David Lister: Biting the hand that feeds you isn't clever – even if you are an award-winning poet

The Week in Arts


And off they stomp. Hell clearly hath no fury like a poet in danger of being associated with a hedge fund. Now that the TS Eliot poetry prize has a new sponsor in the shape of hedge fund manager Aurum, two of the shortlisted poets, Alice Oswald and John Kinsella, have walked out in protest.

The poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy is also shortlisted for the prize, and has so far not found that a problem.

But Ms Oswald says that poetry should be questioning institutions like Aurum and not endorsing them, while Mr Kinsella says that "hedge funds are at the very pointy end of capitalism". I hope his verse has slightly more meaningful imagery. But he should have plenty of time to work on it, as I can tell both him and Ms Oswald that there are really very few places they can now go to enjoy culture.

Not even their living rooms. They certainly won't want to watch Sky Arts as that is a part of the Murdoch empire, and recent events have shown Rupert to be rather at the pointy end himself. The Donmar Warehouse in London may be the best small theatre in the world, but its principal sponsor is Barclays Bank, which on occasion has shown a tendency towards pointiness. As for looking at the beautiful paintings at Tate Britain, forget it. There are already 8,000 people petitioning against it being sponsored by BP in response to its alleged sin of anti-environmentalism. But this is small beer compared with the allegations of links to slavery made in relation to several UK companies. Pointy or not, Aurum certainly hasn't indulged in slavery.

What are Ms Oswald and Mr Kinsella to do? They can't watch the arts on TV; they can't visit many of our greatest arts institutions.

The arts are, and have to be, a mixed economy, more than ever in the current economic climate. They rely on sponsorship and have been encouraged to seek sponsorship for years. The excellent organisation Arts & Business has guided various businesses towards the arts, putting millions of pounds into culture. Provided those businesses are doing nothing illegal, not indulging in racism or child labour or exploitation, it seems churlish and self-indulgent to denounce their help for the arts. At the very least, the protesting poets should give a proper, reasoned explanation, in prose, of what it is about a hedge fund that upsets them.

What counts is that these capitalist organisations, however pointy, are enabling the arts to thrive in Britain. Contemporary poetry needs the sponsorship more than any other art form, as it can often struggle for visibility. The TS Eliot prize helps by getting contemporary poetry and contemporary poets talked about. Oswald and Kinsella have just made that job more difficult. They are at the pointy end of protest, and have done poetry a disservice.

Have your passports at the ready

Last week, I wrote how I was changing my mind about free admission to national museums and galleries. With figures showing that a third of visitors are now from abroad, it seemed wrong that so many tourists were benefiting from free admission and depriving galleries of potential revenue. However, I didn't think it was feasible to have free admission for Brits and charges for those from abroad.

Readers who have emailed me over the week disagree. They don't disagree with charging (I was surprised at the near uniform reaction in favour of reintroducing charges); they disagree that it can't be done. I thought it a little unBritish to ask people to show their passports or some form of ID at museums, but readers thought otherwise. And one very senior figure in the arts told me that people should indeed be asked to show their passports and let in free if they are from the UK, and charged if they are from abroad. I'm still a bit doubtful about that method. Would there be two queues, one for Brits and one for foreigners? But I am convinced that the public mood about free admission is changing.

A case of being cast against type

Neil LaBute's play Reasons To Be Pretty at the Almeida theatre in London is a highly enjoyable examination of contemporary mores, as all his plays are. This one shows the breakdown of a relationship when a young American describes his girlfriend's face as "regular" rather than beautiful. This upsets her greatly. It would seem to be objectively true, though, as her boyfriend's best friend also, privately, agrees, though more robustly.

The only trouble is that Sian Brooke, the actress who plays the "regular" faced girl, is very attractive. This skews the play rather. Of course, it could be that Neil LaBute intended her to be an attractive woman to make the insult more outrageous and her anger more paranoid. But this can't be as at least one other person in the play refers disparagingly to her looks.

No, it seems that director Michael Attenborough and his casting team couldn't find anyone plain enough to play the part and didn't mind the audience being puzzled. Has London no plain actresses left? There's a gap in the market here.

d.lister@independent.co.uk / twitter.com/davidlister1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam