Monday, 27 August 2012


It's odd how the word poetry is used in sporting contexts as a term of the highest praise - that sprint finish was sheer poetry - by people who would never read a poem.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

secret wheels: funding for athletes

The Olympics have certainly been a fascinating, vivid spectacle, and the British medal-winners are generally compelling and often charismatic individuals. There's been some discussion of lottery-funding and fears etc it will decline after the home event, but there's been no attempt that I've seen to look at the bigger picture in the funding - about funding for athletics in comparison with other cultural activities that find it difficult to fund themselves from their audiences alone. Poetry is comparable in this respect to a sport like kayaking - it's a minority interest and needs public money to survive. The difference is that poetry is part of a very long British tradition and one which forms part of our larger global prestige. Its neglect is evident when you compare the imminent appearance of British athletes on stamps to the absence of WHAuden from such honours in his centenary year a couple of years ago. Auden was the greatest British artist of the twentieth century. This is also reflected in the funding - British success at the Olympics has been achieved through targeting lots of cash at elite athletes. The amounts involved are staggering when you compare them with Arts funding which has been squeezed and squeezed so that small presses like Salt and Cinnamon are struggling desperately to survive. It's not just poetry that's suffering, but all the Arts, and the career of Danny Boyle, who directed the opening ceremony, needs to be borne in mind in this context. He's a generation older than the athletes and benefited from a previous economic regime - he was a student in my own academic department at a time when students got grants. He will also have furthered his career in Britain at a time when there was general funding for all the Arts. Younger versions of him will certainly be struggling to make their way.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

shouting insults from cars

As I was walking home a couple of nights ago, a car moved off and the driver shouted something loud and raucous at me through his open window. This seems to be a growing habit, and it's cowardly because the driver needn't ever be face to face with the insulted stranger. Mostly it's young men doing it, but it's part of a general culture of insult that's grown up in the past decade where the major culprits, like Ann Robinson and Simon Cowell, are older and where insult as entertainment has become a norm. A bad recent example is that idiot comedian who thought it was funny to say that Rebecca Adlington is ugly - surely this suggests that your comic resources are extremely meagre.
There was an element of self-conscious insult in Gore Vidal, who died this week - so it's clearly not that new. Vidal would also give the impression, sometimes, that he was shouting insults at passing macho strangers, (Norman Mailer, William Buckley) but he wasn't as cowardly and did receive some physical buffeting in reply. Even so it was a distraction from his genuine achievements, which were important in subverting rigid gender norms in the 1960s and after.