Ode to a football

Poets in residence, once the preserve of grand institutions, are now penning their verses everywhere from golf clubs to police stations. Is there any rhyme or reason? And are they any good? Christina Patterson reads between the lines
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The Independent Culture

In Renaissance Florence, it was the Medicis. In 21st-century Britain, it's the local councils, libraries and arts centres. And now, with Attila the Stockbroker's hit single, "Tom Hark (We Want Falmer!)", it's Brighton and Hove Albion. They're the new patrons of poetry, these bodies which hurl a few bob at a starving poet in return for a line or two.

In Renaissance Florence, it was the Medicis. In 21st-century Britain, it's the local councils, libraries and arts centres. And now, with Attila the Stockbroker's hit single, "Tom Hark (We Want Falmer!)", it's Brighton and Hove Albion. They're the new patrons of poetry, these bodies which hurl a few bob at a starving poet in return for a line or two.

Six centuries on, poets are still poor, but certain things have changed. While their Florentine precursors knocked off poems on demand, it's a fair bet they didn't also run workshops for employees and take part in outreach programmes whose tick-box agendas range from cultural diversity to social inclusion. They didn't see poetry as a tool for improving communication skills and helping you define your brand. Poor, demented creatures, they saw it as art.

Is there any art in the average poetry residency today? Well, sometimes. A nice cheque and a deadline can be as good as a whisper from the muse. Good poets can write good poems about cornflakes. They can also write bad ones. Bad poets generally write bad poems, though they might be great on social inclusion. A swift glance at some of the current offerings suggests a strong tendency towards the social work end of the spectrum: swathes of plodding mediocrity, leavened by the odd (very odd) flash of brilliance.

What's in it for the patron? A tiny bit of putative Bohemian glamour and an interview, perhaps, in the local rag. What's in it for the poet? Money, of course. On the evidence of this lot, the more the better. I don't know what Roddy Lumsden was being paid for being the poet in residence at St Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa, but it clearly did him good. Sometimes a spa is as good as a garret.

Season's Greetings

By Roshan Doug, the poet in residence at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Now a Professor of Poetry at the University of Central England, Roshan Doug, 42, was born and raised in Jalandhar, India, before moving to Britain to work in schools in London and Oxford and lecture in English at Birmingham University. The first collection of his poetry, Delusions, was published in 1995 and he is the poet laureate for Birmingham. The poem was written in response to the banning of the play Behzti, in response to Sikh protests.

God fled on a rain sodden Monday

afternoon

now there's silence

 

no more violence or threats

no more art for art's sake

no more power of the tool

no more swishing of the swords

or scribbling of the pens

no more actors outside The Door

 

nor actors within

 

no more pressure of the script

no more blockings

or rehearsals

or the potent pause

in hymns or meditation

 

no more politics

 

just a hush that hangs

like a forgotten guru

at a curtain call

on this spot littered with a promise

of a New Year's Eve -

 

so dark so cold

 

- where a holy book lies

(distant and discarded)

trampled with unfettered love.

Is it any good?

Well, it's a tricky brief. Your Sikh neighbours go bananas over Behzti, a play they weren't even planning to see, and you've got to sum up the ensuing kerfuffle. Does Doug capture the complexity of this culture clash? Sadly, no. His poem has the rhythms and repetitions of the crudest agit-prop - not to mention the chopped-up prose.

Hotel Showers of the World

By Roddy Lumsden, the poet in residence at St Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa. Previously a teacher and writer in residence to the music industry, the 38-year old Lumsden lives in Stoke Newington, London. Since 1999, he has also been a writer in residence at numerous schools in Bristol and London as well as at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden.

Before you step into the mist and

spray

be sure that water is plentiful

nearby:

you could look across the great,

grey Bay

from Manila's Pan Pacific; the

walk-in

was bigger than back rooms I've

lived in -

hot rain pummelled my awkward

bones,

volcanic flush direct from

Pinatubo.

At the Warder's Inn in Lewes, a

worn rose

sent down a rope of warm water,

catching

on my nape, a gift from the

hanging judges

at the local assizes, who once

hoisted cads

into their nooses while the Ouse

rounded a slack corner.

 

Up in Stockholm,

The Berns had one neat hole in

the ceiling,

Another in the cambered floor

And a swing out panel, enough of

a door

As you'd need; boats frothed snug

quays

A stroll away; the cathedral bell

slammed.

At the St Andrews Bay, I crank

The overdrive and, miles away,

unseen,

Mallards will bob distractedly

As the reservoir surrenders a

half inch

To leave me this pink, this clean.

Is it any good?

Lucky Lumsden has landed on his feet. But he lives up to the challenge of luxury in this witty world tour of hotel showers. His subtle and finely crafted riff on a theme has, like all good poetry and Blake's "world in a grain of sand", resonances way beyond the particular. Next: poetic jaunts in a jacuzzi.

At White Hart Lane

By Sarah Wardle, the poet in residence at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Sarah, 33, lives in London and teaches at the School of Arts at Middlesex University. After graduating from Oxford University, she initially worked in farming and tourism.

Waiting for a train this winter

evening,

as a distant siren calls and fallen

rain

reflects still swings, a red bus

makes

progress into the future, and

something

like a comet or prophecy from

Macbeth,

or the cockerel on a weather vane,

moves for North London, pointing

in the direction of the wind,

speaking

words of Dylan, telling of a ruler's

fall,

when Stamford Bridge next comes

to

White Hart Lane. The tournament

at

Old Trafford revealed ill-gotten

gain is

no substitute for the true score

crossing

the line. Some things can't be

bought

but go deeper, like a father and son

now,

 

walking along Love Lane.

Tonight's tempest

 

brings voices and stands singing,

'The Club

for England, Hotspur and their

King'.

Is it any good?

This is that rare thing: a residency poem that works. A genuine Spurs fan, Sarah Wardle has taken on the (white) mantle of being its bard with an engaging combination of enthusiasm and panache. Here she turns a paean of praise - and prayer - for her team into a charming metaphor for family love. The girl done good.

And they call me lucky

By Ian McMillan, the poet in residence at Humberside Police. A poet, broadcaster, and programme-maker for more than 20 years., McMillan also hosts the weekly show The Verb on BBC Radio 3, is a regular guest on Newsnight Review and recently partnered Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You. This year, he has been nominated for Oxford University's poetry professorship.

I'm the bloke who stole a fortune in

Francs

Just before the Euro came in

And I'm the feller who backed Hull

City

For a six-nil win.

 

And I'm the man who made John

Major balloons

In May 1997;

I made three hundred thousand

And I sold eleven.

 

But the other day, walking down the

street

I thought my luck was in

Saw a lovely BMW

Shouting 'Take me for a spin!'

I bent right down and tried the door

It opened in my hand

But when I drove down the street

coppers were saluting

I didn't understand!

 

I kept getting calls from Chief

Inspectors

On the hands free phone

And the glove box was full of

notebooks and truncheons,

And my heart turned to stone

 

When I saw the crest on the bonnet

Shining as large as life

And then I realised that my heinous

crime

Was worse than tickling John

Prescott's wife!

 

Protect, Help and Reassure

Was the slogan on the crest

And I felt like I'd been caught in

Hessle

Naked except for me vest

 

So I drove the car to a shady spot

And left it and ran away

I'll stick to making fake

threepenny bits

Cos car crime does not pay!

Is it any good?

Ian McMillan is terrific. A burly Yorkshireman and a fine poet, he can make an audience cry with laughter. His contributions to arts punditry are pithy and smart. It's a shame, then, that Humberside Police seems to have dulled his wit - and his ear. Delivered in his inimitable deadpan tones, this piece of froth might just work. On the page, it triggers only a puzzled frown.

First Time

By Maria Garner, the poet in residence to Beacon Hill Allotments, Cleethorpes. The founder of the Grimsby Writers in 1995, Maria worked as an IT Consultant for nearly a decade.

A sense of belonging hangs in the

air

Everything here is meant to be

Just as it is

Orange nasturtiums growing in a

compost heap

Onions burst out of the ground, their

dark green tentacles

Reaching up to the fading light

Cabbages stand proud in amongst

magenta and flame dahlias

A blackbird settles on his favourite

branch

and sends soulful music into the

trees

 

Here doors become sheds

Sinks become flowerbeds

Barbed boundaries harbour juicy

brambles

Fishing nets of green and orange

protect fruits

From wind and feather

Wild grasses sway in the breeze

Shoulder to shoulder with poppies

Reds, pinks and purples of every

hue

Each flower nurturing its own

seed

A gift from the flower to the garden

 

The earth smells of new potatoes

Sweet peas caress the night with

their scent

Roses and honeysuckle do not

compete

Each knows its own beauty

Golden rod starbursts line the paths

Nothing can be too planned

Or too rambling

Here life has its own rhythm

Its own heart

That beats to the bass drum of the

seasons

Is it any good?

Oh dear. It seemed such an excellent idea to have a poet in residence on a compost heap in Cleethorpes, and Garner has clearly scrutinised it closely. No stone (or onion or cabbage) remains unturned in her quest to immortalise this little patch of earth. The result - a strangely child-like mix of self-consciously poetic words and -peculiar metaphors - is, I'm afraid, just embarrassing.

Christina Patterson is the deputy literary editor of 'The Independent' and a former director of the Poetry Society.

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