As Sochi’s speed skaters, ski jumpers and bobsledders strive for golden glory this month, UNL’s Kwame Dawes is watching, studying, musing — and enshrining the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in his own unique way.
Dawes, Chancellor’s Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at UNL, has reprised his role as the Wall Street Journal’s unofficial Olympic poet as the 22nd Winter Games continue in the tiny town in southwest Russia. The UNL professor is contributing regular poetry about the games, its athletes and the spirit of each day’s athletic action at the Journal’s popular Speakeasy weblog.
It’s a task he also took on two years ago for London’s summer games — a spectacle, he admits, that was much easier about which to write. A few days before the Sochi games started, the blog’s editor, Christopher John Farley, asked Dawes to again respond to the Olympics with poetry; Dawes laughed when he first heard of the idea.
“While I am a fan of all sports, I don’t get quite as obsessed about the winter games as I do for the summer games, or cricket or basketball or soccer,” he said. “But I like a challenge, and (Farley) did say that he thought the story of the Jamaican bobsled team might be an angle.”
Late last week, Dawes offered two poems — “Coffin Riders” and “Believe Me: An Insider’s Tip” — about the Jamaican team. He’s also delved into half-pipe culture and superstardom with “A Poem for Shaun White” and the dilemma of of the gay Olympian traveling to a country that has passed anti-gay measures.
In working to capture the spirit of the day in Sochi, Dawes said he doesn’t plan ahead what he is going to write about. He follows the games, follows the news and then waits to see if something offers an image or an idea that might find its way into a poem.
“It does feel kind of like a tightrope walk because I always wonder if I will make it this time,” Dawes said. “So far, so good.
“I do suspect that I will write more about figure skating and must write something about skiing,” he said. “I am also fascinated by the violence of these sports — the battle with pain that athletes in these sports must contend with all the time.”
At the end of the day, Dawes said, he has a simple goal — to simply write some readable poems.
“The poem is my task master,” he said. “The Games are secondary.”
Follow Dawes’ posts throughout the Sochi games at the Journal’s website.