Newsroom creates a stir with bulletins in verse: Poets' News on BBC 2 has brought an unusual angle to the coverage of current affairs.

David Lister@davidlister1
Thursday 14 October 1993 23:02

CAROL ANN DUFFY spent three hours yesterday on the fastest poem she had written as the unemployment figures came over the wires; and Benjamin Zephaniah, the BBC's first dreadlocked newscaster, albeit only for a day, went out on location before penning his five stanzas.

'This isn't art,' concluded Duffy as she started to fit images to her words mid-afternoon, 'it's immediate communication'.

The two seldom rub shoulders, it is true, but this week in the BBC newsroom they have. Each night after Newsnight on BBC 2, Poets' News has allowed one or more contemporary poets to make a newscast in verse about an issue of the day.

Earlier in the week, amid poems on Bosnia and Northern Ireland, the Liverpool veteran Roger McGough popped up with his musings on back pain, illustrated by a weather chart and entirely in meteorological metaphor.

Let's start with the head, where tonight

A depression centred over the brain

Will lift. Dark clouds move away

And pain will be widespread, but light.

It was a rare moment of humour in the week. Perhaps our poets tend towards intensity. But then so, as Martyn Lewis would acknowledge, does the news.

The poets have been as concerned with the pictures as with the verse. Yesterday Duffy, choosing to write about the unemployment figures, selected images of plenty: the Mansion House banquet, and newspaper reports of Baroness Thatcher's pounds 3m advance for her memoirs.

Two million. Do I hear an advance?

Memoirs for sale.

I was there

At the Tory Party Dance. Read all about it . . .

The jobless, dispossessed.

Unemployment's down by thirteen thou

Was your home repossessed?

Zephaniah's poem was on racism and filmed against graffiti- ridden estates near White City in London. But in fact the poem concentrated on current racism against the English in north-eastern Scotland.

One more tribe says we exist

More immigrants are feeling it

And immigrants are white and black and brown

And they are all around,

One more tribe says we luv we

And we're a speciality

One more death threat in de post

One more death threat from the host

Zephaniah, who took two hours to write his poem before filming started, said afterwards: 'I actually started to write poetry as an alternative newscaster to the black community. That is how the poet used to be seen. It's very much an African way of looking at poetry.

'I suppose at the end of the day poets do look at things that other people just pass by. Most people see a plant growing and say, that's just a plant growing, but a poet will start to talk about how the earth has moved underneath it and the oxygen it is giving.'

Helena Appio, who edited yesterday's Poets' News, said: 'The poet's eye this week has brought much more reflection.

'There has been time for them to put much more emotion into their pieces. Newscasters aren't allowed to do this.'

(Photograph omitted)

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