Friday, September 05, 2008

Education for Leisure

Apparently the decision has been taken by one of the UK’s biggest school exam boards to pulp an anthology of poems. The anthology contains a poem, Education for Leisure, by Carol Ann Duffy, which features a teenager who flushes a goldfish down a toilet and then carries a bread knife onto the streets. In the context of a sharp increase in knife-related crime, the poem was deemed inappropriate or, in the words of Lutterworth Grammar School’s exam invigilator, Pat Schofield, “horrendous”.

It’s good to see the authorities finally getting to the root of the problem of street violence. For years it’s been obvious that studious poetry-reading youths have been terrorising our streets, and how it’s taken so long for the authorities to make the connection between poetry readers and knife crime is beyond me. In almost every knife-related murder in London this year, a copy of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem has been framed on the offender’s bedroom wall. In one case, a recording of the poem being recited backwards was found, with the words, “Kill for Satan” clearly audible around 1.12min. One knife-wielding teenager told me, “It’s all Duffy’s fault. Before I read that poem, I liked to play Risk every evening with my friends. And look at me now! I’m out on the street every night with my bread knife and a copy of Mean Time in my jacket pocket. My best friend, who’s just sawed a goldfish in half, he’s into Wallace Stevens, and he just can’t stop reading Harmonium when he’s not beating up innocent passers-by.”

The pro-gun lobby in the USA has welcomed the decision. A spokesman read this statement: “We’ve always known it isn’t guns or even people with guns that are the reason for all those homicides. The fact is – too many people are reading poetry that features weaponry, and most of it comes from the UK and Ireland. Wilfred Owen – he should be banned right away. Paul Muldoon and Seamus Heaney too. And Simon Armitage comes straight out and says in one of his poems, ‘Me, I stick to the shadows, carry a gun.’ He's on the syllabus too! Now it’s fine for folks to keep a gun, but writing poetry about it is clearly an incitement to trouble.” George W. Bush is said to be considering the idea of removing all poetry books local to Iraq and Afghanistan, believing that, stripped of such a source of violence, resistance to the occupation would crumble within hours. He himself swears by a page of Jewel’s poetry every night because "I know how to handle it. But explosive material in the hands of other countries, that's a different kind of egg.”

Several MPs are rumoured to be forwarding a motion to ban the reading and publishing of poetry altogether. One said, “Poetry publishers are among the worst offenders. Look at their names! Bloodaxe! Arrowhead! What kind of example is that to our youth? And though some may at first appear innocent, Cape is a clear reference to hoodie culture, and Salt is used by certain regimes as an instrument of torture. In any case, we now have clear evidence that Osama Bin Laden carries that Carol Ann Duffy poem everywhere he goes (wherever that is). If he hadn’t got hold of it, he’d be an insurance broker in Shropshire. Simple as that.”

Although the anthology has been withdrawn, great concern has been expressed that unwary teenagers and unrepentant poetry fans might still be able to read the poem at the link posted at the top of this article (scroll to the bottom of the page at the link). Someone, I’m sure, will be looking into that even now, hoping that at least three complaints will come flooding in over the next year or two.

9 comments:

Background Artist said...

Hi Rob.

i went through several entirely different takes on this matter over the last few days.

at first i thought it was an outrage, then when i looked at the poem itself, that it wasn't that good, was closer to the natural speech of a young thug than anything one would traditionally associate with being a poem. Not that i am saying it isn't, as the way i see, if someone wants to beleive Buckingham Palace is a Concrete poem and just as valid as Shakespeare's sonnets, that;s ok by me. Anything can be a poem if you had yr first three yrs training under the main guru of the British Poetry Revival as i did, and CAD's poem is dead straight for me, as she is a late Movement baby, firmly in the lyric moder that goes back to Hardy via Larkin, whereas my first wax like mind-moulding was on the crazier proofs, which was perfect training, as i am a lyric by nature, and i see now that the most conducive way to allowing oneself the freedom to embrace any of our bardic brethren into the fold, is to learn first under the opposite school, go agaionst the flow so we question instead of have our first instincts confirmed.

So forst i thought it was all about the freedom of speech and censorship, boo hiss, the beardy neo-cons pretend hippies are skamnkin the kids, poor CAD.

Then after reading the opinion of a writer who framed the argument different, that why should Duffy expect to be on the syllabus, that the board are perfectl;y entitled to choose what they want, and no one can assume an automatic place in schools; and then thought the thing was about Exclusion and cultural preferring based not on the quality of the poem but of the fact it is Poet duffy who wrote it.

For example, if the poem was written by Ms No-one and appeared first online at the poetry flop hutch free for all, would it be recognised and claimed as a poem that should automatically be getting taught to kids in schools?

And if not, why is it, what makles it be thought of that it has to be included. Why her and not your or anyone elses work say? Who judges these things, and so the thought shifted see, that it wasn't as cut and dried as poor CAD, but hold on, who decides these things, what's the real politics. Is it the case fo afew ppl controlling who gets in the shops and schools?

Then after reading a teacher wrote how pathetic the banning is, that her kids said *no one started stabbing ppl after overdosing on poetry miss*; i started swaying again, back to the original position, especially when she told me how these things are taught, in blocks of six. So we have six from Shay, six from Simon, six from Caz etc and the kids go through them, identifying themes and then i thought, flipping heck, maybe i am wrong, professionally jealous of caz and disguising it as mean spirited thinking.

However what got me back, firmly in the camp i opted for second choice, that she had no right to expect automatic inclusion, is when another older teacher wrote that it was all a big hoo ha over nowt, as in his day, teachers were trusted to teach the kids any poetry they deemed fit. I am 41 and my english teacher, we were lucky. I played Malvolio at 14 on stage, and she ran the show, and though i wasn't that clued up then, clearly she taught us whatever she wanted, a teacher and not a robot given a state approved anthology of poets you had to teach foer learning outcomes, to discuss issues, to raise the very important societal gobble dee gook and make the bearacrats feel they are doing needed, that the constant testing, sats, you must teach six poems by CAD and the learning outcomes and blah blah.


This is my currebnt position. Why can't teachers be trusted to teach poetry and not have some suit say these poets get taught. And how do they get picked. Ou t of thin air?

What's the link between they who get picvked, their publishers and the examining board? Is there any behind the scenes stuff of publisher X subtley influenicing these things? How does the world of state subsidised poetry work?

So now i think, sod it, the poem aint that hot, and the only thing it shows up is how we get conned by Labour and next Dave will make it all better, coz he looks nice done ee?

Maybve Dave can tell us, maybe we are lied to left right and centre by the politicians that we are pavlov dogs and they quietly get on with the biz of whatever it is whilst we have pointless debates about a wealthy middle calss women who has had a very successful poetry career with work that is great, but how did she get there from the streets, like the voice she speaks for, the common one?

Poetry and colass, what is it teaching us?


rhty of inclusion However then i heard that it is only recently
po-mo under theyou point and why should we rally round the CAD jd here using dichetal di chennaib - *incantation from tips* (the ability to improvise incantations starting from any word
or subject), and what a fili poet learned from their eigth yr on, and therefore in no way represent the real thoughts of the author, a mask like caz uses in her practice. Maybe we should teach the kids about the 1200 yrs of print scotland and ireland had about the bard schools native to these isalnds from druid times to the 18C?

Background Artist said...

oops, bad last stanza

The above is a practice go at using dichetal di chennaib - *incantation from tips* (the ability to blah blah etc..

Rob said...

But a person's "right to be on the syllabus" isn't at issue here.

claire askew said...

I'm pretty sure Carol Ann Duffy doesn't "expect" or "demand" to be on the syllabus. The kind of person she seems to be, I'm pretty sure she doesn't give a monkeys whether she's there or not. However, I'm sure no writer wants to be labelled as an advocate of violent crime, or hear that bad teachers and all-round ignorant people have been tearing pages out of their books. Whats next? Book-burnings in the playground?

I am totally with you on this Rob. Young people are not that stupid - they're not chimpanzees, they don't just mimic whatever's put in front of them! I have taught this poem to my students and so far they've all reacted with maturity, usually welcoming the opportunity to discuss such a tricky subject. They're 16, not 6... kids already suffer enough thanks to the notoriety of a small violent minority. Has anyone actually ASKED any kids what they think of this? Are they too stupid/dangerous for that?

claire askew said...

However, I do absolutely agree that the curriculum is WAY too prescriptive when it comes to literature. I get handed three novels, three plays and about fifteen poems each term and I can teach those and only those pieces. It annoys the hell out of me, particularly when I give some of the stuff out and see the kids' faces fall. They don't want to study it and I don't particularly care about teaching it (CAD is always pretty popular though, I have to say; last term it was poor Iain Crichton Smith - who I quite like - who got really short shrift from the kids). There should be a lot more flexibility and I'm hoping that the much-talked-about Curriculum for Excellence will bring this about. As Rob says, that's not the issue, really, but I understand that frustration absolutely.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Very funny post, Rob. Thanks.

scavella said...

Yes indeed, hilarious.

Well done.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Very entertaining post and you're right of course...

Mark McGuinness said...

Hear hear! I've long been of the opinion that our moral guardians have been chasing a red herring in Grand Theft Auto and the like.

Video games like GTA are demonstrably less violent and far less addictive than the 'first person shooter' genre of poem which contemporary poets exploit for its commercial potential, without considering the harm they are inflicting on society.