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.