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Poets' Olympics

The drive to add poets to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 may be just what is needed to give the games a lift now that breaking time and distance records has become old hat. After all, we know that, once somebody runs a "impossible" four-minute mile, everybody will do it -- well, almost everybody. Poets, however, are a bit of an unknown quantity in the sports world, as some people discovered at last week's warm-up "Poetry Olympics" in London's Westminster Abbey.

In Los Angeles it would not be enough for poets simply to compete to see who's best, as they did during the Great Dionysia in the homeland of the Olympics, ancient Greece. That's much too subjective. What they have to do is set verifiable modern records.

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For centuries, to take one example, the 14-line sonnet has seemed as unconquerable as the four-minute mile. A laurel wreath for the first sonneteer to make it 13 lines!

And how about the three-line quatrain, the one-line couplet, the 16-syllable haiku (which could probably be shaved to 15 without loss of obscurity)? No doubt iambic pentameter -- in which Shakespeare dawdled -- will be overtaken in the Olympics' iambic pentathlon. Then someone will knock an inch off the dactylic foot, and . . . or are we mixing a metaphor? That, of course, is a separate event.


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