Writing Between the Lines Poetry Challenge: Event 5: The Relay

Windswept! The relay team: Hilda Hatt, unknown – Hornsby? , Daisy Wright, Mary Lines

Today is all about passing the baton, both in terms of the legacies of 1921 and in our poetry challenge.


Led by their star runner Mary Lines, the British team took home gold medals in both the 4 x 75 m and 4 x 200 m relays. Their B-team also won bronze in the 4 x 75 m.

Aside from the switch of Daisy Wright for a ‘Miss Bradley’ (first name currently unknown) in the 4 x 200 m, the team line up for both events was the same: Mary Lines, Hilda Hatt and Alice Cast. Both Lines and Cast were students at the Polytechnic and they, along with Hilda Hatt, all belonged to the Polytechnic Ladies Athletics Club. The photograph below, which is from a few years after the 1921 Olympiad, definitely contains a couple of the team: Hilda Hatt (middle, third from left) and Florence Birchenough (middle, fourth from left) – although there may be others in there (thanks to this excellent post by ‘Running Past’ for the identification of Hatt and Birchenough, as well for as the fascinating information on the Inauguaral WAAA championships).

I have already written a little about the brilliant Florence Birchenough in the Poetry Challenge Shot Put event. 1921 really was only the beginning in her long career in athletics and as a member of the WAAA. Yet alongside Birchenough, Hilda Hatt is another name that continues to crop up in the decade to come in, both national and international rankings and medal lists.

Hilda Hatt, 1922

In 1921 she won joint gold in the high jump, silver in the long jump (coming second to Mary Lines), bronze in the 60 m (after Mary Lines and Daisy Wright) and gold in the relays. But for Hatt – just as with Birchenough – 1921 was only the beginning. In future events, such as the 1922 Women’s World Games, her talents as a jumper shone through as she took on and matched the records set by figures like Mary Lines.

Passing the Baton

The relay is a good time to discuss another set of absences from the history of athletics. As some of my previous posts have explored, the athletes of 1921 – and others like them – were clearly discriminated against and even excluded from elite track and field events for decades on the grounds of their gender, their sexuality, their status as child bearers, and their supposed fragility and femininity. However, they still carried the privilege that came with their position as white women. As far as I can tell, the 1921 Olympiad was comprised entirely of white-European athletes.

On the UK team, it was not until 1930, at the third annual Women’s World Games (still organised by Alice Milliat) that an athlete of Caribbean heritage would represent GB in an international athletics competition. Ethel Edburga Clementina Scott, a sprinter and relay racer, would be part of the highly selective squad of 15, and would go on to win silver with her teammates in the relay.

UK team, 1930. Ethel Scott in third row.

Interestingly, she would also be the first athlete to match Mary Lines’s 60 m British record. On 30 August 1930, Scott set a personal best for the 60 m at a track meet in Mitcham, London. Her time of 7.8 seconds was 2 tenths of a second off the world record of 7.6 seconds and equalled Lines’s current British record.

Ethel Scott

Ethel Scott was the first black woman to represent GB at an International Athletics Competition. She was a record -breaking athlete. She took on the sprint and relay baton from Mary Lines and the athletes of 1921. Indeed many of them would go on to be her teammates in future games. And yet her name does not appear enough in the history of UK sport. She should be a household name.

Thanks to this post on Ethel Scott for some of the key information for today’s post. Here’s a brief post about Ethel Scott in the Black Plaque Project.

Poetry Challenge

In the spirt of passing the baton, today’s poetry challenge is all about picking up a line from somewhere else – your favourite song, another poem, the opening line of a novel – and creatively running with it.

There are many ways of going about this. Perhaps the most well-known contemporary example of this is ‘The Golden Shovel’ form, coined by the American poet Terrance Hayes in his poem of the same name. Hayes takes ‘We Real Cool’ by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and effectively spells out each word of the original in the final word of each line of his new piece. So…

We Real Cool 

               The Pool Players.
        Seven at the Golden Shovel.

            We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.


The Golden Shovel

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981
When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real
men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we
drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school
I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk
of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we
watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight
Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

This is just an extract of Hayes’s remarkable poem. I urge you to read the whole thing here. What he achieves in this complex piece is not an erasure of Brook’s vibrant original, but a tribute and an extension of it. ‘The Golden Shovel’ is a form of translation. It is also a carrying on the conversation, as the lines of the Pool Players in ‘We Real Cool’ are picked up and carried into the new century.

In many ways, this poetry project is trying to do exactly the same thing.

If you want to attempt your own version of The Golden Shovel technique with a line of your choosing then go for it!

However, as a shorter, alternative option, here’s another way you can run the poetry relay: take your line from your chosen poem, song, novel, short story etc. and make it the first line of your poem today. See where it leads you!

Click here to catch up on yesterday’s 800m event and learn about why women were not allowed to compete in many International long distance events for 30 years

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s