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June 2014

Lead us not into uncredited appropriation

Sun_photo

This year’s version of the Nation’s Prayer (see last post) must be the least successful yet given England’s performance. Someone in Costa Rica must have written a very strong version.

Nevertheless, the prayer had an interesting life, in a story that ended with a Sun journalist reading the prayer out (uncredited) to a congregation of England fans beneath the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio. There’s an entertaining film of it here but I can’t share it because it’s behind their paywall.

I’ve written the whole story up in this post on Creative Review, touching on some of the wider issues it raises about popular culture and attribution.

One thing I forgot to mention was the reviews the prayer received after it ‘went viral’ via a couple of dodgy accounts on Twitter:

Reviews_np

Properly warms the heart.

Thanks to everyone who ordered the prayer card (sorry, no refunds) and shared it on Twitter or elsewhere. Thanks also to Creative Review for spotting that The Sun had used it, to Stig Abell at The Sun for putting it right and making a donation to Street League, and to Tim Rich of 66000milesperhour.com for some helpful advice along the way.

We may return for Euro 2016, if England make it.

Top image copyright 2012 News Group Newspapers Ltd

The Nation's Prayer 2014

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Following no popular demand and one explicit request not to do it, we’ve decided to release a new version of The Nation’s Prayer to mark the impending 2014 World Cup. This year, we have chosen to go one step further and produce some prayer cards that you can buy and place strategically alongside your remote control and chosen beer.

If you remember, we first came up with The Nation’s Prayer in 2010 (read it here) and released an updated version for Euro 2012 (here). It’s written in the tradition of the Bus Driver’s Prayer, of unknown origin but popularised by Ian Dury.

This year has presented a particular challenge as there remains a chance Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be replaced at the last minute, which will present an existential threat to line 5. We’ll have to deal with this if and when it happens.

Keen sports fans will notice there is no place in the poetic starting line-up for reserve keepers Ben Foster and Fraser Forster, nor for Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw. This will be embarrassing if Gary Cahill goes on to score a hat-trick in the final, but we will take that risk.

Prayer cards are sized 127mm x 76mm and come in a protective plastic sleeve, the way prayer cards do. They cost 66p.

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Think of England and order yours here.

Mr Paxman interrogates the poets

Paxman

If you’re one of those strange people who don’t follow the poetry world closely, you may not have been aware of the recent Paxman Controversy.

As the chair of this year’s Forward Prize jury, he made some characterisically brisk comments about the need for poets to engage with the outside world, even calling for an ‘inquisition’ where the more obscure poets could come and explain themselves (a suggestion that I don’t think was meant to be taken entirely seriously). Nevertheless, it caused understandable consternation among poets, not least because the ‘poetry world’ is arguably more accessible and politically engaged than it has ever been, but also because popularity isn’t necessarily the best measure of poetry’s worth in the world. 

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about how a Paxman-esque inquisition might work, which led to me writing and publishing this poem (it originally appeared here):


Mr Paxman interrogates the poets

Who set fire to the tyger? 
Will you apologise to the people of Slough?
So you’re admitting you ate the plums?
Twas not, in any sense, “brillig” was it?

“Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song” –
You stole that, didn’t you?
Nothing depends on a wheelbarrow, does it?
Are you saying you set fire to the tyger?

In what possible sense is anything “dapple-dawn-drawn”?
Was there really a man from Nantucket?
These people you call the best minds of your generation – 
presumably not smart enough to avoid being destroyed?

You write about shepherds and daffodils, 
but I believe you were grammar school educated?
Why did this imbecile kill the albatross?
Shall I compare thee? I’ll ask the questions.

Did you threaten to set fire to the tyger?

 

As these things sometimes do, it did the rounds on Twitter and eventually got noticed by the people at the Forward Arts Foundation. Before I knew it, an email landed in my inbox:

Paxemail

In some ways, my poem bears out Paxman’s criticism in that it’s full of smart-arse allusions that probably exclude as many people as they entertain. But fortunately he saw the funny side (I think...)