Wimbledon poet serves ace verse

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News


There is a new sound at Wimbledon this year amid the thwak of tennis balls and the genteel munching of strawberries.

It is the sound of poetry.

"Bounce bounce bounce bounce/ thwackety wackety zingety ping/ hittety backety pingety zang/ wack, thwok, thwack, pok."

These are the opening lines from Thwok! by Matt Harvey, the first poet-in-residence at the annual two-week tennis extravaganza.

"Thwok! is my generic tennis poem," says Harvey, whose remit includes writing a poem a day and entertaining the queues.

"I inflicted it on some people on Henman Hill this morning. I picked them especially because they had two bottles of bubbly already open. I told them I was included in the ticket price."

It's a boiling hot afternoon in London's SW19, and Harvey is flicking through his book of scribbled inspiration. He carries it everywhere.

"There's a long list of things I'd like to cover: the umpires, the ball boys and girls, the Boston ivy, the queues. I need to include strawberries, and so many people say Cliff Richard - so yes okay, Cliff Richard is going to appear in there."

A regular on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live and a lifelong tennis fan, Harvey's verses are appearing online (on the Wimblewords blog) and in podcasts.

So does his official status at Wimbledon give him access all areas? Harvey flourishes the photo-pass around his neck.

"I have access to everywhere except the show courts and the players' dressing rooms. Technically that means I can look into their thoughts," he deadpans. "I've tried it and not one of the players has tried to stop me."

He adds: "I haven't met any of the big names and there are no particular plans, though I'd like to meet Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe."

Harvey has had a few "privileged meetings" ("the head gardener gave me lots of esoteric lore about the grass courts") but he's not spent much time watching the tennis.

But he did catch some of the epic Centre Court clash between Roger Federer and Alejandro Falla on day one.

"It was extraordinary," says Harvey. "It's not really my brief to write about the drama on the court, but I have this image of Falla as a bounty hunter, with a wanted poster of Federer in his pocket."

Harvey extracts a poetic fragment from his book: "Fed's effort was concerted/ disaster was averted/ the tennis world order as we know it reasserted..."

The poet-in-residence role was created via the Poetry Trust from an idea by the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.

Escaping the heat outside, Harvey leads the way down into the cool museum galleries where he has found much of his inspiration.

One poem in progress is about how women's tennis fashions have changed. He stops at a display containing some elaborate undergarments.

"I want to have a look at that journey from petticoats and stays and corsets. They were dressed for an English garden party," says Harvey.

"I'm interested in that period when it began to be okay to show flesh and women began to to move with freedom - it's very symbolic."

The Totnes-based poet remains modest about his own contributions to the world's most famous tennis championship.

"I see my role as being quite peripheral. I've been a bit taken aback by all the attention. I've had more attention in the last couple of days than I've had in my whole career."

He confesses to be a little worried that he's not spending enough time actually writing.

"I've got a little space in the open plan offices above the museum - and I also have access to the library. I'm going to spend a good four hours trying to be a diligent wordsmith."

How's his tennis play compared to his word play?

"I'm absolutely magnificent," he says, straight-faced. "Put this: 'He has the backhand of a much younger man.'"

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.