On the surface organised sport and poetry would seem to have nothing in common. Digging deeper, though, it becomes clear that the the two work together more than is traditionally recognised.
The well known poet, Fay Zwicky, believed that ‘organised sport and poetry both require a balance between freedom of expression and restraint, between movement and constraint … the poet needs muscles, emotional, spiritual, and psychic muscles that transcend the limits of the self.’ As it happens, so did Leo Tolstoy, Charles Darwin, and other famous writers of both poetry and prose. Tolstoy regularly played tennis and was photographed standing on the court, racket in hand, deep in contemplation. HIs opponent on the other side of the net seems totally unfazed by this and waits patiently. It is not clear whether the game has actually finished or whether this is just a pause in proceedings. In any case Tolstoy found the exercise necessary for freeing up his mind to focus on what he was writing. Darwin played football, and stated that when his body was totally exhausted his mind was able to range freely, to deal with his most complex theories and express them in writing.
Although I don’t regularly play tennis or football, I do walk on the beach every morning during the week. Mostly I walk alone because I find that it sets me up for the day, clears my mind of other things, and lets me concentrate on my current manuscript. I walk early, before most people are up and about. But sometimes I coincide with ‘beach friends’. They are the people I have got to know over many years of walking on the same beach. We stop, talk about our various work, maybe catch up on a bit of beach gossip, then go our separate ways. We almost never meet in any other setting and yet something has drawn us to each other, rather than to any of the other people on the beach. Curiously this superficial contact doesn’t seem to get in the way of the cleansing and refreshing process. Perhaps because, although writers tend to be solitary beings, we are grateful to be recognised as part of the human race – as long as we can get back to work before those great ideas we had while exercising disappear on us.