A New Kind of Street Ballad

So, I didn’t quite make the Michael Marks Award. That honour rightly goes to Selima Hill for her outstanding Flarestack pamphlet.

Any (mild) disappointment was erased by the privilege of hearing an exhilirating, learned and empassioned speech by Ali Smith. She was one of three judges, alongside Jo Shapcott and Richard Price. A speech so good it was republished in yesterday’s Guardian. If you’ll forgive the egotism, here’s the bit that concerns my pamphlet:

Tom Chivers’s The Terrors (Nine Arches Press) is a prose-poetry fusion of 18th-century London and online modernity. Questioning notions of freedom and imprisonment, it fuses the inmates of Newgate prison with the inmates of contemporary online chatrooms. It makes for a new kind of street ballad.

I’m well proud of that last line especially. Thanks, Ali.

Had I won I would have thanked publicly the brilliant Jane Commane and Matt Nunn of Nine Arches Press. I may even have revealed how the publication came about. I sent one or two early poems from the sequence to my friend George. He then forwarded them, without my knowledge or blessing, to Jane. A few days later, she emailed me with the opening line (I may be paraphrasing), Thank you for your submission…

So basically without George it never would have happened. You should check out Nine Arches anyway. They do good work.

Oh, the photo at the top shows a contestant attempting escape from the Big Brother house. I’ve run out of images of Newgate Prison to illustrate The Terrors, but the pamphlet does begin with a quote about Big Brother and celebrity. You can order it here, or drop me a line and I’ll send you a signed copy.

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Big Brother is watching

So I got a call today from a researcher at Big Brother. Which doesn’t happen everyday. She was looking to recruit a young poet for their latest reality spin-off show, Celebrity Hijack, which this time gives the celebrities the reins of power to lord it over a group of – wait for it – ‘Britain’s most exceptional and extraordinary 18 to 21 year olds’.

Many celebrities have caused chaos ON Big Brother, but in January 2008 – for the first time ever – a rogues gallery of stars, celebs and boffins will be seizing control to actually BECOME Big Brother.

From dictating tasks to interrogating inmates and controlling nominations the great, good and ghastly will be ripping up the rule book, holding rewards to ransom and generally creating mayhem alongside the REAL Big Brother in ‘Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack.’

Their willing hostages? A houseful of Britain’s most exceptional and extraordinary 18 to 21 year olds.

Over the next few weeks Big Brother will be combing the UK’s hottest young artists, athletes, scientists, musicians, entrepreneurs, fashion gurus and dons in every other field to assemble a cast of pure prodigies.

Sadly for the viewing public, I’m too old to apply, as are most of the young(er) poets I know. But if you’re 18-21 and interested, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.

It did get me thinking though. How would a sensitive-souled, beret-sporting young scribbler cope in the infamous Big Brother House? Would their flowing metaphors and instinctive sense of rhythm aid them, or just annoy the other housemates? Would they get their hands (and other parts) dirty, or remain aloof? Would they be themselves or play the game?

My friend Jamie Wilkes recently wrote, ‘pleasure is the opening of the self to the world’. And so, through the filter of language, is poetry. In some ways, reality TV is perfectly analogous to poetry – it is the self going outwards; the private becoming public. It is only in the manner of becoming that they are so divergent. Despite the initial idealism of the format and the frequent justifications of the programme makers, Big Brother is nothing more than cheap entertainment. A Roman circus for self-promoters, delusionists and the mentally unstable. It degrades the self, the private, and in offering it for public consumption, degrades the viewer too.

I’ll be sticking to verse.