875: Olympians vs. Modernity

Slowdown Kids Drawing

875: Olympians vs. Modernity


Major: I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown. This week, we’re doing something special – we’re exploring poetry in all of its forms with kids who write, rhyme and sing about their lives. Today’s co-host is Adelaide. She’s 15 years old and a passionate tennis player. She practices 5 days a week!

Major: Besides being good with a racket, Adelaide has a way with words. She’s always writing – pretty much every chance she gets.

Adelaide: I write at school, in the library, on the bus, between my violin lesson and school, while I’m waiting for food (laugh) from my Mom…

Major: She even writes during tennis practice!

Adelaide: I'm not quite sure what really makes tennis such a lucrative place for ideas, but I feel like it's something to do with focusing on hitting the ball and like that, that your mind actually kind of like, becomes in sync with your body and then you get more ideas.

Major: One of my favorite poems that she’s written is all about tennis. It’s called “Tuesday is for Tennis Players,” and it has an opening stanza that is full of delicious sounds.

Adelaide: my newly strung racket strings are taut / tenuous fibers reinforced / the handle / regripped / slashes through plumes of clay on the court.

Major: I was curious to hear more about all the unusual places Adelaide discovers poetry, so I invited her into the studio to chat some more.

Major: Welcome to the studio, Adelaide!

Adelaide: Thanks, Major, it’s great to be here!

Major: We’re happy you’re here! One of the things I enjoy about your poem “Tuesday is for Tennis Players” is how you infuse it with so many sounds!

Adelaide: Thank you so much. Yeah, one of the things I really wanted for this poem was to really embody the sounds of playing tennis, when it's read aloud. So I hope I achieved that.

Major: One of the other things I love about the poem is that for most people, playing tennis doesn’t strike us immediately as a poetic activity – it’s a game! It’s competitive. It’s about… hitting a ball! Can you think of another object, place or activity that might not seem poetic on the surface that’s also made its way into your poetry?

Adelaide: Well, yes, definitely. For example, brand names like Lululemon, Spotify, they found their way into a poem that I wrote called Olympians vs. Modernity. It basically features the Greek gods and their interaction with the modern world. I used brand names to contrast classical antiquity with modern consumerism, and technology that we're all familiar with today.

Major: So cool! By writing about these very familiar brand names in our lives, you in a way, make them more familiar to us.

Adelaide: Also, I think it grounds poetry in like our modern world. It makes it sort of accessible for everyone.

Major: Would you mind reading that poem for us?

Adelaide: Yes, I would love to read my poem. Okay.

Olympians vs. Modernity
by Adelaide Sendlenski

i crawled from the embers 
head awhirl and mouth agape; 
bedraggled and dazed 
from the searing heat of flame.

hestia of the hearth glared stonily at me. 
a brief moment– 
and she plugged her headphones back in. 
stirring aimlessly, 
bound for eternity 
she hummed spotify’s charting 
in a futile attempt to embody mortality. 
i, pityingly, met her gaze. 

i wandered aimlessly 
through olympus’s gilded halls. 
zeus’s portly figure 
gorging on ben and jerry’s 
a tub, a pint 
the millennium abruptly turned. 
the faint glow of netflix
outlined against his throne. 
and aphrodite, 
fake french tips tapping interminably 
on her iphone 15 pro. 

demeter’s seething vines 
gradually began to wilt 
shriveled stalks 
and genetically modified 
withered corn husks 
littered the marble floor. 

artemis, clad in hunting gear, 
the newest fit' from lululemon, 
shifted impatiently in her seat 
eager to swiftly release 
the hounds of modernity 
with gnashing teeth and beady eyes 
menacing jowls slavering 
tails whipping in anticipatory frenzy 
earth’s demise drew ever closer. 

"Olympians vs. Modernity" by Adelaide Sendlenski. Used by permission of the poet.

Major: Wow. Adelaide, that is such a very, very good poem I… I mean, look. From the Greek god Zeus to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Netflix… Talk about “the hounds of modernity.” Maybe that’s the trick with excellent writing is that it can enfold so much of our lives and make it poetic material. You do that with this poem.

Adelaide: Thank you so much. Yeah, I just really wanted to show the contrast, I guess. And I thought it would be kind of a cool idea to put something so ancient into such a modern scenario.

Major: Right, and as a result, you bring the ancient here, and I feel them even more.

Adelaide: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Major: This week on The Slowdown we’re playing a different word game every episode! And today’s game is…

[SFX Simile Like, Woah!]

Major: A simile is a figure of speech that compares one thing to another in order to make the description more vivid. For example, he jumped around like a caffeinated grasshopper!

Adelaide: Or, she was as chilly as a popsicle!

Major: Exactly. For this challenge, we each got a list of incomplete similes. We’ll each get 30 seconds on the clock – and we’ll read off similes for the other person to finish. The goal is to get through as many as possible in 30 seconds, and whoever completes the most, WINS! Sound good, Adelaide?

Adelaide: Yes!

Major: Alright. Here we go!

Adelaide: The apple juice was as yellow as –

Major: A sunset.

Adelaide: The supermarket was so cold. It felt like –

Major: A sweatshirt.

Adelaide: Nice. The baked potato looked like –

Major: A shriveled face.

Adelaide: (laughs) That's great. When she gave him the ring, his face opened up like –

Major: A stage curtain.

[SFX Timer Ends]

Major: Ahhhh. Alright, Adelaide, your turn. You got 30 seconds starting now. The breeze was as gentle as –

Adelaide: Um, a child's – a mother's hand on a child's back.

Major: Very cool. The black cat danced as gracefully as –

Adelaide: A ballerina.

Major: Her handwriting was as messy as –

Adelaide: Tree branches.

Major: Oh I love that one. The clown typed away on the keyboard like –

Adelaide: An office worker at his desk.

[SFX Timer Ends]

Adelaide: Major you got four.

Major: And Adelaide, you got five.

Adelaide: Oh my gosh. I think that means I won.

Major: You did win! (laughter!) Now, before we go – let’s listen to a haiku from a young poet. We asked kids around the U.S. to send us their poetry, and we got this one about dragons from Natalie and Sylvie in New Brighton, Minnesota.

Fast flying lizards
Beating wings and gleaming scales
Bright burning breath — FWAA!

Adelaide: Wow, what a beautiful poem!

Major: Agreed. If you have a haiku you’d like to submit or feedback you’d like to share, please head to slowdownshow.org/contact and send us your thoughts!