As part of the bulwark tirelessly shoring up this remarkable edifice that is the English language, I habitually keep a close eye on the Written Word. I was therefore if not exactly surprised, then at least bemused to read that newspaper readership is on the decline. This ought to be good news, as it would at least mean that fewer innocent minds are exposed to the Daily Mail on a regular basis, but since the popularity of the Journal of the Middle-England House Price Obsessive is boosted by its presence as an on-line neurosis centre, even that hope turns out to be somewhat futile. It goes without saying that I am a fan of the entire on-line milieu and can read HTML like a native, but I still do take a printed paper, the Rodong Sinmum, or North Korean Worker’s News, which I much enjoy for its humorous Television Reviews, though I must admit that most days I simply inspect it to ensure that my Man is continuing to iron it correctly.
Tonight’s Workshop was supplied with a variety of poems on a variety of paper types, some ironed some decidedly wrinkled. Olwyn Grimshaw, who always uses a light gauge sheet of admirable flatness has promised not to nag mankind about toilet seats. John Hurley, with a slightly heavier weight is chiefly concerned with the ugliness of the beautiful game. Owen Gallagher, neat, flat and slightly shiny, told a story about a man from Donegal via the Spanish Armada. Peter Francis, folded and recycled gave us a piece examining cockle-pickers. Alan Chambers, small, square and smooth, brought us an example of his poetry for children, this one about how to be an artist. Daphne Gloag, in an attractive buff and cut economically to size, imagined a relationship as rooms branching off into the air. Louise Nicholas brought us some Australian paper for this the first Workshop of this year’s annual pilgrimage to PP with a beautiful poem about shades of motherhood. Nick Barth, thinner than we’d like and creased at the corner, brought an unfinished work he is writing in tribute to one of his best pals. Finally Martin Choules, on recycled Council paper has been thinking about the Magna Carta for the Ealing Arts Autumn Poetry Comp, which we should all have a go at really.
It was as I was reading Sunday’s Rodong Sinmum and inwardly chuckling over Songun Juche’s delightful description of North Korea’s latest victimisation Game Show ‘Jigulyeog’ that a strange pang of familiarity gripped me, which surely requires a longer explanation. Now, you have all heard of the BBC iPlayer. This neat invention means that we no longer have to watch any television programmes on the BBC as the entire output is available on-line for us not to watch any time we want. Those of you old enough to have fought in the great Betamax-VHS war of 1983 will remember the video recorder, a fiendishly clever device which could be set to record a television program while we were out doing something more worthwhile so that when we got home we could forget which tape it was on and would never be obliged to waste time watching it.
Now, some people, especially those who had bought video recorders, professed to liking television, so at great expense the British Government imported Clive James and put him in charge of saying funny things about the medium in newspapers so the chattering classes could at least pretend to have watched some of it.
As a result, poor Clive had very little time to devote to his true calling, which was surely poetry, when he came to these shores. We do have evidence of his early prowess in the declamatory arts when both he and Germaine Greer entered as an Australian ‘invasion’ of the now almost forgotten Pitshanger Poets Haiku competition of 1970. Greer’s seminal Haiku of that year became an inspiration to a generation:
What is the number
of feminists it takes to
change a light bulb? ONE!
James also contributed a remarkable work, redolent of the times, which surely lives on in the folk memory:
Even in times of
peace, Murray Walker sounds like
his pants are on fire.
If you have been, thank you for reading.