Thursday 8 October 2009

The Nation's Favourite Poet?

So there we are, it's National Poetry Day - a day marked by the unveiling of the world's largest knitted poem (true - it's at the British Library) - and the Nation's Favourite Poet turns out to be T.S. Eliot! Well, at least it's a real, and difficult, poet - as is number 2, the only slightly more crowd-pleasing John Donne. It's when you read down to number 3 that the whole enterprise falls apart - Benjamin Zephaniah, for Jah's sake! I fear this poll result is less about poetry than other factors - recent TV exposure in the case of Eliot (an excellent Arena and Robert Webb's documentary) and Donne (Simon Schama's embarrassing documentary), and tireless puffing by the BBC and other PC outfits in the case of Zephaniah. All this against a background of startling ignorance of poetry, even among those who should be teaching it to the nation'c children. Here's a jaw-dropping statistic dropped into the Poetry Society puffery on Radio 4 this morning: 58 percent of primary school teachers cannot name more than 2 poets. And you can bet that one of the 2 is Benjamin Zephaniah.


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  2. It's possible that this eyebrow-raising stat (about primary school teachers) is based on a misreading. A probable source is this:

    "When asked to name six children's poets, most teachers (58%) could only name one or two; 22% did not name any and only 10% of primary teachers came up with six names. M. Rosen, A. Ahlberg, R. McGough, R.Dahl and S. Milligan were the poets mentioned most often."

    Click here. Not quite the same thing, anyway. If it were, one would have to suggest that Enid Blyton not winning the Booker Prize is an absolute scandal.

    Besides, the result only gives us the favourite poet of a fairly small number of people (18,000 or so) who like filling in online questionnaires. I think if I wanted to top myself, T.S. Eliot would definitely be a good poet to listen to. But for life - well, almost anyone else on that list, perhaps even Mr Z. At least he has a zest for it.

  3. Beware jaw-dropping stats, in other words. Good one, Mark.

    Anyway, poetry is rubbish.

  4. Simon Schama's documentary was on his usual topic - Mr Schama - but there were enough Donne-related incidentals to make it a pleasurable in parts. Anyway, Mr Eliot's work is worth a look, but The Man is Mr W.S., and the popular choice of one of our nations is Mr Burns. Perhaps Mr Eliot is a favourite among Anglican immigrants from the USA?

  5. Thanks Mark - you'd have thought the Poetry Soc woman would have got that right really. Hang about - no you wouldn't, they're all flakes... As 'children's poets' are primary teachers' business, though, it's still not great - and 22pc couldn't name any.

  6. Some of the most genuinely stupid people I know are primary school teachers. It truly is the case that 'those that can't, teach'

    Rather a depressing thought that all those little minds are in the hands of a bunch of illiterate plonkers

  7. Worm, an emendation: Those who can't, teach school children. It's awful -- you can be virtually brain dead and get a degree in Education in the U.S. They should make that profession the *hardest* and pay school teachers really well: It's the future of our countries in their hands!

    Obviously, a few fabulous teachers make it through -- we can all name one or two who were wonderful -- but plenty of dumbos wind up at the front of classrooms "teaching."