Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Olympic Flame as Metaphor

Yesterday evening the Olympic torch, carrying the flame lit using a concave mirror at Mount Olympus in Greece and heading to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at Vancouver, came to Hamilton as part of the relay that brought the symbolic spirit of those Games to many of the communities throughout the land. (Whew, what a mouthful of words that is!) Although it was cold and dark, I decided to go and take part in the festivities. Just to be able to say I did, you know. Like dipping your foot in the ocean when you're on the coast. And it was taking place only a few blocks from my home.

Several thousand enthusiastic supporters had gathered. There was music by several local artists. There was another creating a painting on stage. A troupe of acrobats cavorted. Drummers drummed. There was video when the stage wasn't monitored. And always the words from the sponsors and their displays and their hand outs.

The flame arrived as and when it was supposed to. Stirring speeches were made. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So what's it all about? Symbol and metaphor, the stuff of poetry. There was no poetry there last night even though the event (to my mind) cried out for something to embody that symbol, to use it in its full metaphorical context. I wondered if that had ever been done; someone must have put their mind to it but, unlike the record books, was any trace left?

Later at home I researched my question. (Alright, I googled "Olympic poetry.") I discovered some interesting facts. The early Olympic games in Greece BCE was a combination of several regional contests; one of those had included competitions of poetry and rhetoric. Imagine, barrel-chested men roaring poetry to an audience or to each other! And then I discovered a proposal to reinstate this at the London Games in 2012 with a poetry slam! Hmmmmm.

On a more realistic note, the Australian poet Mark O'Connor had written a series of poems about the Sydney Games as they were happening. What's more, he was supported with a grant by the Aussie government; the IOC, which he did approach, wanted nothing to do with an "official" poet, a sort of Sport Poet Laureate." Among the poems Mark created are two dealing with the torch. One is called "Torch Running," about the relay as it passes from place to place. The other is titled "The Olympic Torch As Metaphor."

That takes the necessity out of my hands! Only goes to show.

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