What’s in a game?

This story first appeared in the June 21, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Over the next two weeks, writer Matt Harvey will ponder just that — in verse, as Wimbledon’s first official poet. (It’s not as weird as it sounds. The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum has invited painters to capture the spirit of the tournament over the last few years.)

“I like to think I’m adding a little extra dimension to Wimbledon,” Harvey says.

Harvey will draw inspiration from, as he puts it, “the background more than the foreground” of the event — from its history and traditions to the umpires, Centre Court’s new retractable roof, and the uniquely British treat of strawberries and cream in between matches.

“I won’t be focusing so much on the players as on the people and the crowds,” he says.

The idea to incorporate verse this year came from Honor Godfrey, curator of the museum. “We are always examining different ways of interpreting the championships,” she says. “It will be fascinating to see both Matt’s take on what we see year-in, year-out, and, indeed, the public’s reaction to the poems.”

A fixture on BBC Radio 4 and the author of five volumes of poetry, Harvey will certainly be a very visible presence. He’ll be “sloping outside the courts and cafes,” scribbling in his black moleskin notebook. The poems will be posted on the Web sites of Wimbledon and The Poetry Trust, which is working with Harvey on the project, and he’ll also have a regular morning slot on Radio Wimbledon, where he will compile and recite tennis-related tweets. He’ll also perform for the die-hard fans whiling away hours in the Wimbledon ticket line (another beloved British institution). “There are not many places to hide on the queue, and I shall be taking full advantage of that.”

Already he’s composed a poem about Britain’s top-ranked Andy Murray called “one of ours.”

if ever he’s brattish

or brutish or skittish

he’s Scottish

but if he looks fittish

and his form is hottish

he’s British

It’s clear Harvey’s not taking his role overly seriously. “I’m not looking for converts to poetry,” he says. “I just want to entertain people as they pass by. And maybe, in the end, there will be a few poetry fans who give tennis a chance, and a few tennis fans who’ll do the same for poetry.”

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