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Friday 11 May 2007

A Turner Prize for poetry?

This week the press has been it's usual ecstatic self about the prospect of another Turner Prize Exhibition. The first foamings at the mouth and muted eulogies coincided with, among the usual junk mail on my mat, a number of pamphlets and information sheets on various poetry competitions, mostly from magazines to which I subscribe or once subscribed. The coincidence led me to wonder what it would be like if poetry had something akin to The Turner Prize.
I read that this year's Turner Prize exhibits are in fact about stuff. And not just about stuff, but about stuff that is relevant to real life. Wow! The bookies' favourite is Mark Wallinger, kind of well-knowm for his "State Britain", a forty feet (or thereabouts) display replicating more than 600 of Brian Haw's anti-war, anti-Blair protest posters and press cuttings etc. You may remember that Brian maintained a determined vigil with them outside the Houses of Parliament until he was forcibly removed by the representatives of law and order. Mark Wallinger might also be remembered for his less dramatic moment of fame at The Venice Biennale, occasioned by his video of himself, outside a London Tube Station, pretending to be a blind man reciting the words of St John's Gospel - backwards.
A poetry equivalent of the Turner Prize could go further than that, it seems to me. I can envisage a poem offering up a London Tube (or maybe New York subway) Station pretending to be a blind man reciting words of mind-bending philosophical thought or deep spirituality, but, just for the hell of it, speaking the words in a left to right orientation, though not necessarily intelligibly.
Even so, poetry would have three almost insurmountable obstacles to any attempt to equal, let alone surpass, The Turner Prize at its own game:
1. Finding a sponsor to come up with that much prize money.
2. I cannot visualise a poem I could walk into.
3. I do not quite see how to get the media fired-up - especially if the money was not forthcoming. Obviously the exhibits would have to be controversial. They could be sexually or politically so, or they could simply be in unacceptably bad taste. Ungrammatical would help, but by itself would be insufficient. Incomprehensible, ditto. They would need to be of such a standard that the press could say of them: "My five year old could have done better", etc, etc. And if there could be something about them that would allow certain TV newscasters to grin, snigger or make snide comments, so much the better.
Have you detected yet that I am fired-up about the prospect? So much so that I promise here and now to produce such a poem (mutatis mutandis) to coincide with the opening of this year's Turner Prize Exhibition - though actually I am not sure when that is! I can already see an image I might use: it is an image of myself with my tongue coming through my cheek. Nevertheless, there it is: a solemn promise!

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