Olympic peace camp: making new meanings flare on British beaches

Article published on April 3, 2012
community published
Article published on April 3, 2012
I have to confess: I am not normally a fan of the love poem. While I can admire the careful cages of Shakespeare’s sonnets and chuckle at Donne’s thinly veiled illusions, my general feeling is that love poetry, of the flowers and pink icing variety, is hideously overdone.
I agree with Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska that

'I owe so much

to those I do not love'

and, cynic and romantic at heart, hope for moonstruck friends that

'The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome.' (Love after love, Walcott)

Something, however, is beginning to make me change my mind. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a post of the cringingly self-confessional kind: my change of heart comes not from any personal revelation but rather from the launch of peace camp, an installation bringing love poetry to Britain’s beaches in time for the 2012 olympics.

Launched on 26 March, peace camp is the brainchild of actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner. From 19 to 22 July, tents will be erected on isolated beaches across the UK, from the Isle of Lewis, one of the northernmost points of Scotland, to Sussex in southeast England. Softly lit from within after dusk, the tents will be filled with the sound of love poetry, in dialects and languages (English, Welsh, Gaelic…) from across the country.

'So on a day when newcomers appear

Let it be a homecoming and let us speak

The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,

Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare

Like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak' (Beacons at Bealtaine, Heaney)

The peace camps are inspired by the traditional olympic truce which calls all nations to ‘lay down your arms, and let the games commence’. ‘We're engirdling our shores in a symbolic call for peace,’ said director Deborah Warner. ‘So much of the olympics is about competition; this is absolutely the antidote to that. In a way it's a complement to the struggle down in London.’ Indeed, while the olympics focus on a select sporting elite, peace camp is in its very nature inclusive, calling people to nominate poems, upload their own readings of love poetry and even submit their own poems at peacecamp2012.com.

If you happen to be in Britain in July, pack a blanket and a flask of hot chocolate, or your choice of restoring elixir (British beaches can be unforgiving), and go spend the evening at your nearest peace camp. You might discover Carol Ann Duffy’s valentine gift of an onion (It promises light / like the careful undressing of love) or Cristopher Marlowe’s ode to sex in the afternoon. Either way, hopefully, you will go away sensing that

'Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head,

warm, beating, frantic, winged.' (Little Red-Cap, Duffy)