National Poetry Day: Heroes and Heroines

You're simply the best,
Better than all the rest,
Better than anyone,
Anyone I've ever met!

I'm stuck on your heart,
I hang on every word you say
Tear us apart, baby
I would rather be dead

OK, I've chosen lyrics rather than a conventional poem for National Poetry Day, but they're relevant for the heroes and heroines story I'm going to tell you about. I'm showing you a picture from the Special Olympics opening ceremony in Dublin in 2003 and that's world hero Nelson Mandela, in the white top, officially opening the proceedings just after being led onto the stage by Bono from U2. Imagine how I felt to be there experiencing that for real!

I was one of 30,000 volunteers helping 7,000 athletes with special needs from around the world to realise their full potential and focus on the things they could do for once. The Irish nation took every one of them to their hearts and I had the privilege of looking after Bahrain's ladies basketball team. It was 10 days of competition in various venues, with the finals day being held in the Irish National Basketball Centre. Everyone was considered a hero and as each team was called forward for their awards ceremony, we volunteers linked arms around the basketball court and sang and danced our hearts out as the strains of Tina Turner's Simply the Best, the above words in particular, were belted out over the loud speakers.

The company I worked for at the time sponsored me and I was also invited to write a daily diary for publication on their intranet (i.e. private internet): it was my first experience of something close to blogging I suppose. You can read my diary in full and see further pictures if you visit here.

Flighty is compiling the blogger's response to National Poetry Day today, so you'll find many more Heroes and Heroines there. And here's my piece from last year's National Poetry Day - one of my notoriously bad poems, but also with a discussion of a far better one ;)

Update: I've just heard on the news that T.S. Eliot's been voted the nation's favourite poet and I have to agree. We studied The Wasteland in the sixth form (those of us studying science still had to continue with English Literature), but my first encounter with him was much earlier. It's a poem I chose to read out loud in my second year at secondary school, which I still love reading today because it's such an evocative piece.

Preludes (I)

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.



  1. I think your chosen lyrics are perfect... poignant meaning for many.
    I enjoyed reading about your special day too. Very moving and perfectly fitting the National Poetry Day topic!

  2. Hi Daffy - thanks for coming over from Flighty's :)

    I'm detecting a theme with my National Poetry Day posts [and Muse Day for that matter] - I can't just publish a poem and let you react to it in your own way, I have to tell you a story about it too! Perhaps if JAS lifted my bad poetry ban, I could tell you about it in bad verse instead ;)

  3. Interesting. I've always thought of Eliot as an American poet. After all, he was a boy from St. Louis, Missouri. It hadn't occurred to me that the British would also claim him as their own. But he did move to England and take on a definite affectation of being "other" than what he was born to - with good reason (I could do the same myself). Okay, he's "universal". Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shanti, shanti, shanti.

  4. I heard about T.S. Eliot on the news too - and instantly didn't believe it. I don't even think many people read his poetry - though those who do tend to be ardent about it. I'm puzzled about why he was chosen. Was it because the the people who chose him came from a narrow constituency or because they muddle T.S. Eliot with Andrew Lloyd Webber?

    About James' comment - T.S. Eliot is so thoroughly considered 'English' that I doubt many people even know (or if they do, they don't often remember) that he was born in America.

    It's a bit like Churchill. He was as much American as English.

    VP, I have mentioned you on today's Esther's Boring Garden Blog. Hope that's ok.


  5. Wonderful post, VP! I really enjoyed it, and of course the Eliot poem. Here in America, we recognize that Eliot chose to become "more English than the English," but we still consider him an American poet! How wonderful to actually get to see Nelson Mandela live.

  6. James - I remember being so surprised when I found out he was American. And I owned the Faber & Faber edition of his collected poems for years without knowing how closely he was involved with the company. Sometimes I feel so ignorant. Yes, a most universal poet and I love your reference :)

    BTW we covered quite a lot of American Literature in that class at school - Arthur Miller, Thorton Wilder and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Co-incidentally, we read The Great Gatsby which is The Big Read book chosen for this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival.

    PS I've also published a review of Dan Pearson's latest book on Amazon after your inspirational post. I do hope you enjoy his talk.

    Esther - I suspect Lloyd Webber had a lot to do with it, but then the first poem NAH learnt by heart was Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat. And he can still recite it too. I told him about an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival next week in praise of Old Possum and he's changed from not being interested in the festival at all, to wanting to go. If there's quite a few people like him that feel that way, then perhaps that explains today's vote results.

    Also Eliot is referenced by so many others (The groups Genesis and Crash Test Dummies spring immediately to mind), and Robert Webb did that TV programme on Prufrock recently (sorry you won't have seen it, it was very good and he explained how much of an impression the poem made on him at school), so maybe that's stuck around in people's minds too.

    Thanks for the mention - I enjoyed your post immensely, but need time for a comment to do your entry justice :)

    OFB - the T.S. Eliot link I've given is to the nobel laureate site, so he's a giant of world literature, not just English and American! And yes, we were all screaming our heads off when Nelson Mandela took to the stage, especially as he came on whilst U2 were playing Beautiful Day

  7. Oops - that should read Thornton Wilder of course.

  8. How wonderful this experience must have been, VP! The Special Olympics are very well-organized here, too, and many events are held on our local University campus. Such a worthy cause, and I've known a few of the athletes who participated--it's an exciting and rewarding time for them.

    I really enjoyed this passage you chose from Eliot. I was always bit confused--was Eliot American or British:) "The Wasteland" was difficult even for this English major to understand, but I was moved by much of his poetry. And then, of course, there are his poems about cats:)

    Enjoyed your L post, too! Too bad Lackham doesn't keep up with its grounds; I agree, there's the perfect opportunity for some volunteer gardeners.

  9. Hi Rose - he was born in America in 1888, but moved to England when quite young - in the 1920s I think. He became a British citizen in 1927 and died in 1965, so he was 'British' for slightly longer than he was American!

    As for The Wasteland no-one could bring it alive as well as our English teacher Miss Mulenger did. I still imitate her reading the Hurry up please it's time! passage (in a cockney accent followed by a very deep voice for Goodnight ladies...) to this very day.

  10. Do ignore my cr*p maths (or math, depending on your peruasion) 1927-1888 = 39 years American; 1965-1927 = 38 years British!

  11. Let's not forget that quite a few owners name their cats after their favourite Old Possum cat(s). We did for one and so has Jodi over at Bloomingwriter. I can't remember all of Yolanda's current long list of names, but I bet if there isn't one now, there has been in the past...

  12. Fascinating post. Thanks!

    Everyone's been brilliant with their nat poet contributions and that makes me feel lazy and stupid.

    But Eliot? A great poet, no question, but it's such a surprise to hear, today, that he's been voted top dog. After all, he's not the most accessible or widely read - apart from that bloody cat thing.

    I wonder, if you stopped a man on a Clapham omnibus and asked him where the quote 'I will show you fear in a handful of dust' came from, what he'd say.

    If anything, it possibly demonstrates how pointless these polls are. I mean what do you say when someone asks you what your favourite plant is?

  13. Nige - well said and I wonder if the 'choice' was made to stir things up a bit, just like it has here? After all, NAH and I rarely discuss poetry and we have done so much today :)

    I expect last year's chosen favourite poem (If), just had most people nodding their heads wisely rather than having a discussion.

    As for your question - er, it was bad enough when JAS asked us to provide a list of 6 last year, though I have said my signature plant is Heuchera...

  14. Hi VP, it's not to everybody's taste, but I'm a sucker for John Donne. Studied him for A level and always retained a soft spot. Here's Sweetest love, I do not go

    Sweetest love, I do not go,

    For weariness of thee,

    Nor in hope the world can show

    A fitter love for me;

    But since that I

    Must die at last, 'tis best

    To use myself in jest

    Thus by feign'd deaths to die.

    Yesternight the sun went hence,

    And yet is here today;

    He hath no desire nor sense,

    Nor half so short a way:

    Then fear not me,

    But believe that I shall make

    Speedier journeys, since I take

    More wings and spurs than he.

    O how feeble is man's power,

    That if good fortune fall,

    Cannot add another hour,

    Nor a lost hour recall!

    But come bad chance,

    And we join to'it our strength,

    And we teach it art and length,

    Itself o'er us to'advance.

    When thou sigh'st, thou sigh'st not wind,

    But sigh'st my soul away;

    When thou weep'st, unkindly kind,

    My life's blood doth decay.

    It cannot be

    That thou lov'st me, as thou say'st,

    If in thine my life thou waste,

    That art the best of me.

    Let not thy divining heart

    Forethink me any ill;

    Destiny may take thy part,

    And may thy fears fulfil;

    But think that we

    Are but turn'd aside to sleep;

    They who one another keep

    Alive, ne'er parted be.

  15. Oh, but Martyn - it's a wolf of a poem dressed in moonshine clothing.

    I've not read it before so my immediate rebellion may be misplaced . . . but it looks like the song of a cad to me . . . along with 'So, We'll Go No More a Roving' by Byron and 'You Were Always on My Mind' by Elvis Presley.

    This doesn't stop it being a good poem - certainly it doesn't stop it being your favourite poem . . . but . . .


  16. Ha, VP, your comment about your teacher's dramatic reading brought my mother immediately to mind. She read me Eliot, Yeats, Hopkins, Donne, and Dylan Thomas from the cradle, and would break into song for "that Shakespehearian rag." By the time I was old enough to hold a book, she was having me read it all to her. No doubt that's why I've been composing poetry since age two!

  17. Lovely post and lyrics!
    Thanks for joining in the fun and giving me a linked mention.
    I'll do the same in my weekend follow up post 'More Heroes and Heroines'. xx

  18. Even in such a tiny photo - you can see the dignity and presence of our Madiba.

  19. Off to write out my favourite poem WB Yeats, you'll know it! But come on over anyway. xx

  20. The Special Olympics opening ceremony must have been one special day VP. I have enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. I have a most battered copy of TS Eliot's "Selected Poems'' which formed part of our 'A' level English Literature syllabus. It is peppered with my penciled notes and regularly comes out out of the bookshelf all these years later. Your Miss Mulenger should have met our Mr Jackson who also bought the '"Hurry Up please it's time'' section from "The Wasteland" to life most vividly. I have scribbled a note that the "Good Night, ladies, goodnight, sweet ladies,goodnight,goodnight" is a reference to Ophelia's last words in Hamlet.

  21. Martyn - a poem? For me? How kind. Vic Reeves recited the first verse on Breakfast News in his very arch, knowing manner :)

    Esther - perhaps that's why Vic Reeves recited it in the way that he did...

    OFB - two! Your were a child prodigy then :)

    Flighty - thanks for the mention today :)

    EE - I had no idea that's that he's called Madiba in South Africa. I love the way these snippets come out when you blog!

    Carrie - that's a superb poem you chose for your wedding day :)

    Anna - thanks for another great snippet!

    Everyone - I love how poetry really got us going about so many things. It's refreshing to have a non-gardening chat for once :D

  22. Just to let you know, I've now put a National Poetry post on Esther's Boring Garden Blog.


  23. Esther - I've had a look and I think I'll be conjuring up a response to you and some other comments I've had here and on the MORI-poll post over the next few days :)


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