The National Poetry Competition
In 1978, the Poetry Society and the BBC launched the National Poetry Competition. Several of the poets featured in this section were winners in the years that followed: Tony Harrison in 1980, Carol Ann Duffy in 1983 and Ruth Padel in 1986. But poetry is hardly a competitive activity, and the poems featured in this section show the variety of voices at play in a changing Britain.
The Personal and the Political
In 1985, Jamaican dub poet Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze first visited London. There she studied for a teaching diploma and began to work in theatre and on television. Her ‘Simple Tings’ was released as a single, but here she is recorded reading for the BBC. John Cooper Clarke, perhaps the most famous of the punk poets of the 1970s, performed in a variety of media. Here he reads ‘The Day My Pad Went Mad’, which he had also released as an EP in 1982. Cooper Clarke’s absurd, slangy rhymes satirise a consumerist society by stripping away its advertiser’s gloss; similarly, Tony Harrison’s ‘Them & [Uz]’ uses full and off rhyme to expose the class prejudice implicit in ‘correct’ English pronunciation.
By contrast, Northern Irish poet Paul Muldoon said he was ‘very much against expressing a categorical view of the world’, resulting in a quizzical poetry which places the violence of The Troubles at the periphery of the personal, rather than at its centre. Similarly, the American surrealism of Charles Simic and John Ashbery can at first seem to be about everyday things, but with a complexity that becomes clearer the longer its curious phrasing lingers in the mind.
Towards a Female Lyric
UK poetry had for too long been dominated by male voices, but now poets such as Grace Nichols, Wendy Cope and Selima Hill began to claim more space in lyric verse for female experience. In 2009, Carol Ann Duffy would become the first female poet laureate; in the Eighties, she found fame for her love poetry, and its exploration of the ambiguities of desire. ‘Warming her Pearls’, written in 1987, has been celebrated as a lesbian love poem voiced in one of Duffy’s characteristic modes, the dramatic monologue.
BBC 100 articles written by Sandy Balfour, David Nowell Smith and Jeremy Noel-Tod.