Slam Co-ordinator Sam Berkson kicks of the Shake the Dust – Poetry & Sport Category with this fantastic blog post, and we love it, so read on…

Did you know that poetry was an Olympic sport? That’s right, the Ancient Greek Olympics were a religious festival in which the best in arts and sport were offered up to the most important of the gods, who all lived on Mount Olympia. The greatest poets composed work for the occasion, and were judged in a competition, not unlike a slam…but in ancient Greek.

So for the Greeks, poetry and the arts, and sport were all part of the same thing. All was the expression of the best in human achievement. A great line of poetry moves us as the graceful power of Usain Bolt, as a dip of the shoulder by Lionel Messi, as the perfect arc in the flight of a well-thrown javelin.

Sport and art are not so far apart. As the great Trinidadian historian, C.L.R. James wrote in his excellent book on cricket, Beyond a Boundary, the difference is only that sport  “is limited in variety of range, of subject matter. It cannot express the emotions of an age on the nature of the last judgment or the wiping out of a population by bombing. It must repeat.”

However, says James, sport is an art form because, “what it repeats is the original stuff out of which everything visually or otherwise artistic is quarried. … we may some day be able to answer … ‘what is art?’ – but only when we learn to integrate our vision of Walcott on the back foot through the covers with the outstretched arm of the Olympic Apollo.”

Sam Berkson | East London Area Coordinator, Hammer & Tongue