Wimbledon Championships Poet 2010

Poem Archive


   By Matt Harvey

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Sunday 4 July

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

This is my final poem of the Fortnight. It's a hymn to Centre Court. Quite a long hymn, to be honest - and one with footnotes. But bear with it. One of the footnotes rhymes. As it's my last post I'd like to take the opportunity to say a big thank you - THANK YOU - to everyone who has followed the Wimblewords blog. It was a bold and innovative decision on Wimbledon's part to invite a poet to savour and celebrate this great festival of tennis, and I thank you for your warm comments, for your poems, and for your generous welcome. Coming to the Championships and being made to feel part of things, however peripherally, has been a real treat. I am one lucky poet.


a lawn is made

   By Matt Harvey

a lawn is made

they say the great players
are not made, they're born
but this Centre Court lawn
where great players have played
was not born but made

and this lawn wasn't laid
it's alive
and it's grown
it's scarified back
to its basal node
then this lawn's oversown
then it's rolled and it's mown
and it's mown and it's rolled
and it's rolled
and it's mown
and it's not left alone

not this lawn

you'll never see bunch grasses, tufts, tussocks, clumps
you won't ever see the most minimal humps
it's smooth sod1, it's mat, and it's ever so flat
(you won't see another lawn flatter than that)

it's way beyond tidy - it's practically 2D
and the height of each blade will not ever exceed
the eight millimetres that Eddie's3 decreed

did ever a lawn get such care and attention?
any worm turning up would lose one whole dimension

was ever a lawn quite so nurtured and humoured
and hoovered it's rumoured - it's true I can prove it

and even when the weather's fine
the Met Office is on the line
to tell the team who tend the grass
each tremor of the isobars
each incremental pressure change
the short-term odds of sun and rain

did ever any lawn receive
such close attention to its needs
bespoke mixes of soil and seeds
- of Pontiac and Jessica -
the sheer unlikelihood of weeds

it's coddled and cosseted, sampled and sounded
just to be buffeted, trampled and pounded

it's so pampered and sprinkled and tampered and tinkered with
under surveillance and overprotected
blades ritually counted, imbalance corrected
monitored, measured, nourished and cherished
analysed, sanitised, fertilised, squirtilised
scrutinised, and fungicidally sprayed...

and all for the sake of a game being played

no, this lawn is not laid
and it's not born
it's made


1 just as now we say 'love'
where once we said 'l'oeuf'2
we used to say 'sod'
whereas now we say 'turf'

2 it's believed that the origin of the term 'love' in tennis' scoring system is from the French l'oeuf (source: Wimbledon Museum)

3 Eddie Seaward, Head Groundsman at Wimbledon

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'a lawn is made'



Saturday 3 July

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

Having said I'm not here to write about the unfolding on-court dramas, here is a verse Preview of the Ladies Singles Final between Serena Williams and Vera Zvonareva. I'm losing it slightly in the final days of the Fortnight and this is my only explanation (not an apology, mind) for having written it in the rhythm of Longfellow's ‘Song of Hiawatha' - which, bizarrely, keeps recurring in my head like an eighties' dance track. Probably best to go straight to the audio on this one...


Ladies’ Singles Final

   By Matt Harvey

it's Serena versus Vera -
Williams v. Zvonareva
honours even, all to play for
could the upshot be an upset?
Vera's nearer than a lot get

still she won't just play Serena
but Serena's mighty aura
this can make Serena seem a
meaner prospect, that's why Vera
's really got to go for shots that
she knows that she might not get yet
it's her best bet - take the battle
to Serena, and unsettle
her opponent, grasp the nettle

might Serena Williams waver
in the face of Zvonareva?
or might Vera wilt and falter
as Serena's serves assault her
will Serena be in clover
and roll Zvonareva over
or contrariwise might Vera
take Serena to the cleaners?

well, with Elena Vesnina
she beat Venus and Serena
in the Ladies' Doubles quarters
so Serena really oughta
fear a Vera Zvonareva
upset - she knows she could not get
a more ominous opponent

which of them will seize the moment?

Williams v. Zvonareva
honours even - all to play for

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Ladies’ Singles Final'



Friday 2 July

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

I'm not sure if this latest offering is one poem in nine sections or nine poems with one title. It's all about the umpire, looked at from various perspectives, some of them oblique, some reflective and one or two, frankly, quite childish.


Umpirical Observations

   By Matt Harvey

high up there
in his chair
the umpire
surveys his oblong empire
a potentate
whose powers are limited
he doesn't rule over all
though he can over-rule
and he can if he needs to
(and if he feels daring)
dock points and give warnings
for audible swearing

and racket abuse

as part of his training
he's made aware
that umpire
is an anagram of impure

one part magistrate
three parts stenographer
he interprets and applies the law
mainly, though, he just keeps score

and makes the ball boys run on time

sits for hours in the sun
in that high chair
yet is the only one
who never throws a tantrum

no, Jocasta
he's not in that high chair
because he's small
an umpire's not an oompa-loompa
after all


he occupies the high ground
yet melts into the foreground
and after the game
few remember his name
or what he looks like
but many could tell you with confidence
what colour his socks were

so far
the umpires mentioned here
have all been men
women can be umpires too
but if you call
a woman umpire
an umpress
don't be surprised
if she gets the hump
and is not impressed

the umpire's miked up
so if a player gets
so psyched up
or het-up
that he won't shut up
or abide by a ruling
she can always
call for back-up

if she stayed there
in that high chair
after everyone left
she'd look lost and bereft
and a little bit daft


Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Umpirical Observations'



Thursday 1 July

Great Expectations

   By Matt Harvey

Great Expectations

The hopes are up, the sharp pencils are out.
Can he end an impatient nation's trophy drought?

We can't know how it feels, such expectation
- one player's shackle is another's spur,
one's hindrance is another's motivation -
but all we cod psychologists concur:

the pressure's on. And though it can't be gauged
in pounds of hope and longing per square inch -
the public's thirst can only be assuaged
by victory. Fred Perry on his plinth -

his stone form buoyed by unforgotten triumphs -
reminds us, we high-expectation-holders,
some reach greatness standing on the backs of giants,
some with giants pressing on their shoulders.

Nothing less will do
than outright victory -
and then we'll say, Bravo!
But Fred won three

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Great Expectations'



Thursday 1 July

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

When not doing glamorous pieces to camera for NBC or sitting on Henman Hill biting my nails (in the first two sets of Andy Murray's quarter-final), I'm often to be found in the Wimbledon Museum, failing to finish a poem about fashion. There are too many fascinating distractions in the Museum - one of my favourites is a bust of Major Walter Wingfield, the eccentric enthusiast who made tennis the middle class game of choice in the Victorian era. Although he didn't call it tennis...


Major Walter Wingfield’s Recreation

   By Matt Harvey

In 1874 Major Walter Clopton Wingfield patented - and popularised - a recreation. The game we now know as lawn tennis. His name for it was ‘Sphairistike' - from the Greek - and for a while that's how it was known.

Here's the question: would the game
by any other name still play the same?

Although it's the same game per se
for those of us who aren't au fait
with this tongue-twisting soubriquet
‘sphairistike', let's not be coy

it conjures up crass class cliché
of henries, genus hooray, who
while guzzling upon canapés
engage in dazzling repartee

say things like, ‘Tish, Tarquin, touché!'
a far cry from the hoi polloi
we oiks who'd simply shout out, ‘Oi!
Tarquin. Fair play.
Now shut it!'

We're blessed that in the end the game
proved more enduring than the name.

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Major Walter Wingfield’s Recreation'



Wednesday 30 June

Not So Sweet on Court 16

   By Matt Harvey

There's such a thing as an assassin's stare.
She meets her net opponent's baleful glare
and raises it. High Stakes. She takes no prisoners.
A hit girl. It's not personal. It's just business.

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Not So Sweet on Court 16'



Wednesday 30 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

Two short poems today - keeping it brief before unburdening myself of a couple of long ones before the end of the Fortnight. The first one, An Unseeded Player Considers Kipling - well, I've put an explanatory note in italics, so I'll say no more about that here. The second came about from wandering around the outside courts and stopping a while by Court 16 to watch some Ladies' Doubles. The first line was inspired by looks given and received by the two at the net. I wrote it as I saw it.


An Unseeded Player Considers Kipling

   By Matt Harvey

There is a couplet from Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If' inscribed above the double doors through which the players pass to get to Centre Court. It says: 'If you can meet with triumph and disaster/and treat those two imposters just the same'

Those two imposters? It's quite hard to treat
them just the same. There's one I've yet to meet...

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'An Unseeded Player Considers Kipling'



Tuesday 29 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

I settled down in the Wimbledon Library to write a rather well-researched poem about tennis fashions over the years, when word reached me that NBC had asked whether I'd be up for writing a poem about John McEnroe. And, if I were, whether I might read it to them tomorrow. I replied that I was busy on more pressing matters and couldn't be expected to drop what I was doing to pander to write such a poem. And here it is.



   By Matt Harvey

he shone as he stomped around Wimbledon's courts
and his headband turned red as it soaked up his thoughts

some wanted him punished, some offered their thanks
for his charismatic union of artistry and angst

his sensitive intensity his furious finesse
he got in rages, rattled cages, was outrageously the best

and everyone heard what John McEnroe said
from the punters at home to those back in row Zed

and everyone saw how John McEnroe played
the angles he found & the shots that he made

when we gasped, asked: did that really happen though?
they ‘d say, reckon so - that was John McEnroe

has the McEnfellow mellowed
from the firebrand who once bellowed
on these courts so very hallowed
all those Wimbledons ago?

John, please say it isn't so
say this could never happen, whoa,
your strings will never slacken, no!
for every game's a passion show
with McEnroe

his tongue's still sharp, sharp as his eyes
he sees the words early - meets them all on the rise

but does McEnroe feel just the slightest bit weary as
he hears for the squintillionth time the never-ending echo of
you cannot be serious?
                           (erious, erious, erious, erious....)

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'McEnroe'



Monday 28 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

Out on the park on No Play Day it was quite hard to get a court. We had to book one and wait a while. This was because so many freshly inspired people were out, dusting off their racquets, brushing up their ground strokes, acting out their Wimbledon daydreams. ‘I'll be Andy Murray,' said one man. ‘I'm Stefan Edberg, said another, incongruously. ‘I'm just playing as myself,' said a third, though it seemed clear he relished playing ‘as himself' against Murray and Edberg...


Wimbledon Dreams

   By Matt Harvey

First just to be there - step out on that grass
play with panache and move with feline grace,
to make'em gasp, inspire the oohs and aahs.

And now the camera zooms in on your face,
savours the grit and gleam behind your eyes.

You leap and land on shock-absorbing thighs -
you don't just grind a win: you win with style.
Yes! Power and precision meet guts, grace and guile.

As game follows tie-break, set follows game
to Championship point - to crown the dream
the crowd on Centre Court all chant your name.

So many dreamers, with a common theme:
fame, prizes, praise, etcetera etcetera...

(But one will wake and still be Roger Federer)

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Wimbledon Dreams'



Sunday 27 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

There's no play today. I'm taking the day off and playing tennis with my boys (age 6 - yes, they're twins) in the park. Last night I fell asleep thinking of tennis and this morning lay awake musing in high poetic fashion on the overlap between Wimbledon, tennis and the world of modern art...


Wimbledon Poet Sees Vision in Navel

   By Matt Harvey

I have an installation in my mind -
a hundred racquets planted in the ground
blades up, each one strung with a spider's web.

Nearby neat clumps of ball-girl kit form nests
that host a clutch of fluffy tennis balls,
their logos curled asleep. Ah, one's just hatched.

A strawberry, all its seeds removed bar one
is balanced on the net-cord - will it fall?
And see here, bleached predominantly white,

the jawbone of a line-judge, gently propped
against the tall green empty umpire's chair.
No, look - a lemon barley water bottle

is up there, spinning slowly, slowly round.
And listen - a Cliff Richard track plays backwards,
faint strains of, ‘Afraid be not should ones young'

staining the sacred hush of Centre Court.

It's deep.
It's meaningful.
But is it sport?

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Wimbledon Poet Sees Vision in Navel'



Saturday 26 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

One of my poet-in-residence privileges has been the opportunity to attend a training session of the BBGs, the ball boys and girls, where I was tremendously impressed by their enthusiasm, concentration and commitment - and that of their trainers. Sometimes during a match I'll spend a game watching and admiring their collective competence, their mastery of procedure and their near-invisible efficiency.


one bounce only - for the BBGs

   By Matt Harvey

tact-enabled procedure perfecters
designer labeled towel collectors

part of the Wimbledon whirr and hum
the competence collective, the great unsung

formidably biddable young retainers
indispensible dispensers, daydream refrainers

well-drilled oiled cogs
old tricks new dogs

champion scamperers, bare-kneed butlers
super scoopers, stooping scuttlers

statues on standby, border patrollers
ball hoarders, feeders, rollers

high handed server loaders
the better they do it the less we notice


Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'one bounce only - for the BBGs'



Friday 25 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

I'll be honest, I've perhaps not spent as long on these poems as others I've blogged. I spent most of the evening with my wife and sons who've come up from Devon for a few days. Then I was going to blog the haiku, wonderfully sent in by twitter and blog comment. There are actually too many to blog them all. Then my conscience reminded me I'd promised to write something about the Queen's visit. So I looked in my notebook, and my short-term memory...


A Royal Appointment

   By Matt Harvey

We stand and wait, and stand, and stand, and wait,
obedient behind the purple cord,
the way one does (and should) for heads of state.
And then she's here. We cheer! And then applaud
- unsure of precedent or etiquette -
as we might clap a cross-court passing shot
bamboozling the player at the net.
As she goes by some take a passing shot
on camera phones, while at the back we try
and help each other to identify
the pastel presence of Her Majesty.
Pastel for ease of visibility -
I see that now.
PS If anyone thinks her walkabout an imprudence -
her security make G4S look like students.*

*they mostly are students, and none the worse for that

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'A Royal Appointment'



Friday 25 June

By Royal Disappointment

   By Matt Harvey

I have a lovely laminated badge -
it says my name then A.E.L.T.C.
Literal poetic licence, privilege
provider - makes doors open magically.

I've talked with Eddie Seaward, gazed upon
the trophy cabinets, have stepped up
and in the Royal Box, have sat among
the members on their balcony. I've supped

in the Official's Buttery, and sat
on Centre Court up in the umpire's chair -
nothing denied me, not an eyelid bat,
no-one cried 'Out!' nobody turned a hair.

Yet - here's the disappointment bit - my badge
did not entitle me to meet Her Maj

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'By Royal Disappointment'



Thursday 24 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

Another quite long one today and, I guess, fairly sentimental. I did see a woman eating strawberries at the Wingfield Café (actually it might be the Restaurant but I'm not rewriting now!) looking very happy while a bloke - her husband/partner? - took her picture. But by then I'd already written the poem.


Mrs K with Strawberries

   By Matt Harvey

they're ordinary strawberries
it's ordinary cream
from a commonplace cow
nothing special - like me

and they're served as you'd hope
in a bowl, with a spoon
with a sprinkle of sugar
just like at home

and I'm eating them now
in the Wingfield Café
and Jeremy's here
with his clever new phone

and he's taking my picture
just typical me
with my ordinary strawberries
and ordinary cream

are they nice? Yes they are, they're ever so nice
and no, actually, I didn't notice the price
what do they taste of? hmmm, let me see,
they taste of, well ...strawberries

just ordinary strawberries
but the way strawberries taste
when you choose the right time
and you pick the right place
like sipping a nice cup of tea at the Ritz
a croissant in Paris ...a cornetto in Venice

but strawberries that stir my old memories of tennis
of me as a girl watching Billie Jean King
she'd get cross with herself and then win everything
or that time when the tennis gods granted my wish
and Nastase came second to gallant Stan Smith
of Dan Maskell's vowels, a puff of white chalk
being sat on the sofa in awe at Bjorn Borg
of Virginia's win back in Jubilee year
and Martina's last stand, when I shed a tear
in front of Mim Corbett and Jeremy's Dad!

you know, these are the best strawberries I've ever had
gosh, listen to me, I've started to gush
I'm having a Wimbledon strawberry rush!
not one of them's ordinary - neither am I -
look, the sun's coming out in a Wimbledon sky

and anyway, Jeremy says there's no such thing as an unseeded strawberry

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Mrs K with Strawberries'



Wednesday 23 June

A few Wimblewords from Matt Harvey introducing his poem...

I've been contemplating the courts. Marveling at them, and musing. I've thought about the grass a lot - there'll probably be more grass-based verse later...

Eddie Seaward, in case you didn't know, is the Head Groundsman at Wimbledon.


more than a lawn

   By Matt Harvey

more than a lawn

it's a lawn - just a lawn
but it's more than a lawn

it's a dance floor, a war zone, a platform, a stage
showcase, coliseum, a ring, a fight cage

big top, debating hall, combat arena
goldfish bowl, cauldron, a cliché convener

petri dish, pressure cooker, drama provider
physics laboratory, small hadron collider

it's all these things - sort of - but what is it not?
it isn't a park, or a nice picnic spot

it's not an allotment - there's no strawberry patch
but the bounce will be true

and the bounces will match
those on all the courts made by the Wimbledon crew

it's still just a lawn but one made by the best
a regular lawn but a lawn that is blessed

just a lawn, made of grass, but a lawn that's possessed
of a singular, unparalleled beauty

and Eddie Seaward expects
every blade of grass to do its duty

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'more than a lawn'



Tuesday 22 June

one of ours

   By Matt Harvey

one of ours

if ever he's brattish
or brutish or skittish
he's Scottish

but when he looks fittish
and his form is hottish
he's British

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'one of ours'



Monday 21 June


   By Matt Harvey


a game in the life

bounce bounce bounce bounce
thwackety wackety zingety ping
hittety backety pingety zang
wack, thwok, thwack, pok
thwikety, thwekity, thwokity, thwakity
cover the court with alarming alacrity
smackety dink, smackety dink
boshety bashity crotchety crashety
up loops a lob with a teasing temerity
leaps in the air in defiance of gravity
puts it away with a savage severity
coupled with suavity
(reaches for towel with a certain serenity)

bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce
thwack, thwok, plak, plok
come to the nettety
bit of a liberty
quickly regrettety
up goes a lobbity
hoppety skippety
awkwardly backwardly
slippety trippety
tumble & sprawl
audible gasps…
(opponent asks how is he?
courtesy, nice to see
getting up gingerly
brushity thighsity
all, if you’re asking me
bit big-girls-blousity)

bounce bounce bounce
whack, thwok, plik, plok
into the corner, then down the linety
chasety downity, whackety backety
all on the runnity, crossety courtety
dropety vollety – quality, quality…
… oh I say what impossible gettery
no, umpirical rulery – nottety uppity –
oooh – doesn’t look happety
back to the baseline
muttery muttery muttery muttery

bounce, bounce, bounce,
thwacketty OUT
bounce, bounce, bounce,
thwacketty BLEEP
2nd serve
bounce, bounce, bounce,
thwacketty – slappity
thwackety thumpity
dinkety-clinkety, gruntity-thumpity
fistety pumpety, fistety pumpety COME ON!

quiet please
bounce, bounce, bounce,
thwacketty thwoketty
bashetty boshetty
clashety closhety
lookaty linety, lookaty line-judge
line judge nodity
wearily query
umpire upholdery, indicate inchery
insult to injury
give line-judge scrutiny
face full of mutiny,
back to the baseline
through gritted teethery
muttery mutiny mutiny muttery

bounce bounce bounce
thwak, thwok, thwak, plok
thwakety plik, thwoketty plak
to-ity fro-ity fro-ity to-ity
slowity quickety quickety slowity
turnety headety, headety turnity
leftety rightety leftety rightety
seems like we’ve been here a bloomin eternity
rightety leftety rightety leftety
topety spinnety, backhandy slicety
lookety watchety, scratchety bottity
fabulous forehand, backhandy slicety
furious forehand, savagely slicety
fearsome ferocity, vicious velocity
bilious backhand – blasted so blistery…
…half a mile out but that line judge is history

new balls please

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'thwok'



Wednesday 19 May

Grandest of Slams

   By Matt Harvey

Excuse me. I'm sorry. I speak as an Englishman
For the game of lawn tennis there's no better symbol than

The place where the game's flame was sparked and then kindled in
Where so many spines have sat straight and then and tingled in

Where strawberries and cream have traditionally been sampled in
Kids' eyes have lit up and their cheeks have been dimpled in

Where tough tennis cookies have cracked and then crumbled in
Top seeds have stumbled, have tumbled, been humbled in

Where home-grown heroes' hopes have swelled up and then dwindled in

The Grand Slams' best of breed, it's the whizz it's the biz
The temple where physics expresses its fizz
There's one word for tennis and that one word is

Listen to Matt Harvey reading 'Grandest of Slams'



© Matt Harvey, Wimbledon Championships Poet 2010