Today is Grand National Day in Aintree, Liverpool, a horse race I've known since my childhood. It's a steeplechase with fierce fences that, at least in those days, often had jockeys unhorsed, riderless horses still racing and the occasional serious injury to man and horse. As you can see from the picture above showing the 2011 Grand National, it's a chaotic event and a notoriously difficult race to predict.
It was an institution in our family. A house would be selected to host the event and aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would gather, the men hefting crates of bottled Guinness, the women competing to provide plates of tongue or ham or corned-beef, garnished with jars of Piccalilli, beetroot slices, and silverskin onions. We kids would pester and pester until the older ones were given money and sent to the corner shop to get bricks of ice cream and bottles of Dandelion and Burdock to float them in.
The paper would be studied and the adults would each pick a horse to bet on. The men would discuss the horses' form and deride each other's poor grasp of the facts, while the women would pick horses based on appealing names or lucky numbers. Money was collected and one of the men would be sent to the bookies to place the bets.
When the time came, we would all settle down to listen to or watch the race. There would be a choir of voices urging, cursing, groaning and even, occaisionally, rejoicing. These songs of hope and despair were led by the BBC commentator, his voice initially fast and flat, spitting facts and naming positions, then building to a frenzied, hoarsely-shouted excitement as the winning horse made it home.
This year, I discovered "The Poetry Grand National", a poem by Roger Stevens', which mimics the commentators tone and substitutes word forms for horses in an extended metaphor that made me laugh out loud both because it's clever and because it brings to poetry some of that gambling-fed intensity that I remember from my childhood.
Here it is. Enjoy.
"The Poetry Grand National" by Richard Stevens
The horses line up
They’re under starter’s orders
Adverb leaps gracefully over the first fence
Followed by Adjective
A sleek, Palomino poem
Simile is overtaking on the outside
Like a pebble skimming the water
Half-way round the course
And Hyperbole is gaining on the leaders
Travelling at a million miles an hour
Adverb strides smoothly into first place.
Haiku had good odds
But is far behind – and falls
At the last sylla-
And as they flash past the winning post
The crowd is cheering
The winner is
Who quietly takes a bow