November 04, 2010

The Olympics and Poetry

In 2009 I was shortlisted for one of the 2012 Olympic commissions called "Artists Taking The Lead" - which would develop an international language festival featuring many of the world's leading poets, sound and media artists. Held in Manchester in 2012, The Language Moment would be the largest ever celebration and dialogue of language in the arts.

Simon Armitage was shortlisted for "Any Distance Greater than a Single Span", which would see an epic poem carved into the rock on Ilkley Moor and a range of spectacular performances. Neither of us got the final commission - mine was beaten by the proposal for a crap fountain in Liverpool; I dont know who beat Armitage but I like to think that his proposal was beaten by the offensiveness of its own egomania.

When the powers that be realised that the 2012 Cultural Olympiad was becoming shambolic, they brought in respected cultural leader Ruth MacKenzie to give it new direction. Various people said to me: MacKenzie is a shrewd judge of a good project, re-submit the Language Moment, she might have more insight than the previous discredited judging panels. So I did. I got a reply that she would pass it on to her team to consider. I heard nothing more and readers here will know the Language Moment has continued to develop and will subsequently be the legacy project I take forward after the Text Festival (freed from any constraints that the Olympics would have imposed).

Suddenly the BBC announced yesterday "An ambitious project to assemble poets from all of the Olympic nations in 2012 has been launched in London." apparently"Simon Armitage, the poet behind the idea, said: 'My hunch is this will be the biggest poetry event ever - a truly global coming together of poets.' The fucking poet behind the idea! Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre's artistic director, (which is hosting the event) said: "Poetry has always been so associated with the Olympics - It seems appropriate to make poetry this central idea of something that is about a world gathering." Tony Trehy of the Language Moment said (in 2009 and again to the new Olympic Culture people in 2010): "Poetry was as much a feature of the ancient Olympics as sport. By the 21st Century the concept of global friendship has become central to the Olympiad without recognition of the role that the language arts could play in enhancing this world dialogue."

Apparently they are aiming for 200 poets from all continents. Hmmm... the Language Moment had 200 poets signed up from all continents. The only differences I can see is that the event will happen in London where the Language Moment happened in Manchester - to which people living in the north will no doubt look askance sky-ward, tutting "the usual story". And the other difference is that Hegemony of the Banal continue to limit the possibilities of language in poetry thus ignoring its relationship and dialogue with sound art, visual art, multimedia, etc.


matt dalby said...

Somehow the full BBC story makes Armitage's 'Poetry Parnassus' sound even more depressing and unambitious.

Basically a bog-standard poetry reading scaled-up.

I expect dreary coverage by The Culture Show/Newsnight Review complete with irrelevant and inaccurate comparisons to the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in 1965.

Also I like this quote from Simon Armitage:

"I've always believed in aiming high and attempting the impossible - otherwise I wouldn't have gone into poetry."

Right. So what happened Simon? I don't see any sign of it in your poetry.

Bournemouth Runner said...

That's appalling Tony. We need that coffee some time!