Review: The Result Is What You See Today

The Result Is What You See Today: Poems About Running was given to me by fellow poet Terry Quinn. I often see Terry out walking when I’m running and only found out he used to run when he gave me this book. From Terry’s poem ‘to my red tracksuit’ and his bio I discovered he ‘could run for hours down the Grand Union’ and ‘over the dunes at Great Yarmouth’ and completed the 50 mile Highland Cross before being forced to give up by prolapsed discs.

I’ll admit I wasn’t overly surprised to see an anthology of poems about running. I’ve always found poetry and running (along with walking and cycling) to go hand in hand – being firmly in one’s body and immersed in one’s surroundings acts as a counterpoint to hours spent exercising only the parts of the brain that link thought to thought in our imaginal worlds and word to word on the screen.

In their introductions the three editors (all poets and runners) Kim Moore, Paul Deaton, and Ben Wilkinson address the question of ‘why we run’. Answers include that it’s a ‘cure’ for stress, ‘illness, bereavements, break-ups’, a source of meaning, and an act of transformation. Wilkinson concludes: ‘runners run as writers write: because they want to, and because they can.’

When I opened this book and saw it contained 128 poems about running from the ancient days of Pindar through to today I found myself wondering whether I would enjoy reading all the poems because they’re about a topic I’m interested in or whether it would feel like a marathon task.

Due to the skilful ordering of the editors (the book is split into four section based around themes drawn from lines in the poems: ‘what I was born for’, ‘against the rising light’, ‘our bodies gone to our heads’, and ‘I won’t stop until I’ve travelled from one life to another’) and the quality and diversity of the work I found myself sprinting through it with great admiration for the scenes evoked by each poet. At the end feeling fulfilled and looking back on particular poems with wonder.

Within its pages you will find much of what you might expect: ‘chatting, stretching, tightening of laces’, ‘soles slap the pavement, fat wobbles’, ‘breath, push, breath, push, breath, push’, ‘breath, / the kilometre kiss-kiss-kiss of rubber / on asphalt’. References to ‘purple lycra’, ‘the fluorescent top’, ‘calf-socks’, i-pods, ‘vests and gels and spiky massage balls’. The dread of shin splints and a prayer to the knees: ‘Knees, / oh my forty-year old knees, don’t take this away from me’.

‘Someone else’s bum’ by Katie Greenbrown stands out as a humorous prose poem about a predicament all female runners will relate to. ‘I watch and I’m afraid of what they’ll say if I try to run past them dressed this way.’ ‘But going back is twice as far… And I need to get past and go home for a shower.’ ‘It’s awful.’ ‘There were forty-five of them, and one of me. No-one seemed to realise that running clothes are tight for functionality. Not for titillation. Pardon the pun. Or so you get a really decent look at someone else’s bum.’

There’s much of the unexpected and the astonishingly original too. My out-and-out favourite is ‘Running – a bucket list’ by Jon McLeod. In a dazzling display of imagination he lists the runs he would like to do in his lifetime beginning with ‘a gentle jog’ in the ‘Early Cretaceous’ . These include ‘Hill run with Moses, stone tablets providing full body workout’, ‘The battle of Prestopans, 21 September 1745, joining the Higland Charge, downhill sprint session, avoiding musket fire’ and, most memorably for me, ‘The ninth circle of hell, club led by Dante and fellow sinners, difficult footing on icy lake.’

Other poems that stand out are ‘Blake on his morning run sees angels in a tree’, ‘Run, Boorana, Run…’ and the touching ‘Running Together in Greenwich Park’. The latter is addressed to a fellow runner who uses a three-wheeled racing wheelchair and contains the lines:

If you ask me
Is it still running
if our legs don’t move?
I will say yes…

I enjoyed this collection immensely and am very grateful to the publisher, Smith/Doorstop, for giving Terry this free second copy and to Terry for passing it on to me. It is a grand tribute to both running and poetry.

The Result Is What You See Today: Poems About Running can be purchased HERE.

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