Tag Archives: higher education

Is Pop Poetry?

The media recently carried a story concerning the singer Taylor Swift and how her music is to be studied at the University of Texas alongside the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats. An example of the coverage can be found here, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/taylor-swift-university-degree-texas-b2151492.html.

I am no musical snob. The music of Oasis, the Beatles, REM, Dido, Edele and Lana Del Rey all give me pleasure, and I frequently listen to the forgoing artists (along with many others) whilst relaxing at home.

Much pop music uses rhyme to great effect and the poet in me responds to the use of rhyme and rhythm in popular music. Some artists have produced works of poetry. See, for example Lana Del Ray’s Violet Bent Over the Grass Backwards, https://www.waterstones.com/book/violet-bent-backwards-over-the-grass/lana-del-rey/9781471199660.

Despite my enjoyment of pop music, it is, on the whole distinct from poetry and should not be conflated with it. The University of Texas has decided to offer a course on Taylor Swift’s work alongside that of some of the literary greats, including John Keats and William Shakespeare. On this logic why are not the Beatles or Lana Del Ray’s music being offered? One has to have in place some objective criteria for determining what constitutes literature (of the poetic variety) as distinct from music. If one does not, then Pandora’s Box is opened and all music can (potentially) be studied as poetry.

The distinctions between poetry and music are, of course fluid and many poems have been set to music. See, for example A. E. Housman’s Bredon Hill, https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/4407. However, whilst music is often poetic (or frequently contains poetic elements), it is not poetry, it is music.

Let me confess that I am not a fan of Taylor Swift’s music. I accept she is a talented singer/musician, however her lyrics do not uplift and/or inspire me. I could, of course say the same as regards certain poets. However, whilst their work leaves me cold, I do recognise it as falling under the category of poetry. In the case of Taylor Swift I do not.

From my own admittedly highly subjective perspective, I do not see the music of Swift being widely listened to in 50-100 years time, whilst the poetry of Philip Larkin, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden will, I feel sure continue to be read and appreciated.

There are those who argue that funding for higher education should be directed only (or primarily) to those courses that constitute “value for money”. On this view business and management courses should be prioritised over arts courses as the earning power of graduates taking business courses is (on the whole) greater than those who graduate with a degree in fine art or English Literature. I do not share this view. However, I do worry that studying Taylor Swift alongside the literary greats plays into the hands of those who see little (if any value) in English Literature as a degree.

As always, I would appreciate the views of my readers.

Trigger Warnings

“Universities are accused of ‘mollycoddling’ and ‘patronising’ students as books are removed from reading lists over ‘challenging’ content and trigger warnings are slapped on 1,000 texts including works by Dickens, Shakespeare, and Chaucer”.

I won’t comment other than to say that treating adults as children is patronising in the extreme. If someone is going to be “triggered” by a book they should seriously consider whether English Literature is the right course for them.

Real life is often unpleasant and there are, obviously no “trigger warnings” on the real world. Part of growing up entails becoming exposed to the world (warts and all) whether via interactions with living beings, or through reading works of fiction, watching films Etc.

Education is an end in itself not a means to an end

Kenneth Baker, a former Education Secretary in the Conservative administration of the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, has given a speech in which he argues that traditional subjects such as history and English will no longer act as an automatic pathway to a well paying job, for example in middle management. Baker contends that the proliferation of technology means there will be less jobs available in the middle management sphere and many young people will, in the future choose vocational education and/or apprenticeships over a traditional degree as this is more likely to be of use in their search for employment.
My degree is in history and politics, while I also have a MA in political theory. Given that I hold academic qualifications of the kind Baker argues will become less “relevant” (my word not his), I was particularly interested in the report of his speech.
My decision to attend university was influenced by several factors, the primary one being a love of learning and a desire to study 2 subjects which fascinated (and continue to fascinate me). A lesser reason for opting for higher education stemmed from me not knowing what I wished to do with my life, (the latter is, I feel sure a factor influencing the choices of a significant number of students). The wish to gain employment was, no doubt present in my mind, it was not, however a major motivator.
To me a university education is, at it’s best about broadening the mind and enhancing the ability of the student to think critically about the world. A truly educated person reads an article in a newspaper and brings his (or her) critical faculties to bare. Is it true? If so how much of it is accurate and how much “opinion” rather than “fact”. Of course there are many people who do not possess a university degree who are extremely bright and capable of separating pure “opinion” from hard “fact”. None the less a university degree does encourage critical thinking and for that very reason is valuable in and of itself.
“Man does not live by bread alone”. We need to raise our eyes from the ground and look to the skies. Vocational education and training are important. We need plumbers, builders and chefs. However man is not a robot and the danger of the lauding of vocational education/training over traditional degrees is that it devalues learning as an end in of itself. Keat’s “Nightingale” and Hardy’s “Darkling Thrush” wont keep the wheels of commerce turning. They will, however instill in us a love of beauty for they speak to the soul which feeds not on bred, (https://newauthoronline.com/2016/04/27/benthams-head/).
For the article please visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3742420/A-traditional-degree-won-t-guarantee-job-Former-education-secretary-Lord-Baker-believes-qualifications-devalued.html.

(Baker is a lover of poetry and no Benthamite Utilitarian. See, for example https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/oct/07/poetry. None the less his speech will, no doubt be used by the disciples of Jeremy Bentham in furtherance of their mechanistic view of the world).

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl – The Making Of The Book Trailer

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl – The Making Of The Book Trailer

Many thanks to Lucy of Secret Diary Of  Porter Girl for her wonderful guest post. Please do check out Lucy’s blog and her book.


Since when did book trailers become a thing? I had not come across them until the release date of my book, Secret Diary Of PorterGirl, loomed ever nearer and people started making mutterings about one. I had previously dipped my toe into the world of moving pictures by making short sketches for the blog with my friend, actor Paul Butterworth. It wasn’t a process I particularly enjoyed, if I’m honest – especially if I was required to be on camera at any time.

But needs must and I gathered together my most trusted and experienced colleagues to scratch our heads about coming up with something suitable. We have previously made numerous music videos and the like, but this was unfamiliar territory. I would be surprised if some of the team had even read a book, you know. However, surrounding myself with the geniuses behind the shadowy and enigmatic Cambridge Underground Orchestra surely had to produce some kind of result. At the very least, the music would be epic.

I am no actress and in truth I would be more comfortable amidst a pit of rancid vipers than I am in front of a camera. But there seemed no avoiding it. The solution? To ensure I had as little screen time as I could get away with and leave all the heavy lifting to the man we know and love as Head Porter, Paul Butterworth. The added bonus was that his son Josh is a film student at Manchester Met Film School and could easily be bullied and bribed into helping us out. Add to the mix an attention-seeking musician or two, a nine year old lighting director and a bit of cross-dressing and all of a sudden we had a cast and crew.

Finding a set was thankfully no problem at all, thanks to the fabulous Templar Antiquities who are happily situated right across the road from our studio. Stuffed to the rafters with period furniture and fittings (not to mention some cool weapons and armour!) we had no problem recreating scenes from Old College past and present. The only down side to this location (if you can indeed call it a downside) is that the dashing American proprietor has an endless supply of very fine wine on site and this did eventually hamper proceedings somewhat. Particularly towards the end of the shoot, when a break-away group of renegade technical assistants (and maybe the Producer. Ahem) set up a small rave back in the studio. Still, there is a lot to be said for drinking fine wine from pewter goblets.

Paul was, as ever, the consummate professional throughout and lived and breathed the part of Head Porter from the moment he put on his bowler hat. In fact, the scene where he is giving our heroine a stern talking to was actually so very uncomfortable for me – such was the realism – that I vowed there and then to only write ‘nice’ scenes between them in future!

There was no avoiding me taking up the role of Deputy Head Porter, but you can also see me acting my socks off as a monk, along with the beautiful lady-friend of the Antiques Shop Owner. We had to be shot from behind, of course, as we look far too feminine from the front to be mediaeval monks. At least I would hope so. Nevertheless, I still see this as my defining moment on screen.

The now-iconic PorterGirl Theme was performed by the aforementioned Cambridge Underground Orchestra and is soon to be available on iTunes. It adds a certain gravitas to the whole production and I rather fear we would be quite lost without it.

I feel that the trailer is very much in keeping with the PorterGirl genre – a combination of expertise, raw talent and wine resulting in something that is just a little bit different to anything else, yet somehow comfortingly familiar. Now, as it is certain that there will be another book, it is also safe to assume that another book trailer will need to be tackled at some point.

So what have we learned from this endeavour?

Musicians are fun yet woefully inefficient crew members. Keep them away from the wine until the final scene.

Professional acting skills are worth their weight in gold.

We really need to find another Deputy Head Porter…


Book Trailer https://videos.files.wordpress.com/OXtxuKON/pg-trailor-1280x720_dvd.mp4







Help For Disabled Students To Be Cut

As a registered blind person who is not able to read print I benefited, as a disabled student from the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA) which enabled me to purchase a Kurzweil reading machine. The Kurzweil translated printed text into speech via scanning books, documents etc enabling me to access material which was only available in print. The Kurzweil was extremely important in allowing me to study independently and obtain my BA and, later an MA in political theory.

I was concerned to read in The Guardian that the government intends to cut the amount of money available through the DSA due to it’s potential impact on people with disabilities. The support provided via the DSA is vital to many disabled students and the reduction of that assistance could cause disabled people to either not go on to further and/or higher education or (if they do go on) to suffer academically due to the lack of adequate support. I will be writing to my MP to raise my concerns. For the article please visit, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/20/disabled-students-shut-out-government-cuts-allowance