Saturday 11 May 2019

Of Poet Laureates, UK Broadcasters and the BBC's Will Gompertz

Look! It's Will Gompertz! And he's asking an important question, slowly, like an intellectual! Look! Look!

Simon Armitage - a working-class Yorkshireman made-good - is our new Poet Laureate. 

I'm not very familiar with his poetry (though I've liked some of what I've heard) but his books about walking across England and exploring his home patch on the wrong side of the Pennines are beautifully-written and often very funny, and I'm a fan of his on the strength of them.

News of his appointment broke during last night's main 10 o'clock news bulletins, and I caught the BBC one, which struck me as being particularly 'BBC' in its slant:
In the last half hour, it's been announced that Simon Armitage will be the new Poet Laureate. He says he wants to use the role to ensure poetry embraces major global issues, including climate change.
The following report by the BBC's arts editor, the shy-and-retiring Will Gompertz, began with the end of a poem about climate change:
I'd wanted to offer my daughter
a taste of the glacier, a sense of the world
being pinned in place by a diamond-like cold
at each pole. But opening up my hand
there's nothing to pass on, nothing to hold.
(That's the least impressive bit of that poem. I particularly enjoyed:
"Rotten and rusted, a five-bar gate/
lies felled in the mud, letting the fields escape.")

"Like a rock-star", "taking poetry to the people", etc, were some of Will's words. (Very 'Will'!)

And then came the questions...

As so often with the BBC, viewers were being whacked over the head with a wet halibut of an agenda here - or a very heavy bronze cast of a wet halibut of an agenda. 

More about Will later.

Stay with us...

With ITV's News at Ten, the usual 'viewer-friendly' conversational style resulted in this meandering description of the 'breaking news':
Poetry has been part of Britain's national fabric for centuries, and the names of some of our most famous poets still resonate. Think Wordsworth, Tennyson and Betjeman, amongst many others. They were all, as it happens, Poet Laureates, there's a good pub quiz question, and the new incumbent of this prestigious post was announced just a few minutes ago. He is Simon Armitage, West Yorkshire poet, professor and playwright. Although the role may no longer have the influence on British culture it once did, he says there's still a need to capture moments in words that stretch the imagination
And we got an equally non-political poem to illustrate SA's art from ITV:
As he steps out at the traffic lights,
Think what he’ll look like in thirty years’ time –
The deflated face and shrunken scalp
Still daubed with the sad tattoos of high punk.
ITV then went on to focus on the relevance of the role of poet laureate, without any of the BBC's politics and focus on climate change activism.

And Sky News broke it like this:
His appointment was approved by the Queen, and for ten years he'll be seen promoting poetry, because Simon Armitage is the new Poet Laureate. He says he wants to harness the tools of the multi-media age. And if the rising popularity of poetry among millennials is anything to go by, he'll have a willing audience. 
And Sky then focused on the resurgence in the popularity of poetry and featured a clip of SA reading from 'Kid' and, again, included none of the BBC's politicking or any of their stuff about climate change.


Now, if you think that proves something about the BBC, well try this...

Going back to the BBC, I've held back so far in mentioning what came next. Will Gompertz went on - after all the climate change stuff - to raise another issue not raised by either ITV or Sky:

Yes, the BBC's identity politics obsession reared its ugly head again with ghastly inevitability.

And here it is. Here's Will's 'hideously white' question to working-class Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage:
Did it cross your mind, even for a moment, when you were offered the post to say, 'you know, actually, I don't think this is right at this stage for a white male. Maybe someone from a different point of view, a different background, would be better for this role at this moment? 
As I said, very 'BBC'.

Yes, I know ITV and Sky can be as bad on some things, but - in so many respects - the BBC is well and truly unique, don't you think?


  1. I think he is a poet, just about. But clearly he's decided that he has to embrace political correctness.Well I read today he's married to a BBC producer so you would wouldn't you.

    Max Wall, sorry Will Gompertz, is a twit isn't he? I wonder if he's considered whether at this stage the BBC's lead arts correspondent shouldn't be a thin as a rake poncy white guy but rather a down-to-earth 20 stone Samoan.

    I prefer my poets disreputable like Larkin, Coleridge, Auden and,why not, RS Thomas, rather than "virtuous" (more often than not a synonym for vaccuous).

    1. That's done it. I'll never see Will Gompertz again without superimposing memories of Max Wall on top of him. The resemblance, now you come to mention it, is uncanny.

      Have I won you over to RS Thomas, my favourite poet?

      I don't share a single point of view with him about anything, other than his love of the sea and birds. His views are almost entirely wrong. But the bigoted, non-PC, English-hating, terrorist-flirting, modernity-loathing, rudely anti-social, often deeply personally unpleasant, hermit-like, mother-hating, bird-loving, CND-supporting, sea-obsessed. absent-God-haunted Anglican vicar and poet knocks the socks of any other English-language poet of the past 50 years in my view (despite him being a pro-Welsh language fanatic). Yes, he's one of the most unlikable poet ever, in personal terms, but few people have written better poetry.

    2. I was vaguely aware of RS and had him filed under "Definitely a poet but not particularly my cup of tea". Have just been re-reading him via this helpful site:

      He's very good, especially when he is less overtly nationalistic in a political sense and more engaging with the land and its people. Interesting you mention birds because often he writes as though he is a bird looking down over the landscape.

  2. Will Gompertz's contributions to the BBC broadcast output has a distinctive pattern: He is always looking for social comment as the most important aspect of art whatever the stage or medium. He never seems to have an opinion on the artistic qualities of a work reviewed - only how it might fit into his BBC PC ideology.

  3. I am overwhelmed by the surfeit of BBC agenda on various fronts and much as I do not mean to doubt your honesty or integrity, Craig, I have to say it: You CANNOT be serious! That question must be one of your jokes. I CANNOT believe even dopy Gombertz would say that to him upon winning the honour of Poet Laureate.

    1. Would they apply the same "logic" to the lack of Inuits, Lapps, Filipinos and Samoans in the Premier League?

    2. I usually comment on the Turner Prize shortlist, but I let it go as 'more of the same' this time. However, The 2019 shortlist for the Turner Prize was announced recently:

      ... 'Arts editor Will Gompertz has been looking at the artists and their work.' ... Or, should that be Wall Gomphertz?

      ... 'Beirut-based Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist more interested in the ear than the eye. He thinks of himself as an "audio investigator" who makes films, installations, and gives performative lectures based on earwitness (not eyewitness) accounts from oppressed individuals, or, in another project, from racially-profiled individuals who are being judged on the basis of how they pronounce certain words or syllables.' ...

      ... 'Helen Cammock is also interested in sound and history. She too makes films and gives spoken word performances.

      But her area of investigation is past events and their histories; not a single, definitive written account but a variety of views and texts, which can be perceived differently when spoken by other people.'...

      ... 'Fellow London-based artist Tai Shani shares Cammock's interest in the written word and associated assumptions, depending on the gender and perceived status of the author.

      She also organises performances, makes films, and creates installations.

      The difference with Shani is she's not that interested in multiple viewpoints of history, more in creating alternative, almost gothic worlds that blur fact and fiction, or truth and myth, with the intention of disrupting a real world dominated by, and centred around, a white, western, male point of view.'...

      ... 'Oscar Murillo is a Colombian-British artist and the most established name on the shortlist.

      He became an instant art world hit when he first emerged on the scene six years ago. His work made huge sums for a relatively unknown 20-something artist.

      Things cooled for a bit - but now he's back, with his semi-abstract paintings on unstretched canvasses hanging limply like curtains in a bedsit with too few hooks.

      They are, in a way, more like objects in an installation than pictures to put on a wall. He, like his fellow nominees, is exploring the politics of identity, oppression, and marginalised people.'...

      Will likes to put forward the social issues as a high priority instead of letting us judge for ourselves the quality of the artwork.

    3. Remind me - where can I find these art works? I want to be sure I don't accidentally come across them...

    4. ... 'Their works will go on show at the Turner Contemporary in Margate from 28 September until January 2020.' ...

      You'll need to go somewhere different for you hols this year MB!

  4. Where did this go out? BBC Woke 1, BBC Woke 2, BBC Woke 4, BBC Woke News?

    1. I think it was on the BBC Woke Service.


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