Friday, 10 May 2013

A blogger yearns to care about banal junk once more

Hi everybody, new readers and old. It's been a weird few days. I'm snowed under by work, but kept getting distracted by the antics of Michael Gove and the popular response to the piece I wrote about him yesterday. I normally get around 200 readers daily: yesterday that one piece attracted nearly 4000 of you, for which you have my thanks and apologies. The driver of all this traffic was Twitter, particularly the Re-Tweets of two of my favourite people, Graham Linehan (the TV writer) and Cory Doctorow, hero of the Utopian Techno-age.

I'm heartened to learn that a) a lot of people feel the same way as I do and b) that my jokes occasionally hit the target: the people I interact with in meatspace usually respond to my humorous forays with groans, grimaces and occasionally sharp objects delivered at considerable velocity. Perhaps Blogger is the new Reader's Digest funnies page. I also want to thank those of you who commented. I really care about blogging as a way of extending a conversation: I link as much as possible and I take comments seriously, learning a lot from support and criticism alike. Apologies too for the length of the post: I kept thinking about more stuff to put in - I'd be an editor's nightmare. Another joy of blogging: no editors.

Against my higher instincts, it was also fascinating and gratifying to sit watching the readership increase, minute by minute. Despite cherishing you all for your unique characteristics and abilities, there's something ego-fuelling about watching numbers tick upwards on a screen. I know really that these figures are arbitrary and in isolation meaningless, but I now also fully understand why they call it 'stat porn'.

However, it's back to normality today. My 15 minutes are over and despite the gratification, I'm also relieved. My regular readers will know how inconsequential my writing usually is, and you new folks will soon pick it up (or leave). That said, I gather that my piece about the university's uncritical promotion of entrepreneurial discourse, and its links to frankly unimpressive salesmen, has attracted a complaint to my superiors. I will of course, keep you posted. I see this as a matter of free speech and academic freedom. I made justifiable intellectual points: the disciplinary process is not the appropriate forum to explore them. That's what the comments box is for!

And so to today's duties. You know when I said I'd be an editor's nightmare? Well I've just submitted a grossly extended review of RS Thomas: Uncollected Poems and RS Thomas's Poems to Elsi to Poetry Wales. In my defence, they approached me to do it, and they're paying me, so I reckon they're getting value for money, at least in terms of volume: my work comes out at 2p per word. Let's not talk about quality: I've told the editors to be as blunt as they need.

Poetry's Marvin the Paranoid Android greets the day with his customary good cheer

I won't repeat my review here, but I'll say this: buy the books unless you've never read any of his work, in which case you should started with the Collected Poems. They're great works of scholarship and they deepened my understanding of RS Thomas's work and method. Thomas was a fierce Welsh nationalist, a campaigner for the language who learned Welsh late and wrote poetry only in English. He was an agnostic vicar and a hater of technology who remained fascinated by quantum physics, through which he detected a space for the God he hoped existed. He was cold, rude, searching, misanthropic and also (I think) loving and very funny. One of things I say in the review is that lines like 'the incorrigibly human / with their dogs and their fags and children… the smut and the crap re-begin' ('Thoughts by the Sea') and 'Went to the sea; stared / at the birds. Did they / stare back?' (Excursion) surely deliberately play up grumpy Thomas's reputation to comic effect.

Anyway, if you want to read more, you'll have to buy Poetry Wales. It's a great and beautifully-designed magazine, so buy it anyway.

So it's back to marking and the quiet life. Lots of dissertations and essays to read, but some fun stuff too. I'm going to a recording of Radio 4's Any Questions tonight. Not as brutally unintelligent as Question Time, but still potentially infuriating. I lead a sedentary existence, so cold fury is the only cardio-vascular exercise I get. After that, I'm off to see the Star Trek film – I've never warmed to Star Wars, and on Sunday, I've been put on the guest list for Athlete, which should be a lot of fun.

It's not all work work work. See you next week, if I haven't been sacked.

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