Thursday, 6 October 2016

Poetry puh-lease!

It's National Poetry Day and I thought I'd better contribute in some way. But rather than subject you to some of my occasional verse (and worse) I've spent the morning uploading this...

... an edition of Rural Rhymes, chosen and read by Robin Holmes, one of the lovely little BBC Radio 3 'fillers' that used to be broadcast in the odd five-or-so minutes that it took for a piano to be shifted, or for the next programme to be cued (especially if a concert finished early) or any other of the many reasons radio stations have for requiring something on stand-by.

Nowadays, of course, it's all 'trails'. Back then, it was poetry - wonderfully read and seasonally-themed... and no longer, it seems, stored in the BBC Archives. A brief exchange with Petroc Trelawny this morning seems to confirm the worst...

All of which means this, and the other little except I've previously posted, might be the only remaining examples of these charming little poetry programmes. Unless there are other listeners out there who, like me, once taped concerts and occasionally failed to stop the recording before committing these readings to magnetic tape. (That was how you did it in those dim and distant days!)

BBC Radio 3 is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary, and they've been mining their archive of poetry readings under the direction of the Bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan. And today - National Poetry Day - has already seen countless examples of poets reading their work.

But there are very few who do it well. I was surprised this morning by the way the wonderful Caribbean poet James Berry introduced and read his wonderful 'White Child meets Black Man' at approx. 7.10am this morning on Radio 3 - with all the 'dum-de-dum-de-dum-de' stresses of a nursery rhyme.

And he's not alone. Betjeman was on later, reading in his arch-ironic, comic tones as if his tongue is firmly in his cheek and all this 'poh-trah' lark is just a jape.

Actors are no better, as anyone who regularly listens to BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please will know. There are exceptions, of course, among them Derek Jacobi who reads Robert Fagle's first-rate translation of The Iliad so well. And some poets do a decent job, too - none more so than Seamus Heaney... which begs the question why The Today Programme chose to broadcast the Prince of Wales reading Heaney's wonderful poem 'Shipping Forecast' earlier this morning.

But why is it so difficult to get the reading just right, even for the poet?

I suspect that $64000 dollar question may never be answered. But it begs another. Why - when someone does get is so obviously, so consistently and so memorably right - does the BBC wipe the tapes?

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