'Olimpicamente': In Praise Of Feistiness And Big Feet

Olimpicamente poetry illustration
Ron Tanovitz

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."

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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."