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  1. Culture
15 September 2008

Sliced from the curriculum

By Graeme Allister

Armed with three complaints (two about knife crime, one about a goldfish being flushed down the toilet) Britain’s biggest exam board has removed a poem by Carol Ann Duffy from its GCSE English syllabus. The loudest complaints came from one Pat Schofield, an exam invigilator who described the poem, “Education for Leisure”, as “horrendous”. The poem details feelings of internalised rage and inadequacy as a man signs on to the dole. It begins: “Today I am going to kill something. Anything./I have had enough of being ignored and today/I am going to play God.”

“What sort of message is that to give to kids who are reading it as part of their GCSE syllabus?” asked Mrs Schofield. While Childen’s Laureate Michael Rosen leapt to her defence and called the poem a gateway to discussion over knife crime, Duffy responded in verse.

Entitled “Mrs Schofield’s GCSE”, the poem reminds the reader that knives have been used elsewhere in literature, namechecking Othello, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Schofield, when asked about this follow-up said she felt “a bit gobsmacked” to have been made the subject of a poem, describing the work as “a bit weird”. She added: “But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird.”

Given that AQA require their students to “read, with insight and engagement, making appropriate references to texts and developing and sustaining interpretations of them”, perhaps AQA should have considered removing Ms Schofield rather than the poem.

Currying favour

Meanwhile, the predictable Booker uproar. Salman Rushdie didn’t make the Booker shortlist with The Enchantress of Florence, to the astonishment of many.

The Times took it especially badly. “He is the winner of the Booker, the Booker of Bookers and the Best of Booker, but reputation counted for nothing when Sir Salman Rushdie was left off the shortlist for the 2008 Man Booker Prize yesterday”, the paper huffed. A quick check of the archives, however, would have revealed that Peter Kemp reviewed Rushdie’s novel for its sister paper, the Sunday Times, earlier this year and described it as “by a long chalk, the worst thing he has ever written”.

Still. Kemp is in a rather better position than NS contributor John Sutherland, who promised to curry and eat his copy of the book if Rushdie didn’t win. Sutherland now says he won’t follow through on his promise, to the outrage of literary website Complete Review. “Since the review came out”, the website states, “we have been eagerly anticipating the Man Booker announcements, waiting for the moment when the book was out of the running – and Sutherland would, as promised, curry that proof and consume it … Rarely have we been so disappointed by a literary critic. Here is an opportunity to stand by one’s words, and with practically no explanation, he refuses to do so.”

Ever helpful, the Complete Review has offered curry recipes to help Sutherland on his way. “Sir Salman might even be able to help with the preparation,” it goes on to suggest. “He must have a few favourite family-recipes which can be tweaked to include a bit of paper and print.”

Dance dance dance to the radio

Missing out on the Mercury music prize yet again, Radiohead can console themselves with being featured alongside Bach and Tchaikovsky in the Scottish Ballet’s repertoire. The band are providing a number of tracks for “Ride the Beast”, a component of Scottish Ballet’s new touring production.

Having previously worked with Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed, choreographer Stephen Petronio enthused about his choice: “Their music demands a physical response from me that bypasses reason. I have to live with music so intimately while creating with it, I simply have to work with music I love.”

The work, which premiered at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, was well received though it may be the only time critics are able to use the words “sexy”, “energetic” and “upbeat” in the same sentence as Radiohead.

The Beat Goes On

Few film genres are as maligned as the biopic, especially as recent efforts have appeared to follow a cynical formula: take one interesting life and condense it into 120 schmaltzy minutes. This autumn, however, Hollywood film-makers have turned their attention to somewhat grittier subjects.

Howl will recount the life of the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, with emphasis on the obscenity trial which billowed around the eponymous poetry collection. Pretty boy James Franco is to take the lead while the rest of the cast are much less questionable with Mary-Louise Parker, Alan Alda and David Strathairn.

Hunter S Thompson is also being immortalised on celluloid in Gonzo. It’s something of a departure for director Alex Gibney, who won this year’s documentary Oscar for his analysis of the use of torture by US forces in Afghanistan, Taxi to the Dark Side. Narration is provided by Thompson’s friend (and the man who paid for Thompson’s ashes to be fired from a cannon, as per his wishes) Johnny Depp.

Fittingly, a film about Richard Nixon is also in the works. The former US president was famously a target of Thompson’s invective, notably in this obituary for Rolling Stone. “If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles”, Thompson wrote. “He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president.”

It’s the second time Nixon has hit the big screen, after Oliver Stone’s biopic in 1995. Stone has set his sights on another President, George W Bush. “W” is due out in America just in time for the election. Is Stone making a political intervention, or simply looking to boost ticket sales? That remains to be seen.

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