Usually run over a curving track, the 250m demands that its runners think about their turn as well as their speed. Taking the bend requires that you adjust your style, re-balance and then regain the momentum. And don’t forget to stay in your lane!
The 250m race was won by Mary Lines, the star of the English team and the Regent Street Polytechnic. Lines would go on to achieve three 1st prizes and one 2nd at the 1921 Games. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes her as “[t]he first star of British women’s athletics between the wars”.
That this ‘star’ would fade from the official narrative and history of UK sport, and would never appear alongside the names of The Polytechnic Harriers and male cricket stars engraved on the Studd Trophy and mounted on the wall of Westminster’s 309 Regent Street, is the reason that Writing Between the Lines first came into being. Her story demands to be (re)written.
As for adding her name to those celebrated already, Guy Osborn has been busy taking care of that:
Our foyer is a beautiful space but there is a further specific absence. If you look carefully in the room there are three plinths, on two on the ‘Gallery’ side you will see busts, of Hogg and Studd, very important figures in our history …
Above the entrance to the cinema on the other side there is a third plinth, but this has been empty for years … Drawing on the concept of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square we mark the centenary of the 1921 successes of our Polytechnic women at the Womens’ Olympiad by recognising Mary Lines, on behalf of all Polytechnic women, on the third plinth in the Regent Street foyer. This will be lit on 21 March 2021 to mark the centenary of the departure from Victoria station and remain lit for the period of the competition and until the centenary of their return.Guy Osborn
The Poetry Challenge: Celebration
My first instinct for the 250m challenge was a sonnet. Both are still relatively short, but involve a vital turn (or volta) that demands a different sort of balance. However, while I was planning this out, I thought instead about Mary Lines and the (previously) empty third plinth, and what a privilege it is to be able to use research and writing to help to shed new light on this previously under-appreciated athlete.
So in honour of Mary Lines and the third plinth, today’s poetry challenge is all about celebrating someone who doesn’t receive the credit they deserve…but feel free to do this challenge as a sonnet too!
In his gorgeous poem ‘Unsung’, Kei Miller ‘sings’ the quiet, everyday praises of his father:
There should be a song for the man who does not sing himself – who has lifted a woman from her bed to a wheelchair each morning, and from a wheelchair to her bed each night; a song for the man recognized by all the pharmacists, because each day he has joined a line, inched forward with a prescription for his ailing wife; there should be a song for this man who has not sung himself ...
The poem offers up the actions of love and care as a way of showing the reader more about the ‘man who does not sing himself’ than any list of qualities could.
For your own poem, choose someone you admire – sporting, historical or relative – and celebrate them!
Tip: Try and focus on representative actions rather than attributes. If you look at the extract from ‘Unsung’, you’ll notice that Miller never directly tells us of his father’s patience, kindness and love. Instead, he shows us by listing his daily tasks. If you’re struggling, make a list of the things that you admire about your chosen subject, and then ‘translate’ each of these into a single event or action.
To catch up on previous poetry challenges and learn more about the project…
About the Writing Between the Lines creative project
Or get in touch on here if you’d like to find out more.