — tender being. Scratched hands on the strap of a rifle, speaking Russian — my Revolution, my love.

— translation by William Tjalsma


First Poetry Olympics held in Westminster Abbey

Mick Brown

29 September 1980. Ten poets performed polemical poems, romantic ones, inspirational, tedious, long-winded and frankly inane ones.

According to its originator Michael Horovitz, the aim of the Poetry Olympics is to encourage a rebirth of the spirit of Poetry and of the public's interest in it. By that criterion the first Olympics, held in the appropriate and splendid surroundings of Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, must qualify as a success. Ten poets performed (if performing is what poets do) and the pews were packed — a fact due in no small measure to the presence of Gregory Corso, the American Beat poet, and Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Cooper Clarke, whose work in reggae and rock music contexts has opened up poetry to an audience who might otherwise keep it at more than arm's length.

The spirit of poetry aside, what the Olympics did show was the highly variegated and diversely shaped condition of the body. There were polemical poems, romantic ones, inspirational, tedious, long-winded and frankly inane ones. Russian emigre Edward Limonoz provided bitter-sweet comment on the state of the Russian Revolution; Dennis Lee from Canada, whose kaftan and beard actually gave him the impression of someone impersonating a poet, delivered whimsical nonsense about pixies; while the American Ann Stevenson gave us a poem called Swifts, perhaps the most quietly celebratory and life-affirming work to be heard all evening, in which simple truths surfaced with a natural and unforced elegance.

Perhaps in honour of the occasion there were a lot of paeans to the nobility of poetry and poets; earnest, self-congratulatory stuff of the sort which only serves to maintain the image of poetry as some sort of private club — on this occasion Gregory Corso was playing the reprobate with a sardonic attack on Ginsberg and Bob Dylan for selling out the Muse. A rumpled-looking man wearing patrician glasses and one gold-earring, Corso was greeted with thunderous applause but proceeded to understay his welcome, dropping only a few finely chiselled aphorisms and some wryly humorous verse before leaving the stage as if he had a bus to catch.

Edward Limonov

Gregory Corso, with Edward Limonov and Michael Horowitz, 1980. Photograph: Jane Bown

Linton Kwesi Johnson began by gently reprimanding Michael Horovitz for introducing him as «a spokesman of the black population» but delivered poems about the condition of life in the black community in Britain which rang with passion, anger and enormous dignity. Even without musical accompaniment Johnson's delivery, in Jamaican creole dialect, is hypnotically rhythmic.

If Johnson's contributions proved the most sobering, of the evening, John Cooper Clarke's were to be the most irreverent. With purple suit, sunglasses and a hair-cut that looked startled to find itself in such august surroundings, Clarke proved a specialist at the 100-metre dash which is a jumble of surrealist nonsense, wisecracks and disposable wrappers from the pop culture delivered in a lugubrious Mancunian cackle. The other poets looked a bit put out when he pulled a hate poem called Twat literally out of a plastic bag — «like a death at a birthday party you have to spoil the fun.» But it must he a long time since anything heard in Westminster Abbey has provoked so much laughter from a congregation.

Horovitz now plans to make the Olympics a regular event to be held at four-yearly intervals in Delphi, the legendary home of the Nine Muses. Cooper Clarke provided a strong argument for holding the next one in Salford.

«The Guardian», September 29, 1980

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