Poetry on the South Bank

Last summer, when wandering about where those Modified Social Benches are to be found, in the vicinity of the Royal Festival Hall, I happened to look downwards and I encountered, beneath my feet, this snatch of poetry:

When, more recently, I wondered what this poetry was, I was of course quickly able to identify the entire poem, hunting quotations down, even quite obscure ones, having now become so very easy.

I am sure that the off-puttingly antiquated language that I see in this poem is at least metaphorically speaking present, for many, in the classical music that I so love to listen to. These things are all a matter of personal taste. An insuperable barrier to one potential receiver of Art is no barrier at all to another. But for me, this sort of poetry is such that I hear only those barriers, rather than what is behind those barriers.

“O Thames!” … “Bards” … “fair River! … “fair Stream! … “Thy quiet soul on all bestowing” … “Vain thought!” … “thou art” … “ditty” … “the dashing oar” … “By virtue’s holiest Powers attended”. I just can’t get past such verbiage. If you can, I’m delighted for you, but I just can’t. This is close enough to the language I know and love for me to get straight away most of what is being said, but for that very reason, the fact that I and my contemporaries just wouldn’t say it like that also cannot be got around.

And, for me, the poetic momentum acquired by poetry when it really had a public impact, when people were spoken to strongly by words and phrases like those I have picked out from this Wordsworth poem, seems to weigh down even much contemporary poetry with its antiquated habits.

It’s not just the antiquated words. The very habit of “poetic” contemplation now seems to me more a suitable object for comedy than a real way to communicate. This much repeated bit of Rik Mayall stand-up seems to me to skewer the whole idea of being a poet, now. The puns that aren’t funny and aren’t even meant to be. The knowing proclamation of banalities, or just nonsenses, in a manner that implies deep wisdom. The deep suspicion verging on outright hostility that the Poet now has towards his potential audience, knowing that we think he’s rather laughable, in a bad way. The feeling that this character is a Poet, because he’s not up to being anything else of greater impact in the world as it now is.

I repeat. If you like poetry of the sort that poets do now, great. I am trying to describe how I feel, not making any sort of argument about what you should feel. I know I’m missing out on a lot of good things because of the above.

Here is something else I encountered, earlier on the same South Bank photo-walk in which I photoed that bit of Wordsworth.

A poet:

Yep. Definitely a poet. A poet is exactly the sort of person I’d expect still to be using a typewriter, and to ply his trade without drawing anyone’s attention to a website or social media presence. This is an exercise in self-conscious anachronism and, if this chap is silly enough to take what he’s doing seriously, almost inevitable downward social mobility.

Unless of course, he’s gathering material for his stand-up comedy act. That would make sense.

Dominic Frisby’s Chicken Song will be on YouTube this evening

Tweet, linking to YouTube.

Teaser lyric excerpt, the intro I assume:

When something’s pissing you right off
And it’s left you vexed and blue
Look to our friend the chicken
She’ll show you what to do.

By the sound of that, it will be a chicken version of “Always look on the right side of life”.

“Libertarianism” is in my category list for this, because when Frisby sings a song, there’s usually some libertarianism involved. Also: Comedy.

Poetic perfection in a reopening pub

Rebecca Day tweets:

I’ve spoken to regulars Chris and Jimmy. Jimmy hasn’t gone to bed after his night shift tarmacking the roads. He had a shower and came straight here. He described the taste of his first Carling as being like an ‘angel pissing on the tip of my tongue’.

In her original tweet, Rebecca Day put “p***ing” and “his” tongue, so I’ve restored what Jimmy said to its original state of perfection. You’re welcome.

One of the services this blog supplies to its regular readers is to pluck occasional pearls of perfection like that (or that (or that)) from the torrent of swine shit that is Twitter, or at any rate what Twitter seems to turn into for many people.

Poetry is not dead

Indeed:

Here.

She also wrote that NYT letter about white privilege, concerning which she Tweets:

Do not deny my lived experience.

Absolutely not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

David Starkey on how Handel trumped Shakespeare

I have started reading Music & Monarchy, by David Starkey and Katie Greening. What the division of labour is between these two (Starkey is in larger letters thatn Greening on the front cover) I do not know, but it certainly starts very promisingly. I have already encountered two passages worthy of prolonged recycling here, the one that starts the book (see below), and the bit that follows, about England’s profound medieval musicality.

So, to begin where Starkey and Greening begin, here is how the introduction of this book launches itself (pages 1-2):

Music or Words? Poetry and Drama? Or Anthems, Opera and Oratorio? Which, to personalise and particularise, is the more important in British history and to the British monarchy: the anniversary of Shakespeare or the centenary of Handel? The question almost seems absurd. Nowadays there is no doubt that Shakespeare wins every time. Shakespeare’s cycle of history plays, famously described by another maker of history, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, as ‘the only history I ever read’, still shapes the popular understanding of English history and its murderous dynastic rivalries; while in their nobler moments the plays (re-)invent the idea of England herself before going on to adumbrate a larger, mistier vision of Britain:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this sea of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-Paradise …
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea …
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings …
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land.

Who could resist that? George III (1760-1820) for one, who confided to Fanny Burney: ‘Was there ever such stuff as a great part of Shakespeare? Only one must not say so!’ The eighteenth century more or less agreed with its longest reigning king. The bicentenary of Shakespeare, celebrated five years late in 1769, was a provincial pageant, which, despite the best efforts of the actor-manager David Garrick, made little impact outside the Bard’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon and, thanks to torrential rain, was literally a washout even there. On the other hand, the centenary of Handel’s birth (celebrated a year early by mistake in 1784) was a grand national event the like of which had never been seen before: not for the greatest general, politician or king, let alone for a mere musician. Fashionable London fought (and queued) for tickets; Westminster Abbey was crammed and ladies were instructed not to wear excessive hoops in their dresses while hats were absolutely forbidden. Even then, demand was unsatisfied and two of the events had to be rerun.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog