Fri 10 Aug 2012
Did you know there used to be poetry competitions in the Olympic games? They stopped issuing medals for poetry after World War II but until then it was part of Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of an Olympic revival. Poetry had been an important part of the ancient games, you see.
In tribute to that idea, National Public Radio has held the Poetry Games over the last few weeks and this morning they announced the winner: South Africa’s Mbali Vilakazi for her poem, “Swim Your Own Race,” a tribute to Natalie du Toit, the first woman amputee to qualify for the Olympics.
Renee Montaigne asked Ms. Vilakazi why, given South Africa’s painful history, she chose to celebrate an Afrikaner woman.
“When I got the invitation to be a part of the Poetry Games, I did have a moment when I thought: OK, well, I’m a young black South African woman, how am I going to use my voice?” Vilakazi says. But she concluded that the fight against apartheid was really a struggle “about people being people and being recognized for their contributions to society, and I held onto that.”
Vilakazi says that the society — and the world — she would like to live in is one in which people have the courage to celebrate one another for what they have done, even when history makes it difficult.
“I just thought that even for a young black South African such as myself, it was important for me to choose her nonetheless,” Vilakazi explains. “I just felt that the story was just so important, we can all benefit from it.”
You can read this lovely poem at the end of the article here and even hear Ms. Vilakazi read it.