RADIO / Five poets rhyming for a good reason

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The Independent Culture
A BOY was sitting on the bus, all ready for the school trip, when, to his utter horror, his mother appeared. 'Martyn]' she roared. Even the driver looked scared. She climbed aboard and ordered him out of his seat: 'Come here for a kiss]' Tearing off his balaclava, then her own, she planted a big smacker on his head before vigorously rubbing it off with spit - which is why Martyn Wiley (no, not Willy, stop sniggering at the back) now has a dent the size of Tasmania in his forehead.

As he told this story to a group of children in Bristol, their sympathy was engulfed by uncontrollable giggles. Wiley was one of five stand- up poets in Viv Beeby's marvellous Talking Poetry (R4), an annual treat for eavesdropping adults as well. These poets work their audience like Plasticene, getting them to chant, clap, shout and whisper; scaring them and startling them; leaving them disgracefully overexcited. Jackie Kay, Brian Patten, Michael Rosen and Roger McGough each produced crunchy little verses, like the nut in the centre of the Walnut Whip of their airy patter, but Wiley's was the crispest. His concluding piece was called 'Short Poem'. Here is its full text: 'The end.' An Irish poet now teaching creative writing at Princeton might envy him. This was Paul Muldoon in America (R3), talking to the deeply serious Christopher Cook. Cook, invoking someone called Winston Auden, reverently marvelled at Muldoon's command of many-layered allusion, but Muldoon himself was endearingly depressed by the thought that his writing is considered so inaccessible. Those long, complex poems, he said, had somehow needed to write themselves through him. He really doesn't want to do any more like that, especially as poets tend to get worse as they get older - and anyway they are so horribly hard to write. He hopes he'll soon be producing beautifully simple, pellucid, short lyrics - but he gave the strong impression that he couldn't guarantee it. Next week's readings will reveal all.

Cook was rather too solemn for Muldoon, but it was not such a bad pairing as Glenda Jackson MP and Eric Morecambe. Reading from an admittedly banal script, Jackson remembered Mr Sunshine (R2), in deep tones of weighty gravitas, better suited to chanting a dirge than to celebrating such a man. It is certainly depressing to think that it is, unbelievably, 10 years since his fatal heart attack, but Eric would have been the first to send up such an approach. His wife and son spoke touchingly of how hard he worked, and tiny snippets of his shows reminded us of his gorgeous frivolity, but it was left to the undertaker Jackson to pay final, dreadful homage: 'Perhaps actors, actresses - even politicians - should be able to express the loss of someone like Eric. Words like kind and modest spring instantly to mind, but in a disposable world they don't say anything much, do they?' Well, they might, Glenda, if you gave them a chance.

The World Service began serialising David Hare's Racing Demon this week, in a superb production by the inimitable Gordon House. These days, when Radio 4 can suddenly stupefy you with cricket - in the middle of Woman's Hour, for goodness sake - the World Service is an increasingly irresistible option. This thoughtful, compassionate play about the problems besetting four clergymen in south London is a fine reason to re-tune. I enjoyed the smug and

slippery bishop, reminding himself of his popular following: 'It was Harry who first recommended me for Thought for the Day,' he recalled, oozing self-satisfaction, 'and now they give me every other Friday.'

This Friday a better Bishop, Richard Harries, turned his thoughts towards two poets waiting for D-

Day with sober determination. Not courage, but fear and fury were to fire their fighting, he said. Perhaps the same was true of The Sussex Network (R4), a group of French people trained in St Albans and parachuted back into occupied France to act as spies. One innocent travelled by train through disguised English stations, assuming each one was called Bovril; another got away from trouble by pretending to be a painter, hiding his transmitter under filthy rags, reasoning correctly that the fastidious Gestapo would be reluctant to get dirty. Some were killed, but many are still alive and able to talk about their experiences for this impressive documentary.

One man had a remarkable escape. Cornered, with only one shot left in his .45, he put the gun to his own head. But its barrel was so hot that instinctively he turned it away. He used the shot, he added darkly, but not on himself. Now that was surely cool courage.

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