Meet The Wimbledon Poet – Matt Harvey

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Meet The Wimbledon Poet – Matt Harvey
By Karen Pestaina

For the first time in its storied history, Wimbledon has hired an official poet to capture “the flavour and fervour of the world’s leading tennis tournament.”

A lifelong tennis fan, Matt Harvey is known by British audiences for his Radio 4 Saturday Live broadcasts. As “The Championships Poet” for 2010 he’ll be writing a poem-a-day on all things Wimbledon. Along with the daily poems he’ll have a daily audio podcast, a blog and will interact with fans via twitter (@WimbledonPoet ).

WimbledonPoet I caught up with the very busy Mr. Harvey to ask a few questions in regard to his new appointment:

Karen Pestaina: How did you get your start in writing poetry?

Matt Harvey: I’ve written poetry since I was a teenager, secretly to begin with. I began to perform in public in my twenties, self-publishing chapbooks which I sold at gigs. I went full-time as a ‘writer-performer’ in my late thirties. In my early forties I had my first ‘proper’ book (The Hole in the Sum of my Parts) published. Definitely a late developer.

KP: Which poets influenced you growing up and who are your favorites now?

MH: Growing up I loved Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Mervyn Peake – a little older the ‘Liverpool Poets’, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Adrian Henri.  Then it was into anthologies and reading e e cummings, Edna St Vincent Millay, Betjeman, Stevie Smith, Auden and Borges.

These days I love John Hegley, all the above, Roethke, only recently discovered Shel Silverstein, can you believe it?

KP: What was the process that led you to becoming the poet of “the Championships.”

MH: The All England Lawn Tennis Club had previously had Championship Artists –all painters of one kind or another – but this year they decided to try something different and invite a poet. To this end they consulted The Poetry Trust, active in the promotion of poetry in the UK, who recommended me. A seed was sown, then a few days later someone at Wimbledon heard me on BBC radio. A month or so after that I was invited to Wimbledon to talk about the form a poetry residency might take. And here I am.

KP: How difficult do you think it will be to write a poem a day? How will you approach it? Will you walk the grounds, stay in the media areas?

MH: How difficult? Somewhere between ‘quite’ and ‘very’, though some days I’m sure it’ll be ‘extremely’. People have asked if I ever suffer ‘writer’s block’ and the answer is no, but I frequently experience ‘good writer’s block’.

I’ll definitely walk the grounds rather than stay in the media areas. By the way, I should say, before anyone gets too jealous (mild jealousy is, however, appropriate) that I don’t have access to the show courts – Centre Court and Courts 1 and 2 – but otherwise can roam freely. A free range poet. I shall be writing about the place and the people as much if not more than the tennis. Poems about ball boys and girls, umpires, grass, strawberries, oohs and aahs, the queues, the roof, what proximity to people at the peak of physical fitness and beauty does to middle aged English people, well, men.

KP: Do you think other major championships (Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open) should employ a poet?

MH: I wouldn’t presume to know what such august institutions should do – but I’m all for the employment of poets in public places. From a poet’s perspective it’s an excellent idea.

KP: How do you think tennis fans will react to your poems?

MH: I have no idea. Well, I expect many to be indifferent, some maybe intrigued, irritated, amused, bored. Perhaps some, frustrated by my rank inability to evoke the essence of their beautiful game, may be inspired to write their own poetry. I’ve been taken aback by the interest generated by my appointment – when visual artists were invited there was a lot less fuss. Still, I’m not complaining – it’s nice to be sought after by the world media once in a while.

KP: Do you have any advice for future tennis poets?

Having barely begun my first ever tennis residency I’d hesitate to offer advice. In fact if there are any tennis poets out there with advice to offer me it’d be gratefully received. But I’m not sure there is such a thing as a ‘tennis poet’. There are just poets, and sometimes one of us gets lucky and is paid to write about tennis and associated phenomena. I’m thrilled just to be going there, getting to watch the world’s best players in such a splendid setting.

About Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live program and for two years wrote the Desktop Poetry slot in the Guardian. He is the creator of Empath Man on Radio 4, the contemporary superhero who fights crime through his advanced listening skills.

His latest book of poems The Hole in the Sum of my Parts – published by and available from The Poetry Trust – is in its 4th imprint. His next book Where Earwigs Dare will be published by Green Books in October 2010. He will present a new series, The Wondermentalist Cabaret, on BBC Radio 4 in early 2011.

Matt Harvey’s web site is
Follow him on twitter at
Follow the Championships at
Read more about The Poetry Trust –

Grandest of Slams
By Matt Harvey

Excuse me. I’m sorry. I speak as an Englishman
For the game of lawn tennis there’s no better symbol than

The place where the game’s flame was sparked and then kindled in
Where so many spines have sat straight and then tingled in

Where strawberries and cream have traditionally been sampled in
Kids’ eyes have lit up and their cheeks have been dimpled in

Where tough tennis cookies have cracked and then crumbled in
Top seeds have stumbled, have tumbled, been humbled in

Where home-grown heroes’ hopes have swelled up and then dwindled in

The Grand Slams’ best of breed, it’s the whizz it’s the biz
The temple where physics expresses its fizz
There’s one word for tennis and that one word is

© Matt Harvey, The Championships Poet 2010

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Wimbledon appoints Championships Poet