How to Leave the World that Worships ‘Should’

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how to leave the world that worships shouldI want to say a little something about the poem ‘How to Leave the World that Worships Should because so many people have been coming here looking for it since it appeared on the English Literature GCSE syllabus last year. I’ll leave the analysis to others because my days of doing other people’s homework are over. Unless you’re going to threaten to flush my head down the toilet, obviously. I will, however, give you a small hint about the title, which I know flummoxes some people. The word ‘should’ should be in italics, or inverted commas. How to leave the world that worships (the word/concept of) ‘should’. Simple enough, once that’s clear, although I know when the poem reproduces itself on websites the italics or quote marks can disappear, making the title utterly nonsensical.

No, no analysis, because I would hope – outside the demands of exams etc – that it doesn’t need one. But I will give a little background.

First off, I should tell you this poem owes its existence to the generous funding of Arts Council England and two lovely people who worked at Canterbury City council nearly a decade ago. So if you like this poem, support the funding of the arts! The two lovely people had seen me speak about my public art commissions at a conference and approached me to write a number of poems about Herne Bay, on the coast of Kent. We ended up agreeing on eight sonnets (which became known as the Seaside Sonnets), and this was the first. The day I wrote it, I knew it was something a little bit special. Since then it has proved to be so: popular in postcard form with people working in cubicles, it has proliferated itself all over the internet. Someone even posted it on the Bolton Wanderers fan forum, at which point I realised it was really going mainstream. Read more

Crap Writing in Public Art Projects

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crap writing in public art projectsIf you’ve been to the British Library recently, you’ll notice there are new words on the walls in the cafe and restaurant. These words are the result of the ‘Writing London’ project.  They were produced by young people aged 18-21 supported by the Foyer Foundation, who worked with a writer, artist and photographer to respond to their environment.  The project was funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.  Nothing I’m about to write is intended as a criticism of the young people or the poet involved. I completely understand the well-meaning intentions of public art projects of this sort, having been involved in similar projects myself over the years.  It is a Good Thing to engage young people in a creative process and to help them feel more empowered in their own expression.  Everyone has to start somewhere. However, I can’t agree with the increased tendency of such projects to plaster the words of absolute beginners onto public spaces.

No-one dares speak up about this. We live in an age where competitive sports are avoided in primary schools, where everyone gets a certificate for taking part but no-one comes first, where We Are All Winners.  But if the very first thing one ever writes is deemed good enough to adorn the public spaces of the British Library, why bother ever writing anything else?  You have achieved a writing pinnacle.  You’ve proved to yourself is that this writing thing is piss-easy; so easy that it has no value.

Let me give you some examples of the phrases that filled my heart with despair.  This runs along the wall of the cafe:

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