Date Archives March 2018

Proper gander?

I read this at a World War I exhibition:

‘It is understood that poetry could have such an impact on public opinion that the secret government department of propaganda, Wellington House, commissioned poets including John Masefield and Bertrand Russell…’

Up until reading this, I didn’t know that:

• Poetry had ever had any discernible effect on public opinion
• Wellington House existed
• Bertrand Russell was a poet

I thought Russell was a philosopher and activist. Mind you, I thought that Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party, but I’m led to believe by a propaganda machine bigger than Wellington House that he’s all sorts of things.

The homepage for this website states: ‘I am Neil Laurenson. I am a poet.’ Only one of those statements is irrefutably true. Fancy being such a threat to the powers-that-be that you have virtually no control over your own image! Does Corbyn even care? If he did, and if he set up his own Wellington House, I’m sure he’d have no shortage of poets willing to write nice things. Mind you, would anyone read what they wrote?

A Bloody Mess & Fancy Dress

It’s almost 10 years since George Monbiot tried to arrest John Bolton at the Hay Festival. I was there, dressed as Blair, shouting ‘War Criminal!’ until I couldn’t speak. Both Bolton and Monbiot have been in the news recently: Bolton, who was then US ambassador to the UN, has been appointed as a National Security Advisor; Monbiot has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had presumed that Bolton was enjoying retirement like all the others from the Bush era whose names I became sick of seeing: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc. To think that, having repeatedly justified a war that led to hundreds of thousands of people being killed, Bolton has been given a new job! Where is the decency? Where is the karma?

10 years ago, I was so cross about a war taking place thousands of miles away that I regularly put on a suit, big red kipper tie and latex mask to attempt to draw attention to such blatant wickedness. Rhetorical questions would silently bounce around my head until I was sick of myself.

I’ve just read an email which states that ‘this week Israel announced the imminent destruction of an entire village…International pressure from people like you prevented demolitions. This is why we need to taken action now!’

People like me? But I’m in Worcester, still in my pyjamas, indulging in this blog that perhaps 40 people will read. I’ve just put my name to the template letter to MPs – what now? Bring out the suit and mask again? But I’m signed up for a run today, then it’ll be time for lunch, and then…I’ll think about doing something useful.

Vote for Pedro

It’s the weekend and I’m in my house listening to House Every Weekend by David Zowie. I don’t do this every weekend but perhaps I should because it’s a great song:

‘…I work hard
And if I don’t let myself go, let myself go, let myself go
I just might explode, I just might explode…’

So immediately after a long day at work earlier this week, I dashed to the train station and travelled to a small café for a poetry gig. The last time I was at the same venue, the place was teeming with people, mostly poets of course. Not this time, despite the fantastic headliner – funnier than your best mate and more intelligent than a nodding, murmuring intellectual on late night BBC2. My dodgy puns could not be compared to led zeppelins, as this would convey that they had some form of substance. No, they went down like economy party balloons, and my similes didn’t do much better.

Perhaps at my next poetry gig, I should just whip out a stereo and move like Jon Heder in Napoleon Dynamite. No words.

Massive Monikers

I’ve become a little too obsessed with running lately. I watched the recent Indoor Athletics Championships with the same concentration and joy that I usually reserve for football. I was genuinely excited by the pole vault and the performance of another large Pole in the 4x400m relay. The regular disqualifications spoiled it, but for me at least, the staged entrances – athletes’ names in size 15,000 font above their heads, enormous sparklers – nearly made up for that. It was almost as bombastic as the WWF wrestling I remember from the 1990s.

But, even so, all the forced glamour can’t quite remove the perception that it’s just really good PE on the telly. When I was at school, I was dreadful at PE, and so it’s been quite a thrill 20 years later to run reasonably well. I was going to say that I like the steady progress and clarity of results, though the Indoor Athletics Championships were, as I said, spoiled by disqualifications: people running the race of their lives, celebrating in front of millions with their name in giant letters, only for that happiness to be over-ruled by an invisible panel identifying a tiny accidental violation of a tiny rule.

With poetry competitions, I’m used to a judgement being made by people I will never meet, resigned to disappointment as soon as the work is sent and the amount is paid. What are the rules? Why are so many writers disqualified? At least at ‘fun run’ level, away from the panels and their expensive equipment, running is a pure meritocracy: you’re 1st or 6th or 50th or whatever and there’s no debate. Through talent and a few sacrifices, you can run with the elite. It’s like being published in a Faber anthology with Larkin and Armitage!

So, if like me, you have a vast ego and like to imagine your name being projected to a size larger than your actual self, go for a run and see where it takes you.