Poetry Season on the BBC

It’s always great when poetry gets media focus, it is one of the great things about the BBC, and definitely something that proves the license fee is needed. I doubt advertisers would have any interest in poetry – look what happened to Richard and Judy, that was a ratings winner, it’s book club was a major influence on the book charts, and still it was booted to some random minor Sky channel, and then promptly retired.

The BBC is currently running a poetry season (no doubt the appointment of the new Poet Laureate, and the positive media coverage, with hits on the new story on the website, helping influence the idea). Last night Griff Rhys Jones was on a program on the Beeb called “Why Poetry Matters”, haven’t had chance to watch it yet, but will do this afternoon. Here’s the program description from iPlayer:

Griff Rhys Jones makes a passionate and personal plea for poetry, exploring how verse has the power to enlighten, entertain, stimulate and seduce.

Griff dissects Keats with Simon Armitage, views a line-up of poetic dandies with Andrew Motion and encounters an experimental poem made from a dozen beach balls. He celebrates W.H. Auden’s Night Mail with a team of railway drivers, takes a Shakespearean masterclass with Nick Hytner and is thrown into the bardic bear pit at a poetry slam.

If you’re in the UK you can watch it on iPlayer, the link is http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00kmtyn/Why_Poetry_Matters/

I’m watching it as I write this, some amazing poetry readings, and some wise words as to the importance, and impact of poetry among society. I may write  a proper review of it later.

There’s also a whole Poetry season website here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/poetryseason/

I’ve been going through it today, and it’s well worth spending some time on. I did get caught up short though, they’re doing a vote for the Nation’s Favourite Poet, and I figured “Oh yeah, ace, I’ll have a bit of that!”, as you do, only to find myself torn over the choices. I’m intending on doing a post at some point in the future to explore my love of various poets, so I don’t want to spoil that in this post. However, let me just cover the poets on whom I am torn, and briefly why.

First up is WH Auden, Auden most people know in some form, even if only for his poem “Funeral Blues” – though commonly identified as “Stop all the clocks”, like everyone else I find this a profound and moving poem – but, I have to say I prefer September 1, 1939, it is an epoch marking poem, it was written during the first days of the second world war. I always think it was kind of sad that he grew to hate it, but sometimes, as a reader of poetry, you have to ignore the poet, and celebrate the poem and what it means to you.

Next up we have Seamus Heaney, his poetry is different to most I read, partly because I don’t read a great deal of contemporary Irish poetry, however I was introduced to his works at school, and still hold them in dear regard. His poetry is lovely of detail, and often feels like real life captured in poetry – and makes you wish that you had some of those memories, until it triggers a memory in you, and then your just piggy backing from his memories into your own, which seems to make the poetry even more real, and draws you in. It is a tremendous gift to share, and to recieve.

Carol Ann Duffy is in there, another one of my favourite poets, and another I was introduced to at school (in fact Auden, Heaney, and Duffy were all part of my national curriculum set poetry for English Literature), she’s written some of the best poetry I’ve ever written. What I like about her poetry is the technical side, not because it’s technical poetry, but because her technique is more simple, more accessible. You’re able to pick up an anthology of poetry, flick through to a Duffy poem, and just read. Her poetry has an often childlike quality to it, even as it handles adult themes and characters, there’s a level of honesty, and understanding, that as adults, poets tend to lose in the need to appear intelligent, to hide depths within lines, and give altering meanings to written work. Of all her poetry, Valentine is my favourite, again it has an almost childlike concept of love, by childlike I mean innocent and idealised, something we find hard to achieve as adults.

WB Yeats, now there’s a towering man of whom I am associated (intellectually, sadly he died before my time), with in many fields. I do honestly like his poetry, but I also have to admit, I have spent more time studying places in history he went. Not purposefully, however he was there, and that added great interest to my studies. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Theosophical Society of London, and the Golden Dawn, the whole change in spirituality, and the mood of the nation at the time – and the world in general. However, I would say of his poetry, Sailing to Byzantium is my favourite, it’s a very bleak view of getting old, and of dying.

William Wordsworth, there’s not a great deal to say here. I strongly suspect that he wrote possibly the best known poem, the most often repeated, and the poem more people think of, than any other, when asked “Can you think of a poem”. Of course, this is very much a matter of opinion – I don’t have statistical evidence of this. However, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, is there, if it’s not as I describe, it’s not far behind. He did contribute far more than that to the art of poetry, he helped usher in the romantic age, his vast array of poetry is some of the world’s most beautiful, most meaning and poignant, and he was of course Poet Laureate for a while.

Lastly (that I will cover) is Keats. Now I didn’t come to Keats until I was in college, studying my AS Level in English Literature, however he is the poet who’s probably influenced upon my life the most. He lived a relatively short life, yet I feel his impact on modern poetry has been as potent and powerful as any of the romantics, he was sadly ill recieved as a poet during his time, but his influence secured his recognition.  He was prolific well, he died at twenty-six (my age), but he had dozens of poem published.  I would be hard pressed to choose my favourite, and i’ll save my favourite Keats for poem for another post, dedicated to finding just that.

Now I’ve written that, I’ve made my choice – it’s not an easy choice, all those I have listed have had a major effect on my love of poetry, and my writing of poetry. There are others too, but I don’t want to exhaust myself trying to analyse them all.  I would have mentioned Kipling, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Byron, and Plath – each deserves as much of a mention as above, and indeed each of these, and all those above deserve a post each – and I aspire to provide that over time.

My choice however is Keats, his impact on me, on the romantics, and the profound sense of loss I have that he did not live to write more, I would have loved to see how his poetry evolved over time, what would have changed, what would have stayed the same.

There will be more to come from this poetry season, more programs, the results of the vote, and I’ll be here to offer my humble commentary, and analysis, and celebration of a worthwhile idea, and hopefully finding inspiration among the poetic greats of past and present.

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