The Real Story of Icarus

Posted: March 4, 2010 in Poetry

I’m back! The tour was both fun and successful. You can read all about it at Rusty’s World. Go ahead. I’ll wait.


Well so I am I, but only for a day. Tomorrow I head out to Massachussetts for a Kotei appearance (that is the regional tournament series for the game I write for Legend of the Five Rings, for those that don’t know).

I should be back with another entry on Monday so I hope to see you back here.

But first…

CONTEXT: January, 2008

There used to be a poetry show every year called the CBC Poetry Face-off. Sponsored (obviously) by the CBC, they brought five poets together to each write a poem based on the theme given by the producers. Then they ran a slam (though they never used the term) where everyone in the audience voted for the winner.

Fun show and it was an honour to be invited to take part.

(It hasn’t been run in Ottawa since 2008 or anywhere since 2009. Apparently being popular isn’t enough for the CBC to keep it going…)

In January, 2008 I was contacted by someone from CBC about possibly taking part. They asked for a sample of my work, which I submitted. Then then told me the theme for the year (‘Heating Up’). I asked around to people who had taken part in previous years and asked what the likliehood was. Every person I asked told me that once they ask you to submit, as long as you do what they ask, you are in.

Yeah… about that…

I went ahead and wrote the poem below. I tried to think of something on the heating up theme and came up with Icarus. I used him as an analogy for the poetry community. I thought it was pretty good.

Then I got an e-mail from the producer. Thanks, but no. Would you like to perform elsewhere on the show but not part of the competition?

Anyone who knows me knows how well I would take that. To me she was saying, “Well, you aren’t good enough to compete, but we need some time filler, I suppose…”

I told her I would think about it.

Then I posted pretty much what I wrote above in my Live Journal. The CBC Producer (while looking for contact information for Free Will, of all things) saw it, read it and sent me another e-mail. She was really good about soothing my bruised ego… but in the meantime the ‘warm up’ spot had been given to Nathanael.

Then came the day of the show. One of the poets was very ill and couldn’t perform. The producer asked Nathanael if he could fill in and when he said yes she asked if there was someone who could fill in for the warm-up spot. He suggested me, who she still remembered from earlier, and she gave me a call.

In the end, I ended up performing my heating up poem at the show, just not in the competition. It went over very well (to the point where there were apparently people asking if they could list my name as a write-in vote even though I wasn’t part of the competition). The face-off was great, with Nathanael pulling out the win and other friends Danielle, Will and Ian doing great jobs.

The poem became part of my then current line-up.

Jump forward to the first (I think… or an early one) edition of the Oneness Poetry Showcase. The feature was supposed to be L.E.V.I.A.T.H.A.N. from Toronto but something came up so Will asked Poetic Speed to fill in. I performed this piece on the open mic. The very first thing that Komi said when he started his feature was how important it was for him to hear it. I guess he was having a crisis of confidence and it boosted him up. Now, much later, we have become friends and teammates and he still tells me it is his favourite of my poems.

It can be found on the Live at Capital Slam 2008 CD.

    The Real Story of Icarus

I assume you all know the story of Icarus
Who didn’t listen to advice
Telling him how far to reach
Or how high to fly
Well I want to tell you the real story
Stripping out the false moral and allegory
And show that Daddy Daedalus was just a hater
And that the legend, as told much later
Tries to stop you from being greater
Or at least optimistic
No roadkill statistic
Falling from the sky, burned up by the sun

You see, Icarus was a poet
He sat in audiences, just like this one.
He watched and listened to wordsmiths
Laying out lines and lighting up riffs
With each word forming a feather
Along their arms and back.
The sounds rained down
But Icarus braved the weather
As their grooves and moves
Smoothed into wax
Holding their feathers fast
So they wouldn’t flutter in the wind.

Once the feathers were pinned and unpinioned
The poet rose.

Soon there was air between feet and stage
A breeze caught his wings
And he soared over the crowd
Held aloft by the sound of applause.
He never really came down.

Icarus felt the rush
And knew what he had to do.
He wanted to learn to fly
Using nothing more than line after line
Of rhyme (or not)
To break the confines of gravity’s pull.
He went straight to work
Building feathers and mixing wax.
He didn’t know how at first
So he watched others
To learn to build the wings of birds
Out of words.
But then he went further,
No longer imitating or duplicating
Instead he was fabricating
And truly creating.
His feathers were not the same
As any others.
The wax was formed from him
And uniquely his.

But then Big Daddy Daedalus stepped in
“You’re making a mistake,” he intoned.
“Don’t you know the risk you take
When you try to break away
From the safety of the pack?
If you try you won’t come back.
Your feathers will turn black
From the sun’s fury.
Your wax will melt and the sky you felt
Will become grave, not home.
No good can come from reaching too far
Or flying too high.”

But the day came and Icarus took the mic.
His words tumbled out
And with each one a feather,
Until his poem took flight
And with it went Icarus.
He claimed the sky
And flew so high
Ignoring the warnings of Big Daddy D,
Who had never tried to reach past his own
Or create something new.

But then he flew too high
The warmth of the sun got hotter and hotter
And he knew he had gone too far.
His skin began to burn
And his wax began to melt.
Each feather, each WORD
Fell from his back until
With them fell Icarus.
He thought of Daedalus’ warning
But too late.

But this is where Greek legends
Get it wrong.
Yes, Icarus fell, but only into
The strong arms of those who
Flew below him, supporting him.
Other poets and the audience that
Joy in the growth of feathers in the first place.
As he fell
They gave him the space and aupport
To try again and grow new words
And again face the light of the sun
But this time the heat was not too much
His wax held and his skin did not burn.

Reaching further while maintaining
Your roots is the only way to break through.
It is through community that even
Individual greatness can be achieved.
Fly higher and you may feel the heat
But you will not burn
And you will never fall.


Next up (on Monday) will be a poem I wrote as part of a youth program at the National Gallery.

  1. […] what Danielle and Kevin have done to “Why Art?” I LOVE having them join in on “Icarus” and […]

  2. […] it made me think of this which made me […]

  3. […] was Ray Guillermo (ArRay-of-WoRds). He did The Real Story of Icarus and apparently he asked for it specifically because he taught that piece to a class full of kids […]

  4. […] Tammy Mackenzie did The Real Story of Icarus. […]

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