The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is about to open – and alongside the adventure playground, flower meadow, riverscape and café you’ll find poetry from Carol Ann Duffy, Lemn Sissay, Jo Shapcott and others incised into walls, paving and benches. Among the ‘others’ are the young winners of the Children’s Legacy Poems competition.
I feel privileged to have worked with these young writers. Joseph Coelho and I spent May and June in schools in the five Olympic boroughs encouraging children to balance on crocodiles’ tails (or beams, if you must), run across swamps, hop over rocks in streams of molten lava and tiptoe past sleeping dragons in order to write adventure poems inspired by the Olympic Park. The schools submitted their entries and we chose thirteen winners, with the results published in a booklet produced by the Legacy List. Lines from the two outstanding poems will be reproduced in some form within the park.
Joining us on the judging panel was Jo Bell, Canal Laureate 2013. At the prizegiving she described poetry as holding a magnifying glass up to the world, or a holding of hands between writer and reader… ‘Poets notice things and try to say them in a way that makes others see the world differently.’
Joseph, Jo and I all wrote our own Olympic Park Adventure poems, and here is mine.
Hide and seek in Tumbling Bay
One, two, three… and I was whooshing
down a blade of grass as broad as a dragon’s tail,
dodging through a forest of stalks
each as tall as the Great Scots Pine,
climbing a mesh of green laces
to the top of a swaying fern
then hooking my fingers round a frond
and dangling like an Olympic gymnast,
hand over hand, towards the trembling edge. I jumped…
and landed on a spot on the smooth red shell
of a ladybird’s wing, clinging to the rim
as we flew through the blue to the bell of a foxglove
that smelled like my grandmother’s hair.
We battled a bumblebee in a clash of antennae
then swooped away, trees and paths and river
like a map below us. I let go, dived downwards
to a trampoline of turf, rolling over and over
to escape the stomping feet of dinosaur children,
the rough pink cliff of a tongue, panting and wet.
Quick! Hide! Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred…