The rehabilitation of Eminem as the new darling of the liberal establishment was complete yesterday after Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, lauded the rapper's lyrical prowess and said he had "sent a voltage around a generation".
It is an extraordinary turnaround for an artist who once inspired protest rallies at awards ceremonies, enraged Sheffield University students into banning his records and who had enemies in the music industry ranging from Moby to Christina Aguilera.
Heaney, 64, former professor of poetry at Oxford University, spoke of his admiration for the rapper, also known as Slim Shady, comparing his impact to that of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
Heaney said: "There is this guy Eminem. He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude, but also his verbal energy."
The comments shocked even Heaney's own son Mick, a Dublin-based music journalist. "There's no one more surprised than myself," he said. "I don't think the old boy would be exactly Old Skool. I wouldn't say he's familiar with Boogie Down Productions and Chuck D (of militant rap group Public Enemy)."
Heaney junior said his father's admiration for Eminem "would not be my own take" and that he had declined the chance to attend the rapper's shows.
But he added: "[Heaney senior] is not someone who tries to be trendy and the fact that he's responded that way shows that he's twigged [Eminem's] energy."
The Northern Ireland-born poet's support for the former bad boy of Hip Hop (who in one record advised his mother to "bend over and take it like a slut") follows an endorsement from BBC grandee Alan Yentob, who was seen on television last week attending one of the rapper's shows and asking for his autograph.
Lines such as "I'll stab you in the head whether you're a fag or les" might not seem particularly poetic, but Eminem's lyrical dexterity is now being acknowledged even in the highest circles.
Professor Paul Muldoon, professor of poetry at Oxford University, said that Heaney's comments were "perfectly reasonable".
"One thing I would say about Eminem and rappers in general is that despite the fact that the subject matter is sometimes more than near the knuckle, they do valourise the word in a way that lyricists generally don't," he said. "In general, the language is perhaps more important than the music in the rap genre."
The Poetry Society, formed in London in 1909, was equally gushing. "Eminem harnesses the power of word and language and that's what a poet would do," it said. "That's why the society is not surprised that Seamus Heaney would speak favourably."
The society's support for the rapper has increased following feedback from children entering its annual schools-based performance poetry competition. "Many of them have been absolutely inspired by Eminem," it said.
But not everybody has jumped on the Slim Shady bandwagon. Roger McGough, the Liverpool-born poet, admitted yesterday: "I have never listened to Eminem."
McGough, who is a contemporary of the Beatles and was in a band with Paul McCartney's brother, said: "I can't see Seamus in a back-to-front baseball cap."
IN THEIR OWN WORDS THE PROFESSOR AND THE RAPPER
From "A Lough Neagh Sequence"
A line goes out of sight and out of mind
Down to the soft bottom of silt and sand
Past the indifferent skill of the hunting hand.
A bouquet of small hooks coiled in the stern
Is being paid out, back to its true form,
Until the bouquet's hidden in the worm.
The boat rides forward where the line slants back.
The oars in their locks go round and round.
The eel describes his arcs without a sound.
From "Just Don't Give A Fuck"
"Slim Shady, brain dead like Jim Brady,
I'm M80, you lil' like that Kim lady,
I'm buzzin, Dirty Dozen, naughty rotten rhymer,
Cursin at you players worse than Marty Schottenheimer,
You wacker than the motherfucker you bit your style from
You ain't gonna sell two copies if you press a double album
Admit it, fuck it, while we comin out in the open.
I'm doin acid, crack, smack, coke and smokin dope then,
My name is Marshall Mathers, I'm an alcoholic (Hi Marshall),
I have a disease and they don't know what to call it,
Better hide your wallet cause I'm coming up quick to strip your cash ...
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