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Wednesday 9 September 2009
This is not a Meme!
Did you know that the nation has been voting for its favourite poet? I am not sure whether I did know or not. I read about it in Tom Sutcliffe's column in The Independent. It did seem to ring a distant bell, but to be honest there are so many of these lists of favourite authors, novels, films and god knows what these days, especially on the net, that the distant ringing may have been from some quite other bell.
They are beloved, of course, of networks where the aim is to encourage relationships. They serve to highlight areas of like mindedness among their participants, and for that they are appropriate. That is to say they tell us more about the people taking part than about the subjects for which they are voting. All well and good. But what are we to make of this national thingy? The results, when they come out, will be anonymous, they will tell us nothing about anybody. Okay, it may boost your ego - or do the opposite, depending on your stance - to know that Shakespeare, your own personal favourite, is also, as it turns out, the nation's favourite, but where do you go from there? Ooops, silly of me, you couldn't have voted for Shakespeare, he wasn't on the list. Didn't make the shortlist - again! After me, he must be the most under-rated poet of all time!
So who did make it? Oh, I don't know, there were thirty of them, nice round number, all Brits except for four - two Americans and two Irish. Well, that's fair enough, I suppose: we Brits aint a'gonna vote for some non-Brit to be our favourite, are we? So you've guessed, I know: I didn't vote. Can't now because the voting's closed,. and wouldn't have done even if I'd known about it in time.
Tom Sutcliffe reckons it might have been more appropriate to vote for the best poem, that at least, he maintains, would have put the focus back on the poetry and away from the poets. Which brings us back to the old, much argued-about conundrums of how do you rate one poem against another and is this competitive element appropriate in the realm of art? If so, what about introducing poetry and painting as events in the next Olympic Games?
His last sentence was the most interesting - and this is the bit that is not a meme: I don't give a damn who the National Favourite Poet is but I'd be interested to know who might be voted The Most Unsettling Poet. Changing that a bit, I was wondering if there is a work of art that has really unsettled - discombobulated - you. I know which mine would be. Not a poem, but a sculpture. One I saw at the Tate back in the sixties, for me the jewel in an amazing exhibition of Mexican Art. It was found at the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars at ChichenItza, Yucatan, and shows a sculptural figure reclining on its elbows and holding a hollowed-out bowl or plate, which was presumably for offerings. None of the images that I have been able to find come anywhere near the sense of threat and savagery that being up close and personal to it evoked in me, perhaps because none were of the actual example which I saw in the exhibition, though they seem to have been produced to something of a formula and there is a conformity linking them all. Chac was a Mayan rain god. Chac Mool's bowl is said by some to have been for the purpose of catching rain - not as exciting, perhaps, as the alternative explanation. More reading here