Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Poetry Wars

Since I devoted yesterday's post to the misery of the English character, today I shall seek to redress this imbalance by extolling the virtues of its newspapers. One of the delights of living in the UK, daily renewable, is the quality of the journalism. This is not to say that the UK lacks trashy journalism -- indeed, it excels in it. However, there are at least four excellent broadsheet papers and they are available every day.

Bee's Primer for UK journalism
(highly subjective, and possibly prone to error)
This is not a trivial matter, people: the paper you read is a highly coded business in class-bound England. It says as much about you as your accent does.

The broadsheets: all high-quality journalism; may differ in political slant -- although that is not always obvious to me, Sigmund and Jenni once had a lively debate on the topic.

The Guardian/Sunday Observer -- traditionally the "left-wing" newspaper; associated with intellectuals and liberals. Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are the regular food columnists -- foodies take note. Simon Hopkinson also does the odd column.

The Daily Telegraph -- conversely, this is the Tory paper. Rich public school boys. "Sir" Conrad Black headed it during the 90s, and we all know what happened to him. Tamasin Day-Lewis wrote the food columns for many years; not sure who is doing it now as Sigmund won't let this paper cross the threshold. (Not too sure why, exactly, as he regularly gets in bed with oil and gas folk and bankers. Maybe leftover bias from working class immigrant origins?)

The Independent -- as its title proclaims, it aims for some non-political space or middle ground. More like The Guardian than The Telegraph. I think it has the smallest readership of the four; appeals to iconoclasts, who are always a meager group in the population pie-chart.

The Times -- the classic. Still has the largest readership. If you read a novel from before, say, 1970, the characters will invariably be reading The Times. Middle-brow; middle-weight according to my friend Jenni, who is a snob about such things. Home of the acerbic, prolific columnist A.A. Gill. I really like the Sunday Times, which has good Cultural sections, but Simon says that The Observor does proper news better.

The Daily Mail -- in a Venn Diagram, The Daily Mail would occupy the middle ground between quality broadsheets and tabloid trash. It is a middle to lower-middle class paper. My mother-in-law, and most of the nation's elderly, read it. It does a good Sudoku and TV section. There is little to no international news, and an over-emphasis on various smalltime outrages, scandals, and swindles. The dominant theme seems to be that the country is going to hell in a handbasket and any right-thinking person might as well emigrate. Ironically, the paper is very hard on immigrants -- who are blamed for much of society's problems.

The tabloids: all trash
The Daily Express -- trash which devotes 3 out of 5 front pages to Princess Diana. Madeline McCann is the backup for Di's days off.
The Daily Mirror -- just trash; not sure what kind they specialise in
The Sun -- trash best-known for their "Page 3 Girls" (boob shots, basically)

Now that we have that sorted . . .
Because the big four battle it out for the literate and presumably more affluent portion of the population, there are often incentive "supplements" to entice the consumer. These may take the form of DVDs, or "best of" guides, or educational pamphlets of some kind. This week, The Guardian and The Independent are battling it out with their Great Poet guides. So far I've gotten a John Donne and a W.H. Auden. I should have had a T.S. Eliot, but when I got home from the grocery store I was sad to find that my paper was poet-less. The little book must have fallen out somewhere.

Is it just me, or do others find it charming that there is obviously a belief that poets can sell papers! I just can't see this happening with the Houston Chronicle vs Austin American-Statesman.

By the way, I'm really quite bummed about the missing Eliot guide. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is probably the first "adult" poem that really grabbed me. At one point, I had several stanzas of it memorized, but my sieve-like brain has lost most of them. Incidentally, did anyone catch the "Prufrock" reference in my "Beans" post?

This is really stretching the poetry topic further than it was ever meant to go . . . but I was poetry in motion this morning on the tennis court. My volleys were crisp and precise, and my serve was killer. Non-tennis players: There is a resounding, perfect THWACK that you get when you hit the ball just right. It is one of the most satisfying physical sensations. "Sweet spot" sounds so salacious for a reason, you know.

And finally, for all the Democrat homeys out there working to take the White House back from the Bushian stranglehold: some words from Gore Vidal.

Half of the American people have never read a newspaper.
Half never voted for President.
One hopes it is the same half.


Brave Sir Robin Hussein said...

Of course, the "coffee spoons"

It's funny, I had a comment about Prufrock in someone's blog a couple of weeks ago. (here) (Yes, I would be unhappy about missing the Eliot as well.

I agree, I cannot imagine Newspapers over here offering poetry as an incentive.

The printed news has fallen on hard times over on this side of the Atlantic. I live two hours from Houston, and as of about a month ago the Houston Chronicle can no longer be purchased in my town! Not even the Sunday.

Happily, the internet has the New York Times.

Do you remember the Houston Post? I was always a Houston Post guy, (as was my Dad). They were purchased by the Houston Chronicle in the mid 80's.

I do enjoy the Guardian online. I'm glad it's the proper liberal paper.

Lucy said...

Hello Bee! I just saw you over at Jan's, and since you have the same name as my niece (Bee, not Drunken) I clicked to see, then I got interested in your profile, and 'The Pursuit of Love' jumped out at me from your favourite books.
Now I've just spent more time than I meant to reading, and thoroughly enjoying. I think I've been away from England long enough but not to long to recognise and be tickled by much of what you observe, and to feel some affinity with your perplexity at being in another country which is similar but very different.
And much more. I'll be back!

(Furthermore, the comment verification word is 'crabjopf', and I find that a comical sounding c.v. word is always auspicious...)

Bee said...

Brave Sir Robin,

Your comments never fail to inspire my humming little brain.

So I read your reminiscences about Prufrock . . . and I'm glad that you learned to like it. I wonder if anyone else caught the "coffee spoons" reference. I've thought so often of that poem in the last year. I had a friend in high school, the late great Andrea Jarma, who was a wonderful and truly original person. She was a punk lesbian who loved Latin; she turned me onto U2 at a time when no one but Dubliners knew about them; she became a doctor; and she died under mysterious circumstances last year. We used to love that poem -- and often chanted it back and forth. I was white bread; she was a prune kolache; but we had such a great friendship.

When we lived in Houston we used to get the New York Times on Sundays. And I always read the Press. Occasionally bought the Chronicle to see what was on for the weekend. Never read the Post. When did it get taken-over?

I always like Homesick Texan for her Houston memories. We must be about the same age.

Last thing -- because I'm turning comments to comments into new posts. I never mentioned it, but I had just seen "The Age of Innocence" (a favorite; but I've never been sure about Michelle Pfeiffer casting) the night before I read your blog for the first time.
(I know that you will know what I'm referring to. It's weird, huh?)

Lucy, it's so cool to find you here. I just got around to filling out that section of my blog profile and I was amazed to see the similarities between myself and Jan. I'm going to check you out RIGHT NOW!

Brave Sir Robin Hussein said...

Bee -

See now that's interesting, because it was the Winona Rider casting as May, that I thought would be a problem. (The most obvious being she's not a blond), but I thought it worked beautifully.

Sometimes I find myself opening up a lot more in comments than in posts. Comments being a bit more like conversation I guess.

I think the Post was bought out about 1985 or 1986.

The first time I saw U2, they (get this) opened for the J. Giles Band. That was awhile back.

k said...

hello fellow lloyd dobler lover! thanks so much for dropping by my blog.
it took me months to figure out that i could click on things and i would be taken to like-minded people's blogs. so cool.
i love all things british so i will eagerly read your blog because i want to know all about your english countryside life.
are you on facebook? i'm a recent addict and have found it so fun. i've connected with so many people from my past. and present, and future. i hope.
i love your profile pic. i'm drooling over your necklace.
i've been saying i'll read the lovely bones forever now.
more soon.
have a great day!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the primer on British newspapers. I have read some columnists whose culture references escape me. I'm sure if I read one every day I could catch on. Probably watching more British television would help too.

I do really enjoy the book reviews in the Guardian, they're often linked to in They seem longer than American reviews, more meaty and not afraid to be more scholarly.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend Andrea's death. But how wonderful to have a poem as the touchstone for a friendship. --Jenine

Anonymous said...

Oh by the way, do tell us about your chickens when you get a chance. I envy your animal husbandry. --Jenine

Bee said...

Brave Sir Robin Hussein,

This is for you:
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is the centerfold
Angel is the centerfold

Ha Ha! How could I forget? That video got heavy rotation in the early MTV days when they actually showed videos.

Now I'm going to have to go back to "The Age of Innocence" and check out the physical descriptions. I didn't remember that May was blonde. I can never decide if WR's performance is just cloyingly sweet or perfect in its cloying sweetness.

K -- no, I'm not on Facebook. I thought that was for teenagers. My 13yo already thinks it is embarrassing and unseemly that I have a blog. She is always saying to me, "Oh my God, are you on your blog AGAIN?" Her tone manages to be a fine blend of the dismissive, the incredulous, and the contemptuous. This is what you have to look forward to! Your daughter still says sweet things about fairies!
Thanks for the compliment on my necklace. My hair was a bit wayward, but that's because we were on holiday in Italy and I didn't have a hairdryer. Why don't the countries of the world get together on the voltage issue? WHY? It took some doing to find a pic of myself because I am the official family photographer and I tend to leave my camera behind or forget the charger or some such. My dear friend Andrew, a god among men, took that picture.

Jenine -- this brings me to you. As soon as I can find the (1) charger and (2) adapter for my digital camera I am going to take some pictures of my chickens and do a post on them. I will give you a taster: Their names are Ralph and Lauren.

And yes, reviews are meatier and more literate and more varied.

Brave Sir Robin Hussein said...

in the early MTV days when they actually showed videos.

Boy, those were the days hmm? My 13 year old, aka - #3 son, just loves to watch all that reality trash MTV plays now. I used to complain about it, and then one day when I was giving him grief about some show I thought was less than worthy, I realized I sounded like my father.


I no longer do that.

The one MTV show I will not allow downstairs is My Sweet Sixteen

I told him -

"You see that? Things like that are the reason the rest of the World hates America"

I told him he could watch it upstairs in his room, but I didn't want to see it.

I'm a fairly liberal Dad anyway, (imagine that) - I don't really screen out "offensive shows" I just tell them that if they are mature enough to watch those shows, they are mature enough to not engage in repeating inappropriate words or actions from them.

Seems to work.

How's the job hunt going?

Bee said...


Once again, we are on the same page with parenting/TV issues. Those 16th bashes are in horrendously bad taste. People with that kind of money to burn should take a hard look at world poverty. I say send your 16yo to Africa, instead.

We don't get MTV here. My kids are really into Scrubs and Friends reruns. I never saw them the first time, and I must say, they are hilarious. Especially Scrubs. It is very, very clever. I'm not a big TV person really, but I do acknowledge that there are some good things on. We just got "Mad Men" -- only two episodes so far, but I love it! It comes on at 10 pm; luckily I'm a late-bird. Do you even sleep? You are a very early riser.