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MELVYN BRAGG: To axe poetry from the syllabus has no rhyme or reason

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melvyn bragg to axe poetry from the syllabus has no rhyme or reason

Rage, rage against the dying of the Light. These eight words from Dylan Thomas’s magnificent tirade against the unforgiving power of death are, and will forever be, memorable because they are part of a poem.

For the word ‘light’ in that short masterpiece, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, we can now substitute ‘poetry’.

Yesterday it was revealed that exams regulator Ofqual has decided that schools will be allowed to drop poetry from the GCSE English literature syllabus, claiming that the change would ‘ease the pressure on many students and teachers’ after the chaos of school closures in the pandemic.

I read the news with a sense of despair. This is little short of a national scandal: poetry has been in Britain’s cultural identity for centuries, from Beowulf more than a thousand years ago, through the glories of Shakespeare, to modern masters such as Ted Hughes.

Yesterday it was revealed that exams regulator Ofqual has decided that schools will be allowed to drop poetry from the GCSE English literature syllabus (file photo)

Yesterday it was revealed that exams regulator Ofqual has decided that schools will be allowed to drop poetry from the GCSE English literature syllabus (file photo)

Eternal

Take England’s favourite poem, Daffodils by William Wordsworth, which contains the famous lines:

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils…’

My mother had Alzheimer’s for the last six years of her long life. Conversation was not always easy. But I stumbled on two ways of communicating that now and then, I hope, gave her some relief.

One was singing the old songs — Loch Lomond, Tipperary, Daisy Daisy — in which she was word-perfect. I thought that it was the melody that helped her but then, one afternoon, as we were talking about school — she left at 14 — she said she had learned poetry by heart and flawlessly recited Daffodils.

Poetry or verse is the way in which we first learn language, laying the foundation of that wealth for life. ¿Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock¿ (file photo)

Poetry or verse is the way in which we first learn language, laying the foundation of that wealth for life. ‘Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock’ (file photo)

Since that time, I have seen work done with similar sufferers from Alzheimer’s who have been coaxed back to coherence by learning or re-learning poetry. A line a day maybe, but sufficient to help defy the erasure of memory caused by the disease.

While paintings fade, and sculptures crumble, poetry endures in the collective memory. Indeed, when Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote his famous sonnet Ozymandias, about a statue to a great king that had crumbled into the desert sands, he was nodding to this.

The poem — unlike the statue — can last for eternities. Shakespeare makes the same point often: that while a lover’s beauty might fade over a lifetime, in the lines of his poetry, that beauty is captured and becomes eternal.

The most condescending aspect of the decision to allow schools to drop poetry from the syllabus is the sense — implied but not expressed — that poetry is too challenging for school pupils.

What an insult!

To cut young people off from an art form that has brought pleasure and instruction to so many of us, from infant school to old age, is kicking away the ladder that can lead from nursery rhymes and pop songs to revelations from some of the finest minds in human history. It is outrageous.

Shakespeare, above, makes the same point often: that while a lover¿s beauty might fade over a lifetime, in the lines of his poetry, that beauty is captured and becomes eternal

Shakespeare, above, makes the same point often: that while a lover’s beauty might fade over a lifetime, in the lines of his poetry, that beauty is captured and becomes eternal

We’re already deeply sunk in the mire of becoming a dumbed-down country. But in our universities, in the arts and most especially in poetry, we retain a hold on the deepest and most powerful — yet often the simplest — form of art that we as humans have created to describe our lives.

It is poetry that has recorded and defined civilisations, given us songs to sing, rhymes words and ideas, which line our minds for a lifetime.

It is how we tell each other what we are. And it is never more relevant than when dealing with the extremes of life: torment and wonder, love and war.

This was never more visible than during the Great War. In March 1916, the Tommies in the trenches’ paper The Wipers Times posted a notice warning that ‘an insidious disease is affecting the Division, and the result is a hurricane of poetry… The Editor would be obliged if a few of the poets would break into prose as a paper cannot live by poems alone.’

But the truth is that in times of war it is the poets who bring us the spirit and horror of it. The conflict of 1914 to 1918 is memorialised in films and recollections from those who served, but it’s lines from the poets which tell us most.

Lines such as Wilfred Owen’s ‘What passing bells for those who die as cattle?’ in his heart-rending Anthem For Doomed Youth. Couple that with his bitterly ironic ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ in the poem of that name — ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for your country’ — and you have the core of it.

Or we have Owen’s friend Siegfried Sassoon on the horror of it, at corpses ‘face downward in the stinking mud, wallowed like trodden sandbags loosely filled’.

I take these sublime examples from a timely book published just before lockdown, A Little History Of Poetry by John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Oxford. He takes us through poetry from the oldest surviving work — 4,000 years ago — to the late Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.

Inspiration

It is impossible to think of a short history of any other art form that would give us as much on as many aspects of our humanity as this book on poetry so effortlessly does.

We reach out for poetry in extreme times — like these ones. Poetry groups have been growing in number during the pandemic. We are told more people are writing verse. Something deep within us kicks in to turn tragedy into poetry.

Poetry or verse is the way in which we first learn language, laying the foundation of that wealth for life. ‘Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock’; ‘Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’; ‘Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?’ As infants, we sing them just as much ancient poetry seems to have been sung.

Poetry groups have been growing in number during the pandemic. We are told more people are writing verse, says Melvyn Bragg (file photo)

Poetry groups have been growing in number during the pandemic. We are told more people are writing verse, says Melvyn Bragg (file photo)

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 for his song lyrics, there was much spluttering and damning from certain high-minded literary quarters.

But it was only a recognition of the way in which so many of our finest ‘pop’ singers have, in my view, found inspiration from the great canon of English verse. (And Dylan, after all, sang cryptically of ‘Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower.’)

Shameful

Much of Robert Burns’s poetry, such as ‘My love is like a red red rose’ and Auld Lang Syne, were songs and poetry together.

All these come from that innate determination to rhyme — to remember better by rhyming. Put the world into a few lines and give it to the reader as a present they will never forget.

That brings us back to the cultural crime being committed against our children by denying some of them the chance to discover poetry at school (and how many of them will discover it anywhere else?).

It is a force that penetrates the most profound parts of our brains. It does do, I believe, because of the power that is found in the right words existing in the right place with the right rhythm, all addressing a subject of interest. As we struggle to grow, it’s these words that are our stepping stones.

I saw for myself as something stirred in my mother’s mind which I had thought was in ruins. Nothing else had a remotely similar effect on her, and I think it is just the same at the beginning of our lives.

At a time when we are desperate for our children to learn how to think more richly when they are about to meet a brutal and complex world, it is a shameful reflection on the poverty-stricken state of our governance that we are cutting off such an invaluable artery to understanding.

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Fur sales will be BANNED in Britain once the country leaves the EU

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fur sales will be banned in britain once the country leaves the eu

Fur sales will be banned after Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union in December under proposals being drawn up by ministers.

Lord Goldsmith, the Government’s animal welfare minister and a close friend and political ally of Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds, is understood to be spearheading the move.

The Government is considering plans to prohibit the import of wild animal fur into the UK that would essentially forbid the sale of clothes containing fur in shops after the transition period.

The change would affect imports of nearly £200million of fur and fur-based products every year, many of which come from mainland Europe.

Defra — the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — is expected to publish a consultation paper after the transition period ends this year.

Leaked Defra documents seen by The Daily Telegraph showed Lord Goldsmith met with the executive director of anti-fur organisation, Humane Society International, on May 12 in which he asked if there were any particular areas, in relation to the fur trade, that the Government should research.

Lord Goldsmith, the Government’s animal welfare minister and a close friend and political ally of Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds, is understood to be spearheading the move

Lord Goldsmith, the Government’s animal welfare minister and a close friend and political ally of Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds, is understood to be spearheading the move

Ms Symonds has called people who wanted to buy fur ‘sick’. She has also campaigned against whaling, and reportedly swayed Mr Johnson in his decision to axe a proposed badger cull

Ms Symonds has called people who wanted to buy fur ‘sick’. She has also campaigned against whaling, and reportedly swayed Mr Johnson in his decision to axe a proposed badger cull

The peer called the fur trade ‘one of the grimmest of human activities’ in 2018 and said the Government is ‘very keen’ to take action against it post-Brexit.

‘We have some of the highest welfare standards in the world,’ Lord Goldsmith told The Mirror last year. ‘Fur farming has rightly been banned in this country for nearly 20 years and at the end of the transition period we will be able to properly consider steps to raise our standards still further.’

The Defra minister has also argued that Brexit meant that ‘whatever barriers may have prevented us from raising standards on imports at the point of entry will have gone’.

‘We will be free to decide whether we want to continue to import the proceeds of one of the grimmest of human activities,’ he previously said.

Last year, Ms Symonds blasted people who wanted to buy fur as ‘sick’. She has also campaigned against whaling, and reportedly swayed Mr Johnson in his decision to axe a proposed badger cull in Derbyshire.

Fur farming was banned in 2003 but the UK still allows the product to be imported from overseas and France is one of the biggest suppliers.

Ministers believe a move to ban fur would buy hugely popular, with opinion polls indicating that around 80 per cent of Britons think the trade is unacceptable (pictured, protesters stand in front of British Fashion Council show space during London Fashion Week)

Ministers believe a move to ban fur would buy hugely popular, with opinion polls indicating that around 80 per cent of Britons think the trade is unacceptable (pictured, protesters stand in front of British Fashion Council show space during London Fashion Week)

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, fur could still be imported into Northern Ireland.

Ministers believe a move to ban fur would buy hugely popular, with opinion polls indicating that around 80 per cent of Britons think the trade is unacceptable.

However, the British Fur Trade Association, which represents importers and sellers, has said it will lobby against the ‘irrational, illiberal and misjudged’ proposed ban.

In a report available on its website, the group said: ‘Sales of natural fur in the UK have increased in recent years and are popular among younger age groups, as environmentally conscious consumers increasingly reject the mass-produced non-renewables epitomised by the fast fashion crisis and search out long lasting, sustainable natural materials.

‘Yet, animal rights groups are now actively and vocally lobbying the British Government for fur sales to be banned in the UK using selective data, arguments and anecdotal evidence.

‘Such shrill voices, of course, do not represent the ‘silent majority’ who do not support such a ban; opinions that should not be ‘cancelled’ but recognised and respected.

‘Those that shout the loudest seldom have the support of the majority or their moral backing.

‘Although they would never admit it, such groups would achieve their aims far better by working with the organised fur sector to drive up standards as cooperative models in other sectors have shown.’ 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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The Simpsons bring on black actor Alex Desert to voice Carl Carlson replacing Hank Azaria

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the simpsons bring on black actor alex desert to voice carl carlson replacing hank azaria

Producers on Fox’s long-running animated series The Simpsons announced in June that they will no longer have white actors voicing black characters, though today it’s been revealed who will voice one of the show’s longest-running black characters.

Alex Desert (Swingers, High Fidelity) has come aboard to voice Carl Carlson, one of Homer Simpson’s longtime co-workers at the Springfield Power Plant.

While Harry Shearer voiced Carl in his very first appearance in the Season 1 episode Homer’s Night Out, Hank Azaria, a white voice actor like Shearer, has voiced Carl ever since.

Carl voice: Producers on Fox's long-running animated series The Simpsons announced in June that they will no longer have white actors voicing black characters, though today it's been revealed who will voice one of the show's longest-running Black characters

Carl voice: Producers on Fox’s long-running animated series The Simpsons announced in June that they will no longer have white actors voicing black characters, though today it’s been revealed who will voice one of the show’s longest-running Black characters

Voice actor: Alex Desert (Swingers, High Fidelity) has come aboard to voice Carl Carlson, one of Homer Simpson's longtime co-workers at the Springfield Power Plant

Voice actor: Alex Desert (Swingers, High Fidelity) has come aboard to voice Carl Carlson, one of Homer Simpson’s longtime co-workers at the Springfield Power Plant

Desert replaces Azaria as Carl Carson in at least the Season 32 premiere of The Simpsons, which debuts Sunday, September 27 on Fox.

There is no indication that Desert is becoming a permanent fixture on the cast, or if he will voice multiple characters on the show. 

Another black character on The Simpsons, is seen in the Season 32 premiere, though he does not speak, who has traditionally been voiced by Azaria as well and may be voiced by Desert or another black actor under this new initiative.

Replacing Hank: Desert replaces Hank Azaria as Carl Carson in at least the Season 32 premiere of The Simpsons, which debuts Sunday, September 27 on Fox

Replacing Hank: Desert replaces Hank Azaria as Carl Carson in at least the Season 32 premiere of The Simpsons, which debuts Sunday, September 27 on Fox

The Season 32 premiere, entitled Undercover Burns, features power plant owner Montgomery Burns going undercover (voiced by David Harbour) at his own plant as ‘Fred’ to see how his own employees think of him, including Carl.

When all of the employees start to befriend ‘Fred,’ Mr. Burns starts improving the plant’s amenities, which doesn’t sit well with his longtime right-hand man Smithers.

Azaria also revealed in January that he would no longer voice the Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, though it has not been confirmed who will replace him. 

Hank steps down: Azaria also revealed in January that he would no longer voice the Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, though it has not been confirmed who will replace him

Hank steps down: Azaria also revealed in January that he would no longer voice the Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, though it has not been confirmed who will replace him

There was even a 2017 documentary entitled The Problem With Apu by comedian/filmmaker Hari Kondabolu, where other South Asian actors like Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn and Maulik Pancholy discuss who Apu impacted their lives.

Kevin Michael Richardson (American Dad) has come aboard in recent years to voice several black characters, though there is no indication if more black voice actors will be brought aboard.

The Simpsons is one of several animated shows that has come under fire in recent months, with several white actors stepping down from voicing characters of color. 

Under fire: The Simpsons is one of several animated shows that has come under fire in recent months, with several white actors stepping down from voicing characters of color

Under fire: The Simpsons is one of several animated shows that has come under fire in recent months, with several white actors stepping down from voicing characters of color

Other animated shows have had white actors step down from voicing diverse roles, like Mike Henry stepping down from voicing Cleveland Brown on Family Guy, Alison Brie stepping away from Vietnamese-American writer Diane Nguyen on BoJack Horseman and Kristen Bell as Molly on Apple TV Plus’ Central Park. 

Jenny Slate also stepped down as Missy on Netflix’s Big Mouth, who will now be voiced by Ayo Edebiri.  

Emily Raver-Lampman will now play Molly in Season 2 of Central Park, and BoJack Horseman has already ended its run on Netflix.

Desert has voiced Jefferson Davis and Swarm on the animated Spider-Man series and he has also had voice roles on Momma Named Me Sheriff and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as Nick Fury.

Stepping down: Other animated shows have had white actors step down from voicing colored roles, like Mike Henry stepping down from voicing Cleveland Brown on Family Guy, Alison Brie stepping away from Vietnamese-American writer Diane Nguyen on BoJack Horseman and Kristen Bell as Molly on Apple TV Plus' Central Park

Stepping down: Other animated shows have had white actors step down from voicing colored roles, like Mike Henry stepping down from voicing Cleveland Brown on Family Guy, Alison Brie stepping away from Vietnamese-American writer Diane Nguyen on BoJack Horseman and Kristen Bell as Molly on Apple TV Plus’ Central Park

Voice veteran: Desert has voiced Jefferson Davis and Swarm on the animated Spider-Man series and he has also had voice roles on Momma Named Me Sheriff and The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes as Nick Fury

Voice veteran: Desert has voiced Jefferson Davis and Swarm on the animated Spider-Man series and he has also had voice roles on Momma Named Me Sheriff and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as Nick Fury

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Socialite, 53, who was bridesmaid at Princess Diana’s wedding admits shoplifting £680 Max Mara coat

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socialite 53 who was bridesmaid at princess dianas wedding admits shoplifting 680 max mara coat

Prince Charles‘ goddaughter has admitted shoplifting a £680 designer coat from Harrods.

Socialite India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at Princess Diana‘s wedding in 1981 and is 678th in line to the throne, stole the expensive Max Mara ladies’ coat from one of its luxury branches at Heathrow Airport in January.

The mother-of-five, who was born in London but moved to the Bahamas with long term partner David Flint Wood in 1996, was taken to court after being charged with theft.

Hicks, 53, pleaded guilty at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on Monday and was conditionally discharged for three months. She was also ordered to pay £85 costs and a £22 victim surcharge.

Her address was given in court as Schenectady, a US city in New York state.

A spokesman for Hicks said she had been ‘absent-minded’ and had later returned the coat.

India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at Princess Diana's wedding in 1981, stole the expensive Max Mara ladies' coat from one of Harrods' luxury branches at Heathrow Airport in January

India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981, stole the expensive Max Mara ladies’ coat from one of Harrods’ luxury branches at Heathrow Airport in January

The mother-of-five, who was born in London but moved to the Bahamas with long term partner David Flint Wood in 1996, was taken to court after being charged with theft (back left, Hicks as a bridesmaid for Prince Charles and Princess Diana at their wedding in 1981)

The mother-of-five, who was born in London but moved to the Bahamas with long term partner David Flint Wood in 1996, was taken to court after being charged with theft (back left, Hicks as a bridesmaid for Prince Charles and Princess Diana at their wedding in 1981)

They told The Sun: ‘The court accepted that at the time of taking the coat, India had simply been absent-minded and had not intended to leave without paying for it.

‘She was full of remorse for this mistake, and was discharged by the District Judge.’

Former fashion model Hicks is the daughter of Lady Pamela Mountbatten, a great-great-grandchild to Queen Victoria, and famed interior designer David Nightingale Hicks.

She is the granddaughter of Earl Mountbatten, the uncle to Prince Philip and second cousin once removed of the Queen, whose father George VI took over the throne when Edward abdicated.

Over recent months Hicks has shared a look at her glamorous life in lockdown in the Bahamas, boasting al fresco meals cooked by her children, painting and homeschooling in their airy library room, beach walks and family games by the beach. 

She and her long term partner share a sprawling white-washed villa – which boasts a pool and sea views – with their sons Felix, Amory, Conrad, and daughter Domino, and Wesley, who she adopted when he was 15, after his mother died.

In a 2016 interview with Business Insider, Hicks cited her grandmother – the last Vicereine of India Edwina Mountbatten- as her professional inspiration. 

Hicks stole a £680 Max Mara coat, but it is unclear if this is the exact style that was shoplifted

Hicks stole a £680 Max Mara coat, but it is unclear if this is the exact style that was shoplifted 

India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at Princess Diana's wedding in 1981, stole the expensive Max Mara ladies' coat from one of Harrods' luxury branches at Heathrow Airport in January

India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981, stole the expensive Max Mara ladies’ coat from one of Harrods’ luxury branches at Heathrow Airport in January

Despite being extremely wealthy, Hicks has been labelled ‘unusual’ as one of the few British heiresses to earn their own income.

In 2015 she launched India Hicks Style, an e-commerce business which sells jewellery, accessories, make-up and homeware, with products ranging between £15 to £400 — but announced over the summer that it would be closing down.

Hicks has described Prince Charles as being a ‘caring, considerate and involved’ godfather. She was 13 and on holiday in the Bahamas when he asked her to be a bridesmaid.

Describing her preparation, she said: ‘But first, I had to practise. It was during these rehearsals that I got to know Diana, whom I first met at a dress fitting.

‘She always seemed more like a head girl than a ­princess-in-waiting, with never a shy moment in private.’

In a recent interview she also said she had kept the flower wreath from the wedding.

Hicks was educated at £40,000-a-year all-girls Gordonstoun School in Scotland.

She previously worked for Ralph Lauren and J Crew and is often featured in society magazine Tatler. 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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