Roger McGough's Blog

National Poetry Day 2003: Britain

09 October 2003
This is the final entry in the diary. The blizzards are ceaseless, the bivouac is ripped apart and I'm down to my last twiglet. Yesterday was spent back at Broadcasting House doing live and recorded interviews for local radio stations. Nine, one after another which involved a lot of deja vu (deja entendu?). It is 11 a.m. and I've just completed the cento/patchwork poem. These last few days the lines have been coming in thick and fast, and I'm only sorry not to have been able to include more of them. I'm pleased with what we have though and it's been an interesting exercise.
At lunchtime I'm off with the Po Soc team to the Royal Festival Hall for the Foyle's young poets award ceremony, and then at 7 p.m. I join Lavinia Greenlaw, Don Paterson and Andrew Motion for the reading at St Paul's church around the corner. (Which poems shall I read? What shall I wear? Oh God, decisions, decisions.) Maybe I'll just finish off the last twiglet and head out into the blizzard. I may be some time. Thank you for joining me here at 22 Betterton Street.

07 October 2003
To Broadcasting House this morning for three interviews down the line to Radios, Wales, Ulster and Berkshire to rabbit on about National Poetry Day. There are several self-manned studios there and a general waiting room/ coffee area. Who was there but Bill Wyman. Wow. We sat next to eachother but didn't speak (I think he was a bit over-awed actually) Then Ricky Tomlinson appeared having plugged his new autobiog. After he told me how much he'd been paid in advance by the publisher I had to go and lie down. Mind you I'm a fan and he deserves every penny of his Łxxxxxxxxxxxx00. Straight after work we're all off to the Chelsea Arts Club for the launch of 'Poem for the Day Two' published by the Nicholas Albery Foundation. It's a good excuse to go to the club as I've been a member there since the seventies, and enjoyed some memorable poetry readings there particularly with Adrian Henri, Laurie Lee, Spike Milligan, and on a lovely summer's evening two years ago with the co-founder of the New York School, Kenneth Koch. All dead now. Lovely men, sadly missed. I think I'll go and lie down again. Best wishes, roger

06 October 2003
I hit the ground running this morning. Backwards. It really hurt, but the bruises are only skin deep. The friday night 'Dinner with the Poet' went off well. So well in fact, that I am thinking of buying a restaurant and giving up poetry. Pans for pens. Stews for stanzas. Sunday afternoon sitting in the basement cafe at the National Portrait Gallery, I was struck by the colourful assortment of people wandering through. Purple velveteen goths, leaf green pixies, black leather gauleiters. Must be a strange exhibition on I thought. Turned out, they'd all come up to see me. I was doing a 45 minuter in the Ondajte theatre at 3pm. (To be honest, most of the audience were as normal as thee and me. Or at least as thee.) As far as the patchwork poem is going, there are now 50 four line stanzas, with some really good images and rhymes coming in. If it doesn't end up as a West End musical my name isn't Anthony Worrall-Thompson. Mind how you go when hitting the ground running. Roger

03 October 2003
I hope you enjoyed reading yesterday's diary entry as much as I enjoyed writing it. Crap wasn't it? Things are hotting up here at 22 Betterton street as national poetry day looms. This involves me in dashing around the metropolis to plug all things poetic on the radio. (Friends tell me I have a good face for radio) as well as stitching together the cento. This afternoon I will be in the kitchen downstairs creating culinary masterpieces as part of the 'Dinner with the Poet'series. Jess Yorke (Cafe manager) will be there to guide as will our Director, Jules Mann, fresh back from California. Just don't be surprised to hear that we've been awarded a Michelin tyre. Yesterday my book of selected poems for children was published by Penguin, Lydia Monks who lives now in Sheffield, did the illustrations and it looks a handsome volume. Its called 'All the Best' ( which reminds me, I must buy a few copies to give as Christmas presents) Have a nice weekend. Roger

02 October 2003
Haven't got time. Busy. bye, roger. Stress, stress. radio interview with Angela Rippon LBC(going out sunday 2pm) poetry please recording here then Talk Radio. Stress stress. Bye.

01 October 2003
The nice lady from local radio who interviewed me over the phone this morning , asked if I could write a poem for her 'off the top of my head'. 'Difficult,' I confessed. 'But if you lived with me for a couple of years you might get a slim volume out of it.' She didn't take me up on the offer. Nice lady though she was.
I'm starting to panic about the dinner I'm cooking for paying guests at the Poetry Cafe on friday evening. They will be handing over hard-earned cash in return for a few poems and a gastronomic adventure (or near-death experience.)
You may not be able to join the lucky 20 diners, but to whet your appetite I have already composed the menu. Here it is in all its sumptuous glory:

Main Course
Eat your heart out. Roger

30 September 2003
Yesterday, I rashly noted the idea of creating a 'cento' patchwork poem of 100 verses. Later when I looked at the poem-so-far it consisted of only 25 verses, so I don't think I will be on for my first century. Am also working on an idea, with the help of Frank Geary and Andrew Bailey, who work here, of recording the finished poem, perhaps with a musical background, for it's launch on National Poetry Day. At lunchtime, I went for a walk around Covent Garden with Lisa Roberts, our marketing whizz. In the window of Paul Smith's menswear shop was a black, leather chair with rows of metal spikes sprouting out of the seat. I wonder if they sell them in brown? Making our way back to Betterton Street we thought we saw WH Auden making notes at a corner table in the Leicester Square branch of Pret a Manger, but it turned out not to be him.
More exciting things tomorrow, roger mcg

29 September 2003
I woke up today with that 'monday morning' feeling, which I found very encouraging, because often on a monday morning I wake up with a thursday afternoon feeling. Couplets and triolets are coming in thick and fast for the 'Cento' I am compositing. It occurs that although 'cento' according to the Oxford Concise means 'composition made up of quotations from other authors (Latin: patchwork garment)' the word suggests a hundred, so maybe I should try and produce a cento made up of one hundred verses. Phew. There was great excitement here in Betterton Street this morning when I arrived. There were squad cars everywhere and police swarming all over the place. The Poetry Police? The Verse Squad? I thought they had rumbled me at last. But no, it turned out to be a robber on the roof. I live to write another year. Best wishes, roger

26 September 2003
A couple of hours spent everyday putting together the 'cento' or patchwork poem.
So far over two hundred lines have come in from all over the country and my job is to make a pleasing 'whole.' For some reason, I decided early on to go for quatrains, and to be repeat certain lines and phrases to keep the engine ticking over. Someone looking over my shoulder might be puzzled by the whole process. Why choose that line instead of that one? Why arrange them in that order? It's a fascinating insight into how a poem is made. None of the language is mine, nor the images, and yet it is beginning to have the sense of a mcgough poem. I'm not quite sure what that is, only that it could only have been put together in this way by me. Twenty other poets with the same material would have written twenty very differnt poems. Hey ho. Roger McGough.

25 September 2003
I love travelling to work on the tube each morning, and the journey this morning was typical. At Baron's Court who should board but a Pearly King and his Queen. They soon had the whole carriage singing along to such favourites as 'Underneath the Arches' 'Maybe Its Because I'm a Londoner'and one by Limp Bizkit that not many of us knew. They shared their jellied eels with us before leading a conga along the platform at Covent Garden. I turned to a Japanese gentleman who was sitting next to me and asked if such jollity was a feature of Tokyo's underground train system. Unfortunately he replied in Japanese (either that, or his mouth was full of jellied eels) so I remained none the wiser.
I remain, yours sincerely, Roger McGough

24 September 2003
Day the third. Made extra busy by a lunch-time (soup-time) meeting in the poetry cafe with Jess to discuss the menu for 3rd october. Night of the long knives and forks, when I will be cooking for 25 and then reading poems to help the diners' digest. I follow in a long line of culinary master chefs/poets including Matthew Sweeney, John Agard, Michael Donaghy and Moniza Alvi. Thence to BBC Broadcasting House to judge a Beatles-related competition for Michael Rosen's prog. 'Word of Mouth'. Quick dash down the corridor to record a 'Poetry Please' (with lots of difficult pronunciations in it, ie Rabrindraneth and ungalosthropiffle.) (I made one of those up). Usually I record the series in Bristol, but the producer has been kind to me because I'm working. I must go now because my trousers are on fire. roger

23 September 2003
I'm much more relaxed today. Yesterday worked out really well once i had found my feet (it turns out i had left them in the cloakroom). Being something of a technophobe i'm hopeless with computors, but am lucky in that Andrew at the next desk is a whizz and gifted with patience. I started to put the 'cento' together (ie the 'patchwork poem') It involves reading through all the lines that are coming in, 146 so far, cutting and pasting, sniffing and measuring, rearranging, and generally having fun allround. I arrive at the Po Soc office in Covent Garden at 10am and work till about 4.30. It's the first proper job I've had since 1964 and I'm quite excited about it. During lunch in the excellent Poetry Cafe downstairs, all the staff helped me read through entries for BBC Radio 4's competition based on writing 100 word pieces using only the titles of Beatles songs. tomorrow afternoon i go into the 'Word of Mouth' studio with Michael Rosen to discuss the winning entries.

22 September 2003
Arrived 10.15am. Thought our beloved leader Jules, had left for the usa, and announced to everyone in the office, 'Ok you can have the rest of the week off'
Not applause, but giggles, as Jules was standing behind the door of her office.
In fact, she leaves tomorrow. I think I will keep all the staff on. Inevitably a mite overwhelmed so far by the pc and finding my way around it. Also i'm not used to busyness. The only time I write in public is when I do scripts at the bbc (home truths and pick of the week offices)where everyone around gets on with what they're doing, seemingly oblivious of the chatter/keyboard tickling/cup rattling etc. Where I work at home I work alone and in silence.
Will I be able to be creative? I take out my writer's block and put it on the filing cabinet by the window. I have the sinking feeling that I have taken on a proper job.

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