Poetry News

At LARB: Erika Meitner on the Olympic Trampoline, Getting Pregnant, and Charles Olson

By Harriet Staff

We mentioned at the start of the Summer 2012 Olympics that the Los Angeles Review of Books was running a series featuring poets on the "Ghost Sports"--the latest, published yesterday, has Erika Meitner writing about the Trampoline. She somehow connects the sport to her personal tribulations with pregnancy and the Charles Olson line of poetry. It's a lovely piece. "In order to write a poem, I must mine the past, but also excavate the present, which becomes the future as I untangle it. As I do this, I exist only in the moment of writing the poem. I concentrate on the movement forward and forget I’m concentrating at all. But I have not been writing very many poems lately. My body is stuck in a strange limbo along with my family’s future, and I don’t have the language to describe it." Read more:

Poems are made of words that live in bodies — bodies shaped by line breaks, and fixed forever in space, on the page. Picture a gymnast in relation to the trampoline, the invisible line between the two driven equally by unseen forces of gravity and the gymnast’s own strength. When a poem is read aloud, it is a moment of flight. Its words are released into the air, into the spaces between breaths. Many poets, like Charles Olson and the Beats, see the line as an actual unit of breath. The white space left in the wake of the words is the breath materialized. When I was pregnant with my son, I had to re-lineate all my poems to shorten the lines, so I could speak them without becoming breathless.

I think of the air underneath Canadian Jason Burnett, who spins toward the arena ceiling with his eyes closed. The announcer says outrageously difficult and beautiful twisting position. When it’s Karen Coburn’s turn the next day, the same announcer says, the goal is to show that long body open every single time. The gymnasts, when they execute their routines, look like actual lines shooting through space. Lines are measure of sound, measures of meaning. When they are at their best, each line could be its own poem. If a line tries to carry too much, it can collapse under its own weight.

In Men’s Trampoline, as predicted, Dong Dong of China takes the gold. In a surprise ending for the women though, favored Chinese gymnast Ha Wenna falls on the rebound out of her last skill, and Canadian Rosannagh MacLennan wins a gold medal. The commentators say a lovely line. Nice execution. They say, let’s watch how she opens her body. Dear body. “Each line should be a station of the cross,” writes my old teacher, Charles Wright, which implies suffering. A line-break is, at its most basic, a hesitation between the spoken and unspoken. I am hesitating to speak any of this.

With trampoline, a gymnast’s job is to fight gravity, to use the power of her own body to propel herself upwards, to fly for 60 seconds, then finally stick a landing while the force of her own energy tries to knock her off her feet. So how to write when life has not been like the trampoline? When there has been, for a period of time, no flight, no fixed program, just a long stretch of held breath? The commentators say they train for this — they know how to fall.

Also a worthy read and posted in the same go is A. Van Jordan on Women's Boxing (which is in official competition for the first time in this year's Olympics). Jordan writes: "'As in dying and death, so in serious pain the claims of the body utterly nullify the claims of the world,' says Elaine Scarry in her book The Body in Pain. And the 'claims of the world' are still being made when it comes to the U.S. presence in boxing at the 2012 Olympics."

Originally Published: August 9th, 2012