Poets' war of words leaves blood on the studio carpet

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The Independent Online
IT IS NOT often that Radio 4's Today programme features a discussion on poetry. After yesterday's diversion into literary criticism it might employ extra security men before doing so again. "Give me politics any day," said shell-shocked interviewer Alex Brodie at the end of the literary debate.

In the studio was Michael Horovitz, the godfather of performance poetry, creator of the Royal Albert Hall poetry Olympics. He was invited to comment on new-wave performance poet Murray Lachlan Young. The Byronic-maned rock'n'roll poet won a reputed pounds 1m deal from EMI and has just written a poem for a Virgin Atlantic advertising campaign.

Fortunately, Lachlan Young was not in the studio, or there might have been blood on the Broadcasting House carpets. The unfortunate Chris Meade, director of the Poetry Society, was there, but you would hardly have known it as Horovitz, despite entreaties, barely let him get a word in and refused to be silenced, yelling that Lachlan Young "will be forgotten in eight minutes" as Mr Brodie tried to move on to the next item.

The nub of Horovitz's literary argument went as follows: "If he [Lachlan Young] is a poet at all, he's not a very good poet ... a poet aged 28 is lauded to the skies, but at the age of 28 he has written a load of garbage ... He's dressed up to look like Byron, that doesn't make him write like Byron ... and forget about the pounds 1m ... he hasn't made more than pounds 30,000."

Lachlan Young's spokeswoman said yesterday that he had made considerably more than pounds 30,000.

But, the literary debate did not end there. For Lachlan Young happened to be listening to the radio at home. A few hours later he summoned up his powers of imagery and lyricism to hit back. "Yes," he sighed, "I'm sitting at home sticking a photograph of myself on a punchbag to send to Michael Horovitz. I expect his unnatural obsession with me is more of a sexual thing. But I draw the line at sending a rubber doll."

Lachlan Young's verse for Virgin seems unexceptionable, if a little repetitive in style and rhyming scheme. He rhapsodises over the in-flight entertainment system as "Destination Stimulation". He rhapsodises over the business- class seats as being available for an "extra donation". And he rhapsodises yet again over business class as "Destination Relaxation".

The Horovitz revenge is coming. He says he is working on a poem called A New Wasteland denouncing the commercialism that has sprouted phenomena like Lachlan Young. But for now the last word belongs to Lachlan Young. He revealed last night that Horovitz's son Adam, who runs a poetry club in Stroud, Gloucestershire, has invited him to do a gig there.

Extract from A New Wasteland

by Michael Horovitz

The rock of artistic aspirations today -

Publishing, Broadcasting, Prizegiving,

So-called critical standardising -

Seems immalleably fixed, defined,

Motivated and controlled by a

Transatlantic Dunciad of accountants,

Profiteers, expert packagers ...

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