Sunday, 24 June 2007
Avoiding horns with Baudelaire and Bernard Manning
On Thursday night I had a problem with ‘Mother F**king’. Do I say it or do I not in the presence of young children at a poetry reading. The poem (not mine) required it, I have read it before, the audience would also be warned of swearing. I suffered dark angst for a minute (time is no indicator of the depth dear reader). For heavens sake I used to be a Brown Owl, I like to think that I have the best interests of small young human beings at heart. The writer and poet Jackie Kay usually says something along the lines of ‘There is some swearing in this…enjoy children.’ Was I turning into a latter day Thomas Bowdler,gallantly attempting to censor modern poetry readings for the sake of making it family viewing?
I usually detest any attempt to bowdlerise or censor, unless it involves what may be regarded as pornography, racism, sexism or any of the liberal isms that I whole heartedly espouse. I would never knowingly offend or am I unconsciously thinking of that John Lewis ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ slogan. Then of course I lie, I would knowingly offend and have done so happily when I thought the situation the poem was addressing demanded some take offence. I am overjoyed when someone I deem offensive takes offence. I have however never knowingly undersold a poem, if you are going to sell a poem you should give it your best shot or not bother reading it at all. Here was a minor dilemma, sharp pointy horns up nether regions causing discomfort. Not insoluble surely, possible maybe to dismount or leap out of the way whilst maintaining my dignity like an agile Finnish Heavy Metal Musician at the Pamplona Bull Run?No apologies I’m an old rock chic (note chic in the French sense not the newly post egg one)at heart.
I was listening to a radio programme about the late Bernard Manning the Manchester comedian (and millionaire) who took pains to offend universally he said and could therefore not be accused of targeting any particular group in society. The principle seemed to be if you take a machine gun and sweep it in the widest arc possible, the individual then can’t feel that aggrieved when he is shot. For him everything and everyone was open house for comedic material, he had been denied access to television he argued by the politically correct fascists that governed the media. He even took pains to write his own obituary (note to self…good scam if ever I think I need to vent my spleen against anyone who I feel has offended me on my demise, when I cannot be sued).
To Mother F**k or not to Mother F**k that is the question whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged parents or take arms against a sea of complaints and by opposing potentially end them or get a bad headache and a number of e mails from the organisers who has had mail about the incident.
From the depth of my angst I cried to the author and lo he delivered me his judgement, I scaled down to bleeding but I believe (as pre-warned) a f**k or two did appear elsewhere but it seemed best to leave out mothers, they are a powerful lobby.
Baudelaire famously battled against the French Government to have his collection Les Fleurs du Mal published in 1857. They charged him and his publisher of creating an offence against public morals. Five poems from the original collection were suppressed and it wasn’t published in its full original version until 1949. The trial made his collection a best seller (those that prosecuted Lady Chatterley’s Lover never quite saw the value of history or hindsight).
For a sample of Baudelaire I’ve chosen the more innocuous but still erotically charged The Giantess, simple because it makes a big woman feel good and it’s a fat day today. It’s still pouring with rain and its either poetry or chocolate and I fancy both might be on the cards.