I was intrigued to read Gillean Somerville-Arjat's
piece last week (12 May) on an apparently lost poem. This rang a bell and I realised that I had been in the same class, albeit with a different tutor. I found that, like her, time had weakened my hold on this memory. Yet I discovered that there were several of my poems included in that year's issue and I also had others in the equivalent anthology from the previous year, one of which was rated the best of 1998. Whay-hay!
These workshops, run by well-respected poets, were at that time a key part of Edinburgh City Council's engagement of its citizens with the city's rich cultural life. They came at a time, for me at least, when I had recently changed career and was looking to improve and hone my poetry and prose writing. Some of the participants in these and other workshops went on to greater things and even I had a few poems published in anthologies. One from an unrelated competition was selected as the title piece for a touring exhibition about Scottish emigration to North America.
Needless to say, I didn't become a 'proper' poet either and have only occasionally put pen to paper for personal pleasure, to commemorate the passing of a friend or for magazine competitions (with occasional recognition). I thoroughly recommend anyone who has to write, whether journalistic articles or reports at the end of a project, to first construct a poem or two. It has the beneficial effect of making you less prolix, as every word needs to count and earn its place. I used to find it a great help when editing overlong scientific reports from colleagues.
So I will end there before I start breaking my own rules.
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As we all look forward, excitedly, to the prospect of a General Election and, possibly, an independence referendum next year, it seemed relevant to reflect on the factors that might influence the results. Regrettably (as a former print journalist), it will not be the printed press.
Those with memories will know about the heady days of headlines like It's The Sun Wot Won It
. Or the vital importance to politicians of securing Rupert Murdoch's approval... and their very real fear of his thumbs down. The era when newspaper proprietors were beasts with real political clout. Newspapers sold millions of copies every day and Sunday circulations were in the stratosphere.
Now they do not matter a jot. In Scotland, every newspaper with exception of The National
, opposed the SNP, sometimes crazily. Remember the Scottish Daily Mail
headline SNP In Meltdown
? In England, Boris Johnson was hardly flavour of the month. From Jennifer Arcuri to Carrie's No.10 redecoration, the press left few stones unturned.
The SNP romped home, failing, by one seat, to defy an electoral system specifically designed to create co-operative governance. Boris turned over red wall Hartlepool, won council seats widely, and sent the Labour opposition into a spin of self-harm. The printed word had had no effect.
While television news channels are hardly blooming with viewers, one wonders if anyone would care if they stopped broadcasting nightly newspaper reviews. Few people have papers delivered to their homes. Our family extends from the US to the Isle of Man. None of them read printed newspapers. The Scotsman
trumpeted recently that it was now the fastest growing news brand in the UK. The Publishers Audience Measurement Company reported that 'the brand' had a monthly reach of 5.8 million people online and print. (The last official printed circulation was just over 10,000 copies a day.) They may be reaching but there is no evidence they are influencing.
Sadly, future elections will be dominated by the internet with all the problems that creates. The dear old printed newspapers will be onlookers. Hands up for volunteers to explain this new normal to the horde of political reporters, sketch writers, pundits, and columnists littering offices across the Kingdom. The old adage about fish and chips wrapping will be little comfort.
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