Game, set and match - Is poet up to scratch?

LONDON Mon Jun 21, 2010 10:11am BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Performance poet Matt Harvey has the perfect captive audience -- he will be declaiming to the queues at Wimbledon over the next two weeks.

The first ever official poet in residence at the world's most famous tennis tournament, Harvey cannot wait to write about everything from sampling strawberries and cream to sitting in the umpire's chair.

Relishing the literary challenge, he said "The queues cannot go anywhere. I will be out there inflicting my poems on them."

Harvey is no stranger to performing live and under pressure. He has to serve up instant poems about the news on a topical weekly BBC radio show.

But he does confess to pre-tournament nerves before embarking on his most public and ambitious gig at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

"It is very nerve-wracking. I have had a lot of healthy anxiety. I have been scribbling furiously," he said after taking a crash course in Wimbledon rituals at this most genteel of tournaments in this bastion of Middle England.

"I got to sit in the umpire's chair on Centre Court and will be writing from experience. I got to meet the head groundsman and attended training sessions for the ball boys and ball girls," he said.

Harvey will even be waxing lyrical about the resident falcon released every day to dive bomb and deter irreverent pigeons who might be tempted to disturb players on the hallowed Centre Court.

Wimbledon teamed up with the Poetry Trust to create Harvey's unique role. His poems will be published every day on the trust's website-- poetrytrust.org -- and the tournament's official site wimbledon.org.

He cheerfully admits to being star-struck. "Say Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and that is where the word 'awesome' is definitely appropriate."

Harvey is full of admiration for Britain's current official Poet Laureate Caroline Duffy. "She is doing such a great job. People feel poetry is more accessible."

Poetry has certainly inspired the greats of tennis for many years. Inscribed above the players' entrance to the Centre Court are the immortal words from the Rudyard Kipling poem "If."

Before launching onto the sporting field of battle, players are reminded "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat these impostors just the same...."

For his first poem -- "The Grandest of Slams" -- Harvey thought it was time to get to grips straight away with that most challenging of words to rhyme -- Wimbledon -- by writing:

Excuse me. I'm sorry. I speak as an Englishman.

For the game of lawn tennis there's no

better symbol than Wimbledon.

The place where the game's flame was

sparked and then kindled in,

Where so many spines have sat straight

and then tingled in

Wimbledon.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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