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Lament for the Makers - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Lament for the Makers

The Beeb – as I have but newly discovered from one of the Speccie blogs – has proposed a shortlist out of which we are graciously permitted to choose the Nation’s Favourite Poet.  No, really: http://www.bbc.co.uk/apps/ifl/poetryseason/captcha.


I notice it doesn’t specify which nation, which is perhaps as well.


The Poetry Society and the Arts Council, naturally, are responsible for this Approved List.


On it we find Robert Browning, but not his old, or last, dutch.  Perhaps it’s a case of – to borrow from another poet – he for God only, she for God in him.


Mind you, one cannot say that the list doesn’t give Approved Women and Other Dispossessed Groups a fair look-in, along with Our New Moderns (‘whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?’).  There’s no Dunbar – which certainly conturbats me to buggery – no Chaucer, no Herbert, no Langland, no Blunden and no Rupert Brooke, no Spenser.  But there is Simon Armitage, o joy of joys, and, better far, lift up your hearts, there is Benjamin Zephaniah.  Take that, Dan Geoffrey.


The list Does Not Approve Marvell or Herbert, MacNeice – or Pope.  Yet all is not lost: we are permitted to ponder the agonising choice between Roger McGough or Wendy Cope (is she waukin’ yit?), or indeed Stevie Smith or Carol Anne Duffed-it.  Well, if you can make room for Sylvia bloody Plath, why not give places to the Deserving that might otherwise have gone to, oh, I don’t know, Housman or that hopelessly vieux jeu glover’s boy, William Shagsper of Stratford.  And of course, despite his being joint first with Kipling for most-quoted poet of the last century, GKC is right out (and I don’t think, based on Auntie’s past form and that of the Arts Council, that that’s down to his appalling anti-Semitism).  There are people on this Approved List to whom I should prefer Chesterton; there are people on this list to whom I should prefer, frankly, AA Milne or poor old Newbolt – or William Topaz MacGonagall, for that matter.  Perhaps EJ Thripp.  It is certainly inexcusable that their inclusion should have been at the cost of, say, Hugh MacDiarmid, or indeed Sir Walter, whose Lay of the Last Minstrel will be remembered when their works are, even as shall they be, dust.


For golden lads and lasses – even Approved Modern Poets beloved of the muesli-munching classes – must, as we know, come to dust, at one with that dust that hath closed Helen’s eye, a handful of sand, so much dust and a peck of rubbidge.  And while it may be that God knows in what part of the world every grain of every man’s dust lies, and shall at the Last Day whisper and hiss and beckon for the bodies of his saints, the work of the poet, as distinct from her mortal clay, should be more than a handful of dust.


A list of Top Poets from which we are allowed to choose by our governesses, and that does not include Housman or Shakespeare, Chaucer (for whom perhaps it is no longer bon conseyle, but rather a warning, to know thy contree – and shudder at it), or Herbert, is a vain thing and a mockery.


Thomas Mann once said that, had the poets and artists of Germany offered Germans a better vision of the future than did Hitler, it had been Hitler and not they who had been forced to flee the country.  The only thing one can do, therefore, is to go and vote for the poets most likely to enrage our masters: Kipling, Betjeman, and Eliot.  And to strive in every way, culturally as much as politically, to break these smug, half-educated swine who believe themselves an elite and presume to run this country – right into the ground.

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10 comments or Leave a comment
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: August 28th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love Simon Armitage, and can see a case for excluding Shakespeare and Chaucer on the grounds that one is more commonly thought a playwright and the other the star of a previous English. But to omit Pope?! While including both Hughes and Plath?! I'd drop the two of them, and Duffy. And along with Pope and Spenser, I'd stick Rochester in one of the vacated places.

I'd probably still end up voting for Heaney, on the strength of his Beowulf, let alone everything else.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: August 28th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
All these lists are bollocks, anyway. I assume Shakespear isn't on it because they're thinking of him as a dramatist (which betrays a fundamental failure to understand poetry, but never mind).

I don't mind Wendy Cope - as minor comic poets go, she's good fun. I'd have put UA Fanthorpe on the list before her, though, even if one restricts the choice to twentieth century women.

it doesn’t specify which nation, which is perhaps as well.

Well, yes, given that they've put Famous Seamus on there ("Please be advised my passport's green/ no glass of ours was ever raised/ to toast the Queen.")
fpb From: fpb Date: August 28th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I greatly admire Sylvia Plath. But all the exclusions you mentioned stink (and I don't think that GKC's Jew-baiting is "appalling" - more like stupid, and it certainly did not prevent him from taking the right side when the time came).
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: August 28th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
But Benjamin Zephaniah is amazing and even better live.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 29th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

'Live' may be the problem.

He's quite young, no one knows what his corpus of work may attain to, and there's hardly been time for a critical judgement.

I will nonetheless be surprised if he ends by being Better Than Housman.

magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: August 30th, 2009 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: 'Live' may be the problem.

I suppose. I'm still deciding who to vote for.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 30th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, you know me.

Dead Poets Society, as it were.
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: August 31st, 2009 11:57 am (UTC) (Link)


Why am I not surprised?
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 28th, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Kipling and Betjeman for equal first; Newbolt next.

Rule Britannia.
From: seneska Date: August 28th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I went with Betjeman though I do like some Wilfred Owen. Some of the names missing off the list are ridiculous. How were these people shortlisted?!?

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