Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Poetry TV - A tale of two williams...

With Mark off playing cricket this evening I decided to watch the kind of the thing I record especially for when he's out or otherwise occupied – the first of the series 'A Poet's Guide to Britain' from BBC4. Sorlil's been watching programme two (the Plath one) but I'm a bit behind her, I'm afraid (though you can still watch both programmes one and two somewhere over here if the mood takes you).

The first programme is about William Wordsworth and his poem 'Upon Westminster Bridge' and I watched it partly to see if it could stimulate my interest in Wordsworth (which is fairly minimal...to non-existent). I keep trying – reading the poems, reading posts by enthusiasts (such as you Solitary Walker – here's an example), trying to overcome my own prejudices, thinking daft things like 'well he loved walking and I love walking...'. So, half an hour of culture TV – did it help at all?

Well, it was a weird programme. It felt a bit like it was made for schools TV (quite slow and basic and...well...flat) but that might be partly down to the presenter poet/writer Owen Sheers who has more than a hint of Blue Peter about him (excessive youth, awkward hands, various fleecey jackets). There was far too much “and then William went to France and then he went back to England” (OK...not real quotes...) and it all felt a bit like a 5th form essay (though I'm not anti-Sheers – I very much liked his prose book 'The Dust Diaries' – think I even sent him a letter about it...I do that a lot). The highlight of the programme though was easily poet Simon Armitage's thoughts on the Wordsworth poem (remember how I liked Armitage back at StAnza earlier this year?). If nothing else I think this may be the year I learn to see what all the fuss is about old Simon Floppy Fringe Armitage. All the fuss about Wordsworth though...I've still not really got to that one. Maybe I never will. His poems just make me want to edit like crazy ("cut that bit out, for god's sake!" and "do you have to go on and on...?” and “blah, blah, blah...economy, man, economy and surprise!”) and I know, I know...it was a different era. Still his poems press my shut-down button like little else. And that Westminster Bridge poem – it's just Shakespeare with all the fun and vigour taken out of it...isn't it? Really?

Now, is that sacrilege or sage-like wisdom? Any views?

x

38 comments:

Dominic Rivron said...

The Lucy poems really get me going where Wordsworth is concerned.

By the way, I'm still learning a poem. I'll get there, very soon. It's a good discipline and I should do it more!

Dominic Rivron said...

...and we did Hart Leap Well at school, so it never appealed, for that reason.

Funnily enough (I mentioned this on a blog recently, apologies if it was here) we now live just down the road from Hart Leap Well. It's an unprepossessing spot, on the edge of a pine plantation.

Rachel Fox said...

The Lucy poems get you going as in you like them or as in quite the opposite?
x

deemikay said...

The only thing I can say I truly love by Wordsworth is the introduction to Lyrical Ballads. And that isn't a poem. It's a full-on revolutionary, Sex Pistols-y attack on what went before. And it's great.

But I'd much prefer Coleridge. (A Coleridge poem gave me the title for "noise and riot".)

deemikay said...

Oh, and I might write something about floppy-fringe armitage... you've got me thinking.

Rachel Fox said...

Look forward to it, D. His fringe was looking a bit trimmed on the TV programme actually...but I'm so glad I did go to the smaller reading thing he did at StAnza - it was really enjoyable and interesting.
x

Owen said...

Hi Rachel,

I'm sorry you felt the first film in the series was a bit too 'school' like for you, but there's always something of a compromise to be made on TV between depth of inquiry and narrative that can potnetially bring along a 'non-poetry' more general audience. To be honest, it was such a coup to get this series on and aired I was happy to negotiate this line although as an ex poet in residence at the Wordsworth Trust I was often more inclined to go for the details...mind you, given your thoughts on Wordsworth as a poet I'm not sure this film would ever have really swept you away. I really would recommend the Prelude though, as a writer of blank verse there are parts of that poem where Wordsworth is really quite remarkable. I hope you keep watching the rest of the series. That compromise I mentioned above has to continue to a certain extent but at the same time I hope that we go to some interesting places with poems such as 'Dover Beach' and Lynette Roberts's 'Poem from Llanybri.' And, oh, 'excessive youth'?! At 34? Really? Why, thank you, I think. Thank you too for your kind owrds about THE DUST DIARIES though not sure I ever received that letter.

Dominic Rivron said...

I like them! A violet by a mossy stone and all that. The bit where she dies used to really upset me.

Susan said...

Had to laugh through parts here because I love Wordsworth! I like the older works very well, himself and Coleridge, Bryant etc.

We're talking about getting a television in our house. He doesn't want to spend the money, and I don't want to give in to such a time-sink, but once in a while there's a programme on that makes you think, 'wellllll....wish we had one'.

Jim Murdoch said...

I just watched the programme this morning. I have to say the BBC have put a fair bit of effort into making this kind of poetry presentable. The addition of some contemporary verse was unexpected and although none of the subject matter particularly excited me nor did anything to make me enjoy poetry read aloud I'm willing to concede that I'm in the minority. The whole thing, not just the presenter, was a bit Blue Peter for my tastes (could they not have said the word 'incest' just once?) but I suppose one has to consider who their demographic might be, surely not seasoned poets.

Dick said...

I come here for many reasons, Rachel: this is a favourite blog. But I do particularly like the little heresies! There is sometimes on poetry blogs an entirely unquestioning acceptance of the contemporary validity of the Greats and it's refreshing to see that undermined from time to time.

Rachel Fox said...

Heck...I go to bed and look what happens! Another visit from beyond where the successful writers live...

Hello Owen. Thanks for calling in. You're not as famous as de Botton who was here the other week but we're still pleased to see you. And you're 34 - my god you look about 20. Now, see...I'm starting to talk like an old person.

Yes, I will watch the whole series...it's on 'record every week' on my magic recording box. I look forward to it all. And sorry about all the cheeky Blue Peter stuff...just jealousy where the youth is concerned, obviously. I was on TV when I was younger a little but mine was more 'Hitman and her' than 'Blue Peter' (I was often wearing ridiculous nightclub outfits too...sometimes I wish I'd 'found' poetry a little sooner...I could have done with a fleecey jacket to cover my shame now and again...).

I really did like 'the Dust Diaries' and I think I sent you an email probably (maybe via a publisher). They probably binned it...quite right too. One day I could publish the daft letters and emails I've sent off after reading/watching something interesting. It would be one of those throwaway xmas present books...I think yours was something about the book making me write a poem about 'big decision benches'. Now I'm blushing. Even my wrinkles are blushing...

x

Rachel Fox said...

As for the rest of you...

Dominic...I looked up one of the Lucy poems last night. I don't know them. You may have to write a post explaining why you like them...Maybe he's just not my kind of guy. I'd have been wallowing in the opium with Coleridge, I fear.

Susan - you can watch these programmes online I think. So you won't need to get a TV...unless you really want one. Takes away your writing time of course...

Jim - yes I think we both need the old gits remix of this programme...

Dick - thank-you. What a lovely comment. I have never been one for going along with the 'of course we all know this' school of thought (when it comes to anything really). I always like to say 'but do we?' and 'why is it we think that?' And yes I am doing a bit of that here...but of course it is all the question of taste business too. I'm always interested to see which of you lot will defend a particular 'classic' writer and sometimes I'm very surprised. I nearly fell of my chair when it was Shug McMillan who came out fighting for 'Brideshead Revisited' and Evelyn Waugh a while back! I love that kind of surprise though so you should all feel free to educate me about Wordsworth if you feel the urge. I would like to enjoy his poetry but everything I've tried to read so far has just made me start daydreaming about something else...This one just made me want to go and listen to the song 'Sweet Thames, flow softly' by Ewan MacColl (though I like it sung by Canadian James Keelaghan best).
x

Rachel Fox said...

Forgot to say...the 'school' TV thing...I do totally understand that the programme is made for a wider audience and all that. In fact I was hoping it would be used in schools I think. One of the reasons I liked Armitage so much in it is that I think he did start to take the discussion to another level...but then he is very experienced by now at speaking to audiences (school ones included) and it is obviously something he is interested in (you get that from his regular references to Ted Hughes and how well he communicated with his audience...including wee Simon). I feel a bit the same about Dave Allen. Which says something about me...that I'm not going to start on right now...

x

Sorlil said...

lol, I'm starting to think if you did a review of Plath she might pop up from the grave to add a comment about it!

No you're not behind me - I've not watched the Wordsworth one yet, just the Plath which I think was very well done.

Rachel Fox said...

I know! How do they all get here, that's what I want to know? Is it the self-googling business...or do they have assistants whose job it is to trawl t'internet looking for mentions...or have I got listed somewhere important (not intentional!)?

Anyway...it's always good to be read, eh?

Who shall I mention next?

x

Dave King said...

I don't know if that's sacrilege or not, Rachel (I don't decide such matters). I had a thing going for Will once, but now I can take him or leave him. Certainly some of his poems drive me up the wall - Daffodils, for example - but then Dorothy wrote most of that, didn't she? There is a canon though, which I wouldn't want to lose - even though I don't now visit it much! Thought-provoking post.

shug said...

Rachel you have the gift. Quick slag somebody else off and see if you can conjure them up.

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Dave
Some of you have obviously studied the whole family Wordsworth more than I! I know the basic outlines of the story though and I do wonder...if some of the famous poems had been/were published under her name would I give them more time..? I hope I wouldn't but you know I am very much of the 'don't necessarily worship the dead white males just because you're told to' generation of feminists (quick! salute!) and I am aware of that too. I really do try to read a poem just as a poem and block out who has written it but of course we can't always promise we are doing that 100%.

I did try and do that with the Westminster poem though. I sat and read it last night (it's in the Hughes 'By Heart' anthology in fact...still on my desk from the last project...). Maybe I should learn it by heart and see if I change my mind. It's possible. If anything I think I find its soul a touch on the dull side. As I said...it just makes me want to go and read a Shakespeare sonnet instead. Or go out for a walk.

And Shug...you have a gift too. You make me laugh! Not that you're not a serious writer too of course...you'll be a dead white male yourself some day. A prize-winning one!

x

Rachel Fox said...

And I didn't slag anyone off...not really. I said he looked young and that I liked his book!
x

owen said...

Just to answer a few of the questions here:

How do 'they' get here? - it's the internet, a public medium and most production houses will set up standard searches to monitor audience reaction.

Incest - well, you need firm evidence before you start throwing those kinds of phrases around, and I think we made it pretty clear what our opinion was without getting into legal territory.

Rachel - Yes, Simon did take the discussion to another level as that is exactly what the contemporary poet is there in the mix to do. As presenter your role is more to guide your interviewees to the subjects and ideas you want the programme to hit. Believe me, most presenters would be happy to take discussions on to those higher levels but that balance has to be struck again - you need to take an audience unfamiliar with the subject along with you, not alienate them.

Rachel Fox said...

The 'how do they get here' thing was mainly a joke, you know, Owen. This is a blog that features humour where possible...so please don't take everything I say too seriously. You're a published writer who gets books reviewed in papers and stuff like that and I think maybe you have forgotten what it's like to be a nobody (in writing terms...obviously I am somebody!). It's just funny for people like me when someone whose name is known outside their own house actually pays any attention to anything written by little old me! I'll swap you a book of poems for one of yours while you're here too if you like (I've already got one of Simon Armitage's). Deemikay has just done a post on Armitage by the way...it's here - worth a look. Some of my readers here are far more educated than what I am.

And it was Jim Murdoch who brought up incest! In terms of Wordsworth I'm really only interested in trying to see if I can understand the appeal of the poems. I'm very interested in why people like things...and what they like. I'm largely a Larkin girl myself though with ambitions to be more widely read...

x

Rachel Fox said...

The internet! Public! Really? I had no idea.
x

Rachel Fox said...

Parents' evening at school tonight. No comment on that.

Still, some of this is bugging me now! Some of the comments here have reminded me of a piece I read ages ago by poet Lemn Sissay about working in TV/making TV programmes to do with poetry. I seem to remember his conclusion was something like...best to stick to radio. He makes some great radio programmes too. His is a voice of experience.

And it's not that I don't like TV - TV at its best is superb (we just started series 5 of the Sopranos last night...there is nothing better written in English anywhere, ever!)...it's just this thing with current British TV...especially documentaries...sometimes we see so many shots of the presenters (it was the same with poor old Neil Oliver in the Scottish history series and heaps of other programmes) that we just get tired of looking at them (however attractive or unattractive they are). I'm not saying it's the presenters' fault...it's just TV fashion (whatever happened to voiceovers?) and it fills a lot of frames too I suppose. The thing is the programmes are not about the presenters but somehow they end up being to an extent and all that does is make me think of the film 'Broadcast News' and that line that goes something like "let's never forget that we're the real story".

Still, I will watch the rest of this series. I might even go and watch the Plath one now. Might even do the ironing to it. A great honour.

x

Rachel Fox said...

I did watch the Plath one (without ironing - full attention). Funny as we were up on those moors just a month or so ago (Mytholmroyd posts a little while back).

I loved hearing Plath's voice on the programme (and you know Paltrow had it quite well) and of course I love the voice of the reader (Gina McKee) - she has that hint of geordie which sounds a little like home and she's a very appealing actress all round. I thought that poet Claire Pollard (think I've seen her face on myspace...) got it right when she said something about women poets defining themselves in terms of Plath too (either like or not at all like...). I would be in the latter category for many, many reasons...but I did enjoy hearing more of SP's poetry here. I didn't enjoy the Cambridge bit but that's no surprise...my years there were not the big success of my life or anything...and I can't blame the BBC for that! Academia just makes me jumpy.

x

Titus said...

Wow, go away for a couple days and look at all the fun and controversy you miss! I wasn't over-enamoured of the Wordsworth programme, though it did have some lovely views of the city of my heart, and I've got the Plath one downloaded ready to watch at that hardly-ever-appears "quiet time".
Really wanted to post about Wordsworth however - don't give up on him! Try "The Prelude" (1805 version that he wrote for Coleridge before revising for posterity) and read it like a novel. Every so often a few lines will just sing out, and then you start to get his voice and then it starts to move you. I do find parts of it sublime, and the journey to becoming a poet that he describes is, I think, of intrinsic interest.
It is long. Very long.

Rachel Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

That's a good case for WW, Titus. You are very persuasive. I might just give that a try.

It's at times like this that I wished I had studied Eng. Lit (as recommended by some of my teachers) and had read more 'classic' Eng Lit in my younger days (instead I went and studied Modern Languages...oh and got distracted a lot by other things). I know much more about literature in other languages than I do my own lit history a lot of the time (or at least I did) and sometimes that can be frustrating. So much to catch up on...

As for controversy...isn't the MPs expenses enough just now? I was brought up a peace-loving Quaker...I hate controversy really.

x

Rachel Fox said...

And the deletion was just me getting a word wrong. Nothing exciting...
x

Titus said...

Whereas I still read Anglo-Saxon and Middle English for pleasure, delight and jaw-dropping awe (and I would like to digress on Armitage's "Gawain" here but it would not be politic so to do in view of the esteemed company this blog keeps) but adore the way you surf around living writers (and some just newly deceased).

And there is always time for books.

Rachel Fox said...

You're right. Except the books do have quite a fight on their hands with the Sopranos just now...and then there's all the music...and the ironing...and the exploring...and the just thinking.

Do you read Jane Holland's blog Titus? I do sometimes and know that others like Sorlil do. You and JH might have interests in common I think.

As for esteemed...we're all esteemed by someone...some time...

x

Titus said...

Cheers, found it!

The Solitary Walker said...

Dear Ms Fox (or can we call you 'Foxy'?)

We heard a buzz 'round t'Internet that we were getting slagged off rotten in your blog - so we thought we'd defend ourselves like all t'other famous authors who've started commenting here!

We had to write about violets, daffs, mossy stones, Spirits of the Universe etc back then 'cos, well, they're what us Romantics wrote about in t'19th century - and t'National Health Service and hang-gliders and the stuff that Armitage fella writes about weren't invented at the time. (Nor was Free Verse - so we invented it in our poem 'The Prelude'.)

We see S. Walker has just quoted in his own blog our poem 'The Tables Turned' - which is all about burning books and cosying up with nature in the raw - and we still stand by that. So, everyone, let's rip up the pages of that new De Botton (only joking Alain - yes, I know you're reading this!) and hug some trees in the buff. At once.

Yours, etc

Bill & Dot Wordsworth (from the grave)

Rachel Fox said...

I wondered where you were SW!I have been reading your Wordsworth posts of late and trying to see the appeal of this 'great' writer (I'm not saying he's not great...I'm just only prepared to say it when I have really learned why/if I should - one of my least favourite aspects of any field of the arts is when people all nod and agree that so and so...usually a man...is great when half of them don't really think it but don't want to look stupid). Luckily for all of you (maybe...) I am prepared to look stupid. Sometimes exceedingly stupid. I'm sure young Sheers, for example, now thinks I'm a typical blogger moron who shouldn't be allowed to write anything in the public sphere ever again. But that serves me right...maybe '5th form essay' was a bit over the top. I take that bit back (and I did enjoy the Plath programme more...and I think I was frustrated by the Wordsworth one...I wanted to learn more from it!). It's a shame if OS does go off thinking that of bloggers and blogs (as many journalists and other writers do) because some of you write fabulous journals full of wit and wisdom...and even I have my moments (though perhaps this post was not one of the finer ones...I get carried away sometimes...bit of a romantic myself, you know). Known writers only seem to come to call when they are being...challenged which is a shame. They could get involved in other matters too...but I suppose they are busy. Lemn Sissay has a great post on writers and being busy just now...it is here.

And you know I have nothing against violets and stones and all the rest...nothing at all! Wrote a nature poem myself this week...really I did! More of that soon. In the meantime I am going to read the Wordsworth that Deemikay and Titus suggest...well, not right now...I'm reading about ten other things...but soon. Now must take that girl to school.

x

The Solitary Walker said...

I've been around - but have been working a lot lately (6 days a week) and it's been a bit of a struggle keeping up with my own blog, not to mention catching up on the blogs I enjoy reading...

I grew up in an isolated part of the countryside, and used to do all the things country boys in the early 1960s used to do: biking, camping, fishing, birds' nesting, making dens in the woods, looking for fox holes, walking for miles along an old, disused railway line - sometimes with a couple of mates, sometimes alone. And on family holidays - to Devon, Norfolk, Suffolk, the Cotswolds, Ireland - I used to leave my more sedentary parents and younger sister on the beach or in the boarding house and set off exploring on my own. Certain spots I discovered became magical, special, 'sacred' places: the top of a hill on a headland near Woolacombe, a narrow lane overarched by trees in Oxfordshire, a small 'island' surrounded by drainage ditches with a climbable tree near our family home - which my sister and I named 'Crystal Island'.

For me Wordsworth is the poet who comes nearest - by a long way - to recreating in his poetry the feelings about nature I had as a young boy, that intense, childhood 'rapture' I experienced from time to time.

That's why I like Wordsworth's poems so very much - they touch a deep, personal space within me. All his stuff about Spirits of the Universe and Forces that Roll through All Things are incredibly real to me, not vague, abstract, philosphical/poetical ramblings - simply because I, sometimes dimly, sometimes blindingly, felt those things myself, and often feel them still.

I do agree, though, that sometimes he does go on a bit, and could do with some judicious editing! Still, most great poets have their flaws, as I said early in my blog-sequence about WW.

Yes, of course we shouldn't just accept that a writer is 'great' because he's traditionally considered 'great', is in the canon etc. We must experience him/her for ourselves, test out, come to our own opinion. But I truly believe he's one of the greats - or one of a great company which included his sister Dorothy, Coleridge, De Quincey, Southey et al. Must do some posts about the legacy of Romanticism soon!

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks for that comment, SW. I always like it when people talk about their passions and pasts! Especially when they express themselves so well...so thoughtfully. You should have been on that Wordsworth programme too...number one fan...

I've been thinking recently about some of the wandering lonely I did as a child. I didn't do as much as you (nothing like) but I did enjoy being out and exploring when it happened. There was a lot of pop music and TV and homework in my childhood (followed by a lot of alcohol and bad behaviour in my teenage years) but there was some sitting next to rivers (the Tees near one place we lived) and cycling down country lanes (near East Cowton, another home) and I think there's probably more of it in me than I'm aware of (if you know what I mean). I love reading all your walking posts and not that the world really needs any more books...but 'The Solitary Walker' would make a really good title if you ever felt the urge.

x

The Solitary Walker said...

Ahem, I think Rousseau may have used that title before!

Passion & thoughtfulness, honesty, and a touch of humour lightening up essential seriousness are some of the qualities which attract me to others' blogs - certainly plenty of all these in yours...

The Tees is one of England's great rivers. I love the stretch up from Middleton to Cauldron Snout. One of my favourite bits of the Pennine Way.

Rachel Fox said...

I know he used it...but that doesn't mean you couldn't reuse it...maybe in a slightly different way. This is the age of recycling after all (or it's trying to be...).

Yes the Tees is not one of England's more famous rivers but I like it. I was born in a Middleton but perhaps not the one you mean (I was born in Middleton St George...at home).

It would be nice to go for a walk with you one day!

x