Child in Mind, BBC 4, 10pm, directed by Sam Benstead

child in mind.jpg

I watched Men Who Sleep in Cars a drama, in verse, linking the lives of three men who, you’ve guessed it, sleep in cars, but one of them cheats, because he has the luxury of a Ford Transit van. It was OKish.

I didn’t really intend to watch Child in Mind, with poetry by Simon Armitrage, I’ve got stacks of things to do, and by that I mean, read. I write too and sometimes there’s a kind of synchronicity between what you read and what you write, or in this case see. Earlier I’d quickly sketched out Karen’s background in Grimms a novel I’m working on ( Some of the other writers on the site had said she was the least developed character, and knowing the ending, as they did, and I do, it would be worthwhile giving her a bit more detail. And here it was, here she was in composite form onscreen, less than two hours after I’d posted online.

Every year a system of triage takes place and an estimated three-thousand children are taken from mothers by social workers. The authorities’ client is the child, often a new-born, and some of these women go on to have other children taken away from them. The mothers suffer from an extended kind of shock, in modern jargon, post-traumatic-stress disorder. Here three women are given voice to tell their story. There are commonalities that begin with poverty, a controlling partner, drug or alcohol addiction, self-harming, mental illness, a toxic blend that often leads to suicide attempts.

The charity Pause, co-founded by Sophie Humphreys, in Hull, who witnessed first-hand the trauma and loss caused by repeat removal of their children gives these women space and time, an eighteen-month programme to heal. With government funding being repeatedly cut for successful programmes such as Sure Start, Pause seems something of a miracle and good news amid welfare cuts.


Poetry Week on BBC

in their own words

Helen Ivory and George Szirtes (eds) (2012) In Their Own Words Contemporary Poets on Their Poetry.

It’s poetry week on BBC 4. Last night I watched a drama that uses Simon Armitage’s poetry to dramatize the life and death of Sophie Lancaster in 2007. She and her lanky boyfriend were attacked in a park by a group of feral boys. Their attackers shoe prints and the pattern of their laces were left embedded in Sophie’s head. Black roses were the imprints of the bruising on her body. She died in hospital; her boyfriend survived. Their crime was to be different. To be Goths was their putative death sentence.

There’s a vast ocean of words, nouns, adjectives, prepositions and alliteration, pushing and pulling with powerful undertows, but very little of it washes up on BBC, or is generally read. The days of carrying poetry in our head is long gone. School syllabus shepherds survivors to A level and sometimes beyond, but rarer still does the bond survive, a C grade, or less, it sinks, it stinks and who is to blame for making poetry so flint hard and insufferable its only eggheads that gain immortal fame. I must admit here I am to blame.

I can’t tell the difference between carrots or poetry. But these contemporary poets can. They offer words of wisdom. Every prose writer should read this book. Open it at random (even though there’s no such thing):

            [Helen Mort]I’d been reading Rilke earlier in the day and had set off running with an idea, or rather with a set of questions in my mind – what would beauty look like personified? Would it be a terrifying thing?  The poem’s first line (or form) came to me about a mile into the run, and from then on narrative began to present itself, led by the rhymes (which were insistent early on).

[Rilke] Beauty…is nothing but the beginning of terror.

[Helen Mort] When beauty stumbled down my road, tapped on my door

I saw her from the lounge and hid – her eyes were raw

from smoke, her cheeks like risen dough from where she’d wept

and worse I didn’t like the company she kept:

a red-faced drunk who towed a dachshund on a string.

I like this. I appreciate what Helen Mort is saying, but like many others I’m no initiate or intimate with the language of poetry. My response is often what’s it got to do with me? Or indeed the likes of me. T.S. Eliot that great pillar of the poetry establishment life may have been measured in teaspoons and church candles, but I don’t understand the man or his work. And to me it is work, reading poetry. The contemporary poets in this collection do make sense to me. Perfect sense.  But here’s the rub, there commentaries of how and why make sense, but when it comes to poems on the page, there’s no aha moment, no heavy water that blows me away. There’s sometimes lines stringed together that was quite nice. Bravo old boy or girl. Sometimes I think I’ve opened a Chinese cracker and I’m reading it upside down and the answer will come to me. Poetry like prose washes through and sometimes over you. Poetry should change the world, but it doesn’t. That’s a familiar pattern. Something we should recognise, but don’t. I guess God or Old Possum knows. I’ll need to begin reading this good book again. Maybe one day, I pray, I’ll understand poetry.