Being laid low with the usual winter snuffle, or looking after others laid similarly low, has kept me away from the blogosphere in the last couple of weeks. I hope to resume normal service soon! In the meantime, here a couple of links to some literary news stories that might be of interest...
Firstly, it is getting close to picking the new poet laureate. Apparently the public have a say, which for one awful minute I thought would be some sort of vote and that we'd probably end up with John Sargeant, but it turns out to be just that the Department of Cuture, Media and Sport are happy if people write in to them. Much more civilised. (Simon Armitage! Simon Armitage!) You can read more here.
The other snippet is regarding Carole Ann Duffy's poem Education for Leisure. UK readers may be aware that the poem has been removed from the AQA exam board GCSE syallbus (exams taken by all school children at 16) because if involves a knife crime. Without even getting in to whether or not the exam board should have caved in to three complaints, or whether they made a smart move in the current climate, I would just like to register my bewilderment that AQA have apparently asked schools to destroy the existing in-school copies of the poem. AQA provide schools with free copies of a literature anthology for all students entered for the English or English lit exams. This book is quite a pleasant thing despite its rather academic A4 sized stapled binding, and it is good for kids to have their own copies to keep. Teachers don't have to teach all the poems in the anthology, there is a bit of leeway so staff who felt it was not appropriate could have omitted Duffy from their teaching.
I don't know if AQA mean that all previous editions should be destroyed, or if teachers should go ripping out the poem, but most teachers didn't join up to destroy books, even ones in stapled bindings! The decision to remove doesn't seem terribly wise. Especially as now, with all the publicity, kids can google for the poem and read it online with no adult guidance. In at least 5 years of both teaching the poem and marking the exam I never heard a student get the wrong end of the stick; they all knew the poem made the knife weilding protagonist look like a loser. There were plenty of poems the students did get wrong, and did misunderstand, but this one is quite clear and written in the language of teenage ego about which they are obviously experts. I would have removed the poem too were I in charge, but because I don't think it is particularly good poem, and the students read so few poems that I would have rather taught a better one, but I can't see that it really glamourizes knife crime. The kids think the narrator is an idiot. Better perhaps to have removed it as part of natural cycle of revising the set works when the time came. You can read the story here and also the text of the poem. By the way, one of the three complaints received was not apparently about the knife crime but about the cruelty to goldfish. Don't you just love our culture's priorities! I think that is a darn sight scarier than the poem!