Sports and poetry aren’t usually thought of as intertwining, but York English Professor Priscila Uppal is almost as much a sports fan as she is a poet. Given that she was the Canadian Athletes Now Fund (CAN Fund) poet-in-residence during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Games, it’s not surprising that her poems have made their way into a forthcoming book.
Winter Sport: Poems (Mansfield Press, 2010), a collection of over 50 poems, will launch Tuesday, October 19, at 7:30 pm, at The Boat, 158 Augusta Ave. in Toronto’s Kensington Market. It is also the 10th anniversary launch party for Mansfield Press. All royalties from the sale of Uppal's book will go to help support athletes through CAN Fund, which helped fund about 80 per cent of the athletes at the Games.
The book contains haikus and other poems about the Olympic athletes and their beloved sports – whether curling, skeleton, skiing or hockey – and includes some poems Uppal wrote when she took in the Arctic Games, in between the Olympics and the Paralympics. It’s being hailed as a mingling of physical and verbal acrobatics and a dazzling competition of risky play, inventive movements and daring heights.
Left: Priscila Uppal embracing the Olympic torch as the Canadian Athletes Now Fund poet-in-residence. Photo by Chistopher Doda
“So much about poetry is having surprising language and using it in unique ways,” says Uppal (BA Hons. ’97, PhD ’04). (See YFile, Feb. 12.) Watching Olympic athletes compete and marvelling over the strange terms attached to each sport – what Uppal calls athletic language full of metaphors and symbols – gave her plenty of inspiration.
She says the poems are accessible and amusing, and were also fun to write. Winter Sport: Poems would be of interest to sports lovers, Olympics lovers, poetry lovers, and English and physical education teachers, as well as young reluctant readers, she says. CBC Radio featured many of her poems over the course of the Games after fans called in requesting more, as did CAN Fund and the athletes themselves.
"While some people were skeptical about elite athletes responding to poetry," Uppal admits, "the Olympians ended up being one of my most welcoming audiences ever. Every day they asked for more copies of poems and looked forward to the performances. The summer Olympians have encouraged me to take up my post in 2012 in London to write the companion volume, Summer Sport: Poems."
Right: Priscila Uppal dons her own team shirt while watching speedskating at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Photo by Chistopher Doda
Gil Adamson, author of The Outlander and Ashland, says “From one of Canada’s most dynamic poets come sports poems that are playful, funny, and full of trick moves. Uppal’s wordplay is as muscular as the athletes she celebrates.”
In addition to Uppal’s new book, the evening will launch Imagining Toronto by Amy Lavender Harris, a York geography faculty member in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; Goodbye, Ukulele by Leigh Nash (BA Hons. ’04), a former student of Uppal’s; At the Gates of the Theme Park by Peter Norman; and Stray Dog Embassy by Natasha Nuhanovic.
Left: Priscila Uppal has a Canadian moment. Photo by Chistopher Doda
Uppal has eight previous collections of poetry, including Ontological Necessities, which was shortlisted for the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize. She is also the author of two novels, The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002) and To Whom It May Concern (2008). Recently, she edited the first-of-its-kind anthology The Exile Book of Canadian Sports Stories (2009).
To read a few of Uppal’s sports poems, visit the CAN Fund website.