One Million listeners. One Leaning tower and Radio One and One Butterfly.
I’m hurtling through London. The car was late. He’s a new driver so it’s no problem. He tells me that he has a bar in North London and quizzes me on how to attract the right clientelle. I suggest poetry readings and or jazz. “How manydoes your bar fit” I ask him. “Sixty” he replies - we arrive outside the iconicbbc building on Portland Place in the heart of London 8.45am.
It’s the first birthday broadcast of Saturday Live, a BBC radio 4 show which goes out each Saturday morning presented by Fi Glover. I’m the poet this week. It’s agreat exercise in responsiveness and I enjoy it. Two days before the programme I’ll receive research about the programme and then I will do research of my own and come up with poems. It tests the mettle of any poet and is good fun too. Not only that, but I get to sit next to Fi Glover and Sandi Toksvig each week. Being a fan of radio four and working in it is kind of a blast.
Saturday Live replaced the great british institution that was Home Truths presented by the late great british institution John Peel. This, along with a certain conservatism from some listeners, has set a tone against presenter Fi Glover. But she is just what radio four needs; Fi Glover, rigorous, humourous and served with a nice lemony ascerbicity. There’s no such word as acerbicity but I like the sound of it. It’s a made up extention of the word acerbic which in itself is agorgeous word. But to hear Fi at her best listen to her interview technique, how she coaxes the finer details of story from those interviewed and how she through facts, probes for truth and genuine emotional reaction. I really do think that if she was a man she would be praised to the hilt for her laconic and witty immovable style and skill in bouncing from one subject matter to another. However, saying all this, I do believe that public opinion has turned in Fi's favour. As Tony Blackburn said of radio one, the first year of a new programme is the hardest.
Today the guests are Tony Blackburn one of Engalnds most famous DJ’s who is celebrating forty years of Radio One - Britains premier music radio station. Also there’s Professor John Burford. Much more interesting in my book. He is the man who saved the Leaning Tower of Pisa from falling over and disappearing forever. He is the man who held the very real possibility of becoming the most hated man in Italian contemporary History
When discussing the leaning tower of Pisa which is in a piece of land called The Field of miracles Mr Burford speaks of the energy of a building. Each building he believes has a personality that only becomes evident after it has been built. It is a personality that can not be predicted. It is a strong concept but not lost on anyone who has walked through an empty building, whether house, hut or grand cathedral. Buildings can be male or female; can be fiery or confidant; can be calm or disturbed. Can be extrovert or introvert like people. It is a fascinating insight into architecture.
I love writing. I love what I do. And look what subject matter I have to work with. In some ways I don’t care if my poems are published or not. One can always proclaim not to care about bing published after being published. Let me try and explain.
Publishing a poem is sometimes like displaying the butterfly. It has a barely visible pin through its heart and is displayed in the case so that people who see it can marvel at the wingspan, it’s glorious patterns, the intricate detail of a magnificent creature in mid flight. Poems are like flocks of butterflies formingshapes and horizons pictures narratives and landscapes. It is our jobs as writers to catch one make the pin invisible, so that you can look at them and feel it fly in your imagination. But as we write them, as they come alive they fly in ours. The publication of a book for me, is a funeral as well as a birthday. The beautiful beautiful butterfly in the beautiful display case.
There's a poem that I wrote for this programme in weeks past about a woman whom while pregnant had to escape and swim through the upstairs window while the house was fully flooded. She has my poem now framed and on the wall of her new home. Her daughter died of hypothermia because of the flood and the child she was pregnant with lived. A producer was in floods of tears at after I had read it on air.
But I’m here, this week, with Professor John Burford and taking the idea of that quiet moment when you walk through a building having saved it from near death and destruction, I wrote a short piece and gave it to Professor Burford. It was not for broadcast. It was something I wrote aside from the pieces that I was commissioned to write and read. He was so moved by the piece that he asked if it be broadcast. And it was. To turn a poem aroudn so quickly can give them a sense of first drafts... but hey... It is called Dei Miracole and it's on the other blog of this day.