Thursday, 26 November 2009

The patron saints of poetry

Dark wintry nights...and Mark suggests I might want to get on and watch some of the stuff (arts programmes and foreign language films...) that I've had saved on the magic TV recording box for AGES. So, this week I set to work and watched the one bit of the BBC TV poetry season that I somehow hadn't got round to viewing so far (the 'My Life in Verse' with Cerys Matthews...former lead singer and gorgeous thing with the band Catatonia). I don't know why this programme had languished on the magic box for so long (after all I watched the Sheila Hancock, Robert Webb and Malorie Blackman 'M.L.I.V.s' months ago...and wrote about them here). Anyway, I watched it. Finally.

Remembering how rude I was about Owen Sheers' 'Poet's Guide' Milton programme back here (remember he came and was...miffed in the comments box...and I did apologise...sort of...), I would have to say that there is a lot of fairly basic stuff in the Matthews 'M.L.I.V.'. It does have more than a hint of 'beginner's guide to poetry' and indeed 'beginner's guide to the world and life' because at times she does a good impression of a person who knows absolutely nothing at all ('Oo, look'...she almost says...and please insert Cerys' soft, fairy-like vocal tones...'people in Scotland like Robert Burns and haggis'). But (and here's where it gets unfair, sorry Owen...again...) somehow with Cerys I really didn't mind some of the stating the blooming obvious that went on. She's just so....properly wide-eyed and endearing (on TV idea what she's like in the flesh) and her naivety just comes over as really genuine and inoffensive (to me anyway...I can be fairly naïve myself some of the time). After all most people don't have a clue about poetry (and it's a big subject...) and also plenty of people are scared to ask questions about it for fear of seeming stupid (no comment...) and so in her programme she did ask some experts some fairly basic questions but worked and made for a very enjoyable programme. In fact when she got to the Northern Irish section it was really quite moving (she discussed the Seamus Heaney poem 'Punishment' with the writer Glenn Patterson...not someone I've ever come across before).

The programme really consisted of Matthews taking a wee tour, if you like, of the patron saints of poetry of these isles - Dylan Thomas (Wales), Ted Hughes (England), WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and then Robert Burns (playing for Scotland...interesting that only the Scots need to go quite so far back in time for their poetry saint, isn't it?). It's hard not to mention the fact that they're all still men too (did you notice?). Might Carol Ann Duffy break that mould some time soon and be the first poetry saint for all of us (after all she has everything but Welsh in her palette, doesn't she?)? Or have we passed the time for patron saints of national poetry anyway (what with the internet and everything)? As Matthews toured the countries and their monumental poets it was all most interesting (even the stuff I already knew - which was quite a bit of it) and so I ask myself why did I like this programme more than, say, the some of the Sheers 'Poet's Guide' series? Not sure. Was I just in the right mood for it? Maybe. Was it because she made lots of (fairly vague) links between poems and songs (which I'm always going to like)? Possibly. Do I just like her? Well, it's not impossible...I wasn't a huge Catatonia fan but I did have the big album 'International Velvet'( had some cracking songs and some good lyrics). Anyone for a bit of 'Rrrroad Rrrrage' for example? And I particularly liked this sweet little George Harrisony number on the album too:

Matthews finished off her 'My Life in Verse' quite beautifully, I thought, with this long, slightly awkward, rambling sentence (and what's wrong with long, slightly awkward, rambling sentences, I'd like to know?):

"When you look at people's poets...the likes of Yeats and Thomas and Burns...they make our words...the words that belong to each and every one of us...seem like gold dust...and that they are powerful...and they are precious."

Yes. Yes. And yes.


p.s. There's a little clip here from the 'My Life in Verse' of Cerys singing 'Down by The Salley Gardens' in a pub in Ireland (which I'm guessing is a bit coals to Newcastle). There's also a bit of a Breakfast TV interview with Cerys about the programme here (where she says how good all the other singers in that Irish pub were and how she wishes they'd been shown in the programme too!).


Kat Mortensen said...

I shall look forward to when these series hit our shores, Rachel. What year were they done?

I'm not much of a one for the breathy wispy voiced, but I'll make an exception for content.

Rachel Fox said...

They were all shown this year for the first time (back in May 09 or thereabouts).


Totalfeckineejit said...

I've always LOVED the way she says 'road drage'


Rachel Fenton said...

I haven't got telly - can you magic a bit on t'internet?

Titus said...

I like Cerys. Pooh, wish I hadn't missed this now.
Don't know if I'd have picked Hughes for our saint.

Rachel Fox said...

The only bits I could find online now, Rachel, were the bits I linked to at the end. Sorry!

T - I'm sure they'll be repeated on BBC4 some time.
Who would you have chosen for England? I do prefer to read Larkin to Hughes (of that era) but PL is really not saint material (probably one reason I like him).


Titus said...

Now there's a poser. Obviously they were trying to go 20th Century (can we claim Eliot? That'd be my choice), but as soon as someone says "Poetry Saint" to me (not that they often do), Shakespeare is in my head before I can do anything about it. With good reason, obviously.

Rachel Fox said...

Certainly Eliot got the vote via the BBC didn't he?
And my Mum would agree with you on the Shakespeare.
There is no one answer of course. I could see why Cerys M picked fitted in with her tastes across the countries (plus his tales of old celts which was part of her theme).

deemikay said...

The Burns inclusion is a bit odd... if you wanted a Scottish poet of the 20th Century who was (is) good, masterful and focussed on people (and virtually everything else) then I'd have gone for Edwin Morgan. But he's not really televisual in the way the others were. No interesting life story. Which is probably another reason Ted Hughes was picked.

Larkin definitely speaks more to most people and, therefore, is more of a "people's poet" than TH. Adrian Mitchell beats both of them in that respect though. I've not going to say who's "best" though. Cause it's a silly argument.

Yeats? I've never really taken to him as a person... too elitist, too silly. But I can't deny I like a lot of his poems.

Dylan Thomas... again, I think, it's the story and personality that makes people read him. For me he's third in the list of "Three good poets whith Thomas as a surname".

And I want to be Cerys' friend... she seems, well, alright. :) As long as she doesn't sing Catatonia b-sides...

Rachel Fox said...

Really Matthews just chose the poets that she knew and liked best, I think (and at least some of them because of the links with songs...Yeats...Burns...). She wasn't saying anyone was better than anyone for sure. I was just interested in the group and the country to country link which made me think of learning the saints of all those countries as a child (and it was nice to have England be a part of it too in a way...equal but no better, as it were).

Dick said...

I really enjoyed the Cerys Matthews programme. I was glad to hear a fresh voice not ringing with paternalistic academic authority. Her insights were sound and representative of some grounding in the subject and her deep interest was palpable. I suspect that the slight gaucheness was, in places at least, a tad put on: there is a sort of winsome, faux-naif air about her in general.

All in all, it was the freshness and authenticity of passion that appealed to me. I'd like to see more MLIVs from presenters outside the immediate territory.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Dick, I think we could easily take another 4 MLIVs. But who to present them?

I enjoyed all 4 of the first batch but overall I liked Malorie Blackman's most - partly because she was the least waffly. She really knew what she wanted to say in the programme.