There was me, post Damian McBride, thinking that the media might rely a little less on anonymous briefings (sometimes so anonymous as to exist only in the imagination of the journalist), but I got into a cab in the early hours, my phone having been on mute for the duration of the Sport Industry Awards, to find a couple of messages asking if there was any truth in the reports ’emanating from within Number 10′ that I had advised Tony Blair against Carol Ann Duffy becoming poet laureate on the grounds that she was a lesbian?
Now first of all, apologies for the length of that sentence above. When I trained as a journalist on the Mirror, I was advised the shorter the intro the better, but the internet has changed all the rules, and I’m tired because I hate late nights.
Second, the answer is No. To the journalists who called, please take that as my response to your inquiries. At least they asked. Most never bother … hear something, write it, worry (well, actually don’t worry too much) about whether it’s true later.
I am no longer spokesman for Tony Blair, but may I also dismiss the suggestion that he was opposed to Carol Ann Duffy on the grounds of her sexuality. News to everyone, I suspect. It won’t stop some from saying it, I don’t suppose, because … you know the one about facts not getting in the way of a good story. I might also point out, on this the twelfth anniversary of his election as Prime Minister, that TB’s record on gay rights is a good one. Like a lot of other parts of his record. But for now, let’s stick with poetry.
A more welcome poetry-related call out of the blue came recently from Charles Wardle, former Tory minister who I got to know reasonably well when he made a principled stand against his party’s horrible immigration policy under that ‘nice’ man Michael Howard.
He wanted to send me a book of poems by his daughter, Sarah Wardle, written while she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act three years ago. Sixty four poems on the theme of madness might not sound the easiest of reads, but ‘A Knowable World’ is a lovely book, troubling but also inspiring, and I can see why her Dad is so proud of her. In between episodes of being unwell, she writes, teaches poetry at Middlesex University, does reviews and readings and shows that even when mental illness can be severe, it is possible to make a big contribution.
One of her previous books, SCORE!, included poems from her time as poet-in-residence at Tottenham Hotspur FC. I look forward to a poem on the injustice of the Carling Cup extra time/away goals nonsense that stopped Burnley from getting to Wembley this year. But more on sport later, when I will do something on last night’s awards. See this as a name-dropping alert! Joe Calzaghe and Jensen Button to warm you up.
Meanwhile, good luck to Carol Ann Duffy. She is already a well-known name in our house, because of GCSEs. I know that a part of her new job will be to promote British poets and poetry. In that spirit, I point you to ‘A Knowable World. It is published by Bloodaxe Books at www.bloodaxebooks.com. I will leave ‘proper’ poetry reviews to others more qualified than I, but I know sufferers and non-sufferers alike would get something out of it.
Meanwhile, I am glad to hear Charles Wardle still thinks the Tories lack coherent, informed immigration policies. All the best to him and his daughter.