A poet and editor of BOMB magazine living in Brooklyn, Monica de la Torre was born in Mexico City. Her poem "Olimpicamente" is told in the voice of the Mexican taekwondo champion Maria del Rosario Espinoza, who was born in the village of La Brecha, in the state of Sinaloa, where her father was a fisherman. Though of limited means, her parents supported her passion for taekwondo, and in 2008 Espinoza fought her way to a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics. "I am," says the poet, "dumbfounded and positively moved by Maria del Rosario's improbable story."
Taekwondo was originally a Korean martial art, which inspired de la Torre to base her poem loosely on the three-line Korean poetic form, the sijo." 'Olimpicamente' is comprised of six linked sijos," she explains. "I saw a correspondence between the punching, kicking and parrying of a taekwondo practitioner and the way a sijo moves, apparently going in one direction but then taking an unexpected turn in the last line."
"In Mexico," says de la Torre, explaining her poem's title, "when someone does something brazen, we say the person behaved 'olimpicamente' — literally, and pardon the neologism, 'olympically.' The connotations of the term aren't necessarily positive, but by using it as the title of the poem, I wanted to put the type of behavior it refers to in a positive light. Had Maria del Rosario done everything social conventions dictated she do, she wouldn't be the flag bearer for the Mexican delegation at the London Olympics. Sijos were originally meant to be sung. I think of 'Olimpicamente' as a Korean-inflected Mexican corrido, telling the deeds of a revered and exemplary heroine."
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's go now to this morning's entry in our Poetry Games.
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MONTAGNE: MORNING EDITION's Poetry Olympics pits poet against poet to compete for your vote. Five poets from around the world have written poems to celebrate the real Olympics and the athletes at the heart of the Games. One of those athletes is from a small town in Mexico.
Maria Espinoza's sport is Taekwondo. She took home the gold at the Beijing Olympics, and she's competing once again in London. For our Poetry Games, Maria Espinoza is being regaled in verse by poet Monica de la Torre. De la Torre wrote her poem, "Olimpicamente," from the athlete's point of view.
MONICA DE LA TORRE: (Reading) "Olimpicamente." It was my feet. They were oversized for my age, restless and strong enough to do more than pick fruit or sell fish. For kicks, in my hometown of 2,000, I tried taekwondo. I was five. The neighbors, they thought of me as marimacha. Women around me were tough, but they were no tomboys.
Dad, a fisherman by trade, was undeterred. He's good at cultivating. He and I, we're driven people, the kind that looks beyond the horizon - westward and eastward in step. Hence we outgrew the dirt roads of La Brecha - The Gap - in Sinaloa. Did I choose the art? Was it the art that chose me?
But for a white uniform, I had the essentials. This was my calling: self-defense for which you needed no arms, only fists - rock solid. And limber limbs and a feistiness not antagonistic. Think dealing blows, so less blows are dealt - aiming to stop the fight, but not destroy your rival, your equal. Where I am from, some folks do things differently. My way's the way of the hand and foot, and unity of purpose. On the tatami, I write their bodily calligraphy.
MONTAGNE: The poem is "Olimpicamente." Representing Mexico, poet Monica de la Torre. Tomorrow, a poet from Slovenia offers an ode to Olympic diver Greg Louganis. You can hear all the poems entered into the MORNING EDITION Poetry Games at npr.org, and vote for your favorite. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.