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Olympic Poem

Poetry will have a place at this summer’s Olympic Games in London thanks to the Winning Words program, conceived of by National Poetry Day founder William Sieghart. Sieghart is working with London’s Olympic organizing groups to display poetry throughout the city’s Olympic Park. The project aims to bring some of the history of the park to life while also drawing attention to poetry itself.

Wild Swimmer

By Jo Shapcott


Open this box


dive in



you are mostly water


in your element



Surface in the Bow Back Rivers, quite at home

because you are small and tidal like them.

Here, the River Lea became a man-made mesh

of streams and channels to drain the marsh,

a maze for lightermen, of channels through

old waste, today's liquid green corridors.

Count off rivers as you swim: Bow Creek, the Waterworks,

the Channelsea, the City Mill, Hennikers Ditch.

Swimming through time is rough: all swamp

and sewage until the Northern Outfall drain

where you don't swim but give a grateful nod

as you plunge with kingfishers, otters, voles.



Backstroke through the past

and remember how Alfred the Great

dug the Channelsea to keep out Danes

and how the mill streams powered on

through centuries. Waterworks were King.

Swoop underwater through the Prescott Channel,

touching pieces of the lost Euston Arch as you go

and break surface among reeds, oak, willow, ash.

Shoot under the stadium itself, 

where the little Pudding Mill River runs:

at last dive up into a building shaped like a wave 

and swim your heart out, for you are all gold.

Earlier Event: June 27
Poetry Parnassus
Later Event: September 15
Inside / Outside (residential course)