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Friday, 30 January 2009

Odds and Sods

Last January The Arts Council axed its grants to 185 arts organisations. Sir Christopher Frayling, its chairman, was then endlessly pestered at home by irate telephone callers, even until the early hours of the morning, often being called "a shit" - and no doubt much else. At a meeting held at The Young Vic, Nick Hytner, director of The National Theatre, dismissed The Arts Council by saying that it talks bollocks and is bollocks. Sir Christopher Frayling has now resigned.

Frayling has since gone on record to say that the priority for his successor, Dame Liz Forgan, must be to sort out the the country's cultural contribution to the 2012 Olympics. It would seem that the organisation (if that is the most appropriate word) is currently in the hands of innumerable committees, and he has had no encouraging feedback, nothing to give him a feel of what it will be like when it all comes together - if, indeed, together could be said to be the right word! Sound familiar? He has described how watching the opening ceremony at Beijing one got the distict feel that it was the work of a single intelligence. (Is that an argument for autocracy at the expense of democracy, I wonder?)

Mention of Bollocks reminds me...
Commenting on my blog post Oh, Shit! Ken kinda challenged me to come out and say where I personally stand on the issue of swearing. As it happens I have no written policy on the subject - I trashed all such the day after I retired - but as clearly as I can formulate my stand-point, here it is:-

  • I do swear

  • Swearing, I believe, can have a cathartic effect, benefitting not only the swearer, but those around.

  • I swear only at or about situations, objects, etc. Not people - though I have to admit that at times it is difficult to draw the line.

  • I do not swear gratuitously or use obsenities as sustitute punctuation

  • I consider that any rationale there might be for swearing to lie in the fact of its taboo. That is to say that I try not to use it where another word will do, but solely where there exists, if only in my fevered imagination, such a depth or revulsion, anger or whatever, that no word by virtue of its meaning alone, could hope to express it. Nothing but the feelings aroused by the fact of society's taboo has the wherewithal to get within striking distance.

  • All of the above are the ideal to which I strive, but I am, alas, prone to the sins of the flesh... yawn, yawn.

  • I have no qualms about quoting swear words or using them in character in a piece of writing.

Interesting to learn that Sebastian Barry's novel, The Secret Scripture carried off the £25,000 Costa Book of the Year Award despite the judges having considered it flawed and with a bad ending. I find it somewhat cheering to think that they found it possible to make such a presentation whilst admitting the book's imperfections. But then perhaps I wouldn't have found it cheering had I been Adam Fould whose poetry collection, The Broken Word, was running neck and neck with it until the last.

The Secret Scripture was conceived ten years earlier, we learn, when the author was driving through Sligo with his mother. She pointed out to him an old hut in which his great uncle's first wife, a woman of great beauty, had lived before being consigned to a lunatic asylum by the family.

A while back I posted on the fact that the present Poet Laureate's ten year tenure (the first to have had a fixed term) is coming to an end and asking who might be in line for the vacancy. Now, it seems (hush! voice it not around!) that the cognoscenti (or some of them) are asking in all seriousness whether we have need of such a one among us. Perhaps because most of our best poets have made it known (truthfully or not, time will tell) that they would not consider such a position. Wendy Cope is the most recent to have removed herself from the arena, citing the example, among others, of Sir John Betjeman, a good poet who produced bad poetry as Poet Laureate. Others have said the same of Ted Hughs. Cope points out that there is no compulsion, either from The Palace or from Whitehall for the Lareate to produce anything, but there is expectation from the press and from the public. She thinks the post should be discontinued. Interesting, I thought, that The American Laureate was not chosen for the inauguration.

But now it comes to my notice that Andrew Motion's vacant post will not be the only top position to be filled; that the University of Oxford's Professor of Poetry, is also up for grabs. Together they represent Britain's top two poetry jobs. The Oxford chair has in the past been held by Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden and Seamus Heaney.

Try not to get too excited, though, reasoning that if you apply for them both you are bound to get one or the other, for it has been whispered that Andrew Motion is being considered for the Oxford job. If so, that just leaves the Poet Laureate and the questions: Do we need one, and if so, what should his or her role be? Raising the public profile of poetry, perhaps? Raising the profile of poetry in the world of Education? Surely not just exalting the celebrations of the royal family! Two Brownie points for a truly splendiferous and original suggestion!

Big news overnight: Birmingham Council has banned the use of the apostrophe on all its road signs. King's Square is to become Kings Square, etc. Is this the thin edge of the wedge, scream some, the beginning of the end for the most abused and misapplied mark?

Still thinking of the death of John Updike, I came across the thought that (quoting from memory):- The death of a favorite author leaves a peculiar kind of loneliness. Here, by way of consolation, one of his poems. (He always half-dismissed his poetry as light verse. Not in my book!)

Burning Trash

At night—the light turned off, the filament
Unburdened of its atom-eating charge,
His wife asleep, her breathing dipping low
To touch a swampy source—he thought of death.
Her father's hilltop home allowed him time
To sense the nothing standing like a sheet
Of speckless glass behind his human future.
He had two comforts he could see, just two.

One was the cheerful fullness of most things:
Plump stones and clouds, expectant pods, the soil
Offering up pressure to his knees and hands.
The other was burning the trash each day.
He liked the heat, the imitation danger,
And the way, as he tossed in used-up news,
String, napkins, envelopes, and paper cups,
Hypnotic tongues of order intervened.


stu said...

I'm inclined to think that the poet laureate should write lots of random poems about penguins. Admittedly, that's mostly because it happens to be what I'm doing today, while almost no one else will have thought to, and I think it might improve my chances a bit.

Pretty Me!! said...

though i rarelt survive long posts, i read and liked this one .. you have a good sense of writing .. a small tag for you :


hope you wont mind :)

Rachel Cotterill said...

Another post full of interesting thoughts :) I definitely don't want to be poet laureate, I haven't written a good poem in my life!

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

If the position of Poet Laureate doesn't require the holder to produce any verse I can't see what objection anyone should have to accepting it!

And if it was originally intended simply to create entertainment for the monarch, the holder could do that entirely privately. The monarch should also be free not to appoint anyone if he/she has no particular taste for poetry. (Is that incendiary?)

A rambling rose said...

What can I say about the Arts Council - friend of mine has just been turned down for a grant even though it met all the criteria and more and she spent days getting it right! It even had the approval of one of the officers - it's just the luck of the draw as so many things are in this country + who you know too!! Poetry!!!! Hmmmm! Thanks for the interesting read

Renee said...

Good Morning Dave:

Your blog is so informative on things I would never know about (swearing aside). It felt like a little trip.

I have to admit that I swear all the time. Like you, I never swear at people. And if I don't say shit, then there is only one other word I say. I'm really splitting hairs because I think of it as an adult descriptive word. Not to be used around children.

What I find more offensive is the word 'shut-up'.

Thanks for coming to see me.


Karen said...

Dave - As a lifelong literature lover, I am saddened to read that the position of Poet Laureate is endangered. I understand the position of poets who choose not to become poets-for-sale, but I cannot understand a society that sees no value in art.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

So many rich morsels to chew on here! From swearing to poetry!

Being a lady, I try not to swear...but, being human, I occasionally do. Not in public, however, and never in print. I often observe that unrelenting swearing conveys a feeling of helplessness that the swearer feels in his situation. Does that make sense?? Of course, in a lot of circles, it has become rather a part of ordinary language, which dilutes its original purpose, I think.

As to the possible removal of the position of Poet Laureate...I would find that a real shame. I have watched as the funding for our arts here in the states has been slashed and devalued over the past eight years, much to our country's detriment. And of course, in our current abysmal financial situation, there are those calling for its obliteration now. I think countries are remembered by their contributions to the arts and that far too few realize their importance. To actually remove the post of Poet Laureate would, I feel, send a very sad signal about the value of poetry in society, a value that I find quite high indeed. Ah,well.

The Updike poem is wonderful, and The Secret Scripture....have you read it? I haven't yet heard of it, but will take a look.

Have a wonderful weekend, Dave!

Tumblewords: said...

A lively and timely post. I've never understood why the first slashings take out mind-improving or thought-producing programs. But then when I think 'the less WE know, the better THEY look' it becomes almost obvious. :) I curse more often than I'd like but rarely write it. John Updike's poem was one I hadn't seen - thanks for posting it!

Jo Horswill said...

Hi Dave, interesting post here.
On the swearing.
I originally started swearing in Greek (Greek Mum), until I learnt the words and thier meaning in English,(early teens).
It's a handy thing to know...swearing in another language.
My fathers Hungarian, yes, I learnt how to swear in Hungarian too!

Moved by "Burning Trash".
Thanks Dave.

Karen said...

Dave - I'm making deliveries, so please stop by my place to pick up your Lemonade Award for blogs with attitude!

Cloudia said...

Thank you for allowing us this instructive look inside your elevated considerations. It is by glimpsing those ahead and above us on the path of learning that we come to admire and copy them, and so become more discerning ourselves. You can instruct me ANYTIME, and I shall consider it a great favor.
"Hypnotic tongues of order intervened." Rabbit is dead. Alas!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Another post chock full o'goodness. Note the use of the apostrophe. I think it is a damned shame (nod to your bit about swearing) or bollocks (I like using that word here because no one in America knows it's - please note second apostrophe - naughty) that they are phasing out the apostrophe. It is a fine mark, even if most people screw up its use. (Note: NO APOSTROPHE GOES THERE. I know how to use it. I do not abuse it.)

Do you ever watch James Lipton on Inside the Actor's (#3 apostrophe) Studio? He asks each actor to identify his or her favorite swear word. The F word wins out most times. Very entertaining. As is your blog.

Elle said...

I nominated you for the lemonade award. Come to my page to check it out and accept. :)


I'd say that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but they've been saying that for years. (heavy sigh)

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

About swearing, I was in the theatre for a great part of my life and a teacher for another, I think it was necessary to be totally multiligual which occasioned sobriety and discipline.
I then became a vicars wife....at a craft group meeting when I dropped the only quiche that was to serve many I let out an expletive.
The reaction was ...silence....then everyone began talking at once in embarrassed chatter. I found it extraordinarily funny...and ran out to hide my mirth.
What a peculiar attitude we have to language.

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

About swearing, I was in the theatre for a great part of my life and a teacher for another, I think it was necessary to be totally multiligual which occasioned sobriety and discipline.
I then became a vicars wife....at a craft group meeting when I dropped the only quiche that was to serve many I let out an expletive.
The reaction was ...silence....then everyone began talking at once in embarrassed chatter. I found it extraordinarily funny...and ran out to hide my mirth.
What a peculiar attitude we have to language.

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

About swearing, I was in the theatre for a great part of my life and a teacher for another, I think it was necessary to be totally multiligual which occasioned sobriety and discipline.
I then became a vicars wife....at a craft group meeting when I dropped the only quiche that was to serve many I let out an expletive.
The reaction was ...silence....then everyone began talking at once in embarrassed chatter. I found it extraordinarily funny...and ran out to hide my mirth.
What a peculiar attitude we have to language.

Rachel Fox said...

I hate that business of dismissing poetry as 'light verse'. Why should a great writer feel the need to do that? Why is nothing ever dismissed as 'heavy verse'? Now, that is bollocks, my friend...

I used to swear a lot...but swearing around small children doesn't work for me so I've stopped (for the most part).

CLAY said...

I have always wondered about how to condense my thoughts in away that could flow "poetically"--I just can't do it! I love reading it though. What makes a good poet anyway? Sterling post Mr.King!

Ever Your,
Clayrn Darrow

findingmywingsinlife said...

I have nominated you in my top 10 list of outstanding bloggers, and thus, passed on to you the Lemonade Award...come see!

SweetTalkingGuy said...

Vladi Nora! Hi Dave, I'm not in the business of giving out awards but if I was I would have to present you with a case of Vodka to go with the sea of lemonade that appears to be making its way towards you.

Love the Updike!

Dave King said...

Good thinking. Like it.

Pretty Me!!
Welcome to my blog. Many thanks for the tag - don't mind in the least - and for surviving my post.

Not having written a good poem (which I don't believe) shouldn't disqualify you if the laureate doesn't have to write poems.

Nothing there incendiary, just mischievously logical.

Rambling Rose
Welcome. Good to have you visiting. Yup, it's a lottery.

hi, and welcome. I agree with you about "Shut up!" Words that are not considered offensive in themselves can do far more damage.

Personally, I don't think the position will, infact, vanish, though it would be sadder to see it just wither on the vine.

Pamela Terry and Edward
Yes, I agree with both of your first two propositions.
I have read extracts from The Secret Scriptures. Hope to start on it shortly.
Thanks for your thorough and very interesting response.

I think the first slashings take out the thought-provoking programmes because it is considered that losing those will affect fewer people.

Jo Horswill
Welcome and thanks. Interesting... swearing in Greek and Hungarian. Was that because no one knew you were swearing? I'm sure I've told this before, that when I was a lad (pre-teens) our worst swear word was District Nurse. Blood-curdling, we thought it!

Thanks for that - but I have the Lemonade Award. I must check why it's not showing.

I think you have me confused with someone who knows what they are on about, but thanks anyway.

Fantastic Forrest
I think we are as one on this: I shall feel inclined to find ways of phrasing sentances that use the apostrophe - just to be awkward. I haven't seen James Lipton's (note apostrophe!) programme, but shall try to fit it in.

Welcome and many thanks. That's extremely nice of you, but as I have just pointed out, I already have been awarded it. Something I've done or not done - it doesn't appear on my blog. I shall endeavour to put that right. Many thanks - and apologies.

Doesn't make it less true, though.

That is a really amusing anecdote - and, yes, it does illustrate a peculiar attitude to language.
Thanks for that.

I agree - but is it heavy bollocks or light bollocks?

Many thanks for that. I'm not sure that the conensing is what makes a thought poetic, though I do believe it is essential to the thought's expression. Intriguing observation. I'll have a long think about that!

Sweet Talking Guy
And very welcome it would be! Shame you are not in the business! Thanks for the comment, though.

Jacky said...

Thanks for popping by and for your lovely comment.
I've really enjoyed this post, especially the poem. I have not read poetry for many years...since High School/College!!! I feel I have a better appreciation for poetry now than I did when I was a student though.
Swearing... now I have been known to swear on the odd occasion, but I prefer not.

Hyde DP said...

the need for apostrophes in placenames has long been deemed mostly unnecessary and it's not missing ap'hes that bug me as much as the unnecessary grocer's apostrophe in signs - that does make me swear sometimes - as for the Arts council i'd better shut up else i will f88888888888888**** ing swear.

mansuetude said...

This, here written, "I do swear."
This seems wonderful as a rhythmic line... enough.
Maybe I am aware of it evoking, "I do declare." There.

Thought provoking, as always.

Andrea said...

I always find such interesting tidbits on your blog...as well as amazing poetry! :) Thank you for sharing. :)

John Hayes said...

Mr King:

I've only been coming to your blog for a little while, but I've really been impressed by the writing here. I recently was awarded the Superior Scribbler & I'd like to pass it on to you. You can stop by Robert Frost's Banjo anytime after about the next 5 or 10 minutes to pick it up.

Dave King said...

Welcome to my blog and thanks for returning the compliment. I, too, had a desert period of many years and really only got back to it after I retired. Thanks for your interest.

Welcome. Yes, absolutely. I did almost include the grocers' contribution.

Ah, but oi do!

Thanks so much for those kind words. Good to have you visiting.

Thanks , I am very grateful for the gesture.

Renee said...

Dave -- I'm so glad you came to the party. xooxxo


A Cuban In London said...

I loved this post :-). I was one of those irate people who gathered at the Young Vic to give ACE a good bollocking (pardon my French!) and it's still inconceivable to me that so much good work is going to waste because of 2012. Even the main sponsors are pulling out due to the credit crunch. Can the London Committee (or whatever they call themselves these days) downsize a little bit in light of current times? Oh, the madness of it all.

And swearing at the right time and in the right place is divine. Methinks.

That was a nice post, mate.

Greetings from London.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

Great post, as usual. Thanks for your thoughs Dave. I enjoy visiting here each time.

Jenn said...

I fully agree that curse words have their time and place and when used outside of that context are just vulgarity for vulgarity sake. It is not shocking, just ill advised in my book (literally and figuratively if you will!). To me though that is true of just about any word in the dictionary.

Thanks for sharing such a striking poem.

Adrian LaRoque said...

A post full of interesting thoughts Dave, congratulations!

CLAY said...

Mr. King, you are running a splendid parlor here sir, with the most fabulous topics! And your guest are very classy folks too! Hats off to you sir.

Ever Yours,
Clayrn Darrow

Dave King said...

Welcome. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Cuban in London
Welcome. Nothing to pardon, though. french? Sounded like perfectly good Anglo Saxon to me! The madness is in policians taking control of the arts - or anything, come to that!

Thanks for the kind words. Good to have you.

Yes, exactly, its the inappropriateness and the repetative use that irk.

Thanks for the comment.

My thanks for those kind words.

Tom Atkins said...

New here, but I like the long thoughtfulness of this post, and others I read. I'll be back!

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