Tuesday, 8 April 2014

5 things I've been watching lately (part one)...

1. Dear Mr. Gove (and other education protest videos)

I've been in my own head lately, running around with work and poetry gigs - so this video escaped my attention until a couple of days ago, despite having already had more than 150,000 views on YouTube. I can't imagine what it's like to be so unpopular, and almost universally hated as Michael Gove (Education Secretary), and to still carry on making these very unpopular decisions that will mess up lives for a whole generation.

I'm sure there'll be many more poems to come that are critical of the education system, partly because poetry and education are linked careers (although, funnily enough, I don't seem to know any poets that teach).

I recently heard Rik Livermore perform this one:

Former Children's Laureate, poet, writer and teacher/lecturer Michael Rosen spoke his own Dear Mr Gove lecture back in 2012 . Or try a briefer, sillier, Mr. Men version of how he's messing things up. Or a version with dramatic music added for effect.

2. Cultural conflict - rape poems

So it's half-term and I'm catching up with things. I was watching another poetry video on YouTube and this came up as a suggested video.

I may have discussed this before on this blog - I certainly have with poets who have performed both sides of the Atlantic - but there sometimes seems to be an interesting cultural conflict between UK and the US and nothing typifies this more than the concept of the 'rape poem'.

Back in 2010, during the World Cup in Paris, a Canadian poet asked me if the North American 'rape poem' phenomenon existed back in the UK. I'd never heard of a rape poem... But, sure enough, two years later, the first time I stepped into a poetry slam in the US, I heard a really powerful poem about rape. And, later that night, another one. And the following night, at the famous Nuyorican Poets' Cafe, I heard another one. Two days and three poets recounting their traumatic experiences. The next year when I went to D.C.... you can imagine.

Several ideas spring to mind:

1 - perhaps there are loads of people out there in Britain who don't feel comfortable sharing these experiences through poetry.

2 - perhaps the reason they don't feel comfortable is because even the most scathing political/social commentaries are sprinkled with some humour (see the videos from point one) and it's difficult to make rape funny in any shape or form.

3 - perhaps there's a massive problem in the States/Canada, and it's not as chronic here...

4 - poetry that seems to be preaching (especially to the converted) tends to rub British audiences up the wrong way; just as poetry that seems 'light touch' doesn't do as well Stateside.

5 - I wonder if that is changing; I want to see more British slam poetry and haven't much of late.

6 - I'm glad I haven't been asked to judge a poetry slam lately. Of all the criticism slam has got - and it's had more than its fair share of criticism from stuck-in-the-box pedants - I agree that the idea of scoring somebody's trauma is an uncomfortable one. Of the dozen or so rape poems I've heard, two of them were appalling. As in appallingly-badly written. But to mark it down is to almost devalue the experience.

(Conversely, I also heard an above-average attempt at humour, which was a decently-written poem - and one of the most Islamophobic, sexist things I've ever heard... One judge gave it a 4! I would have given it a big fat 0)

7 - I wonder whether writing a poem about rape will stop people actually raping and I wonder whether more poetry should be taken out of the cosy cafes, clubs and bars they're used to, where people will always clap or click and agree, and into more places where it does actually challenge current ideas.

8 - I wonder if other people agree

(to be continued)


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