I’ve been reading Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain, which I recommend wholeheartedly, and apart from reflecting on how much harder politics was in the aftermath of the War than it is now (devaluation, Rhodesia, Vietnam, borrowing money, strikes, inflation – all in 1968) I also wondered what happened to the censoriat – the army of small-minded self-appointed “public servants” who attempted to keep the intelligent and the daring at bay with their blue pencils and narrow horizons.
I’ll tell you what happened to them. They became “external examiners.” Step forward Pat Schofield, whose complaint about a Carol Ann Duffy poem and its supposed glorification of knife crime led to the poem being withdrawn from the English syllabus. Duffy’s response, titled Mrs Schofield’s GCSE, has a poetry which Mrs Schofield will never be able to understand:
You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare’s Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt’s death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.
And indeed, Mrs Schofield finds that rather hard:
Contacted by the Guardian last night, Schofield said she felt “a bit gobsmacked” to have a verse named after her. She described the poem as “a bit weird. But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that’s me”.
Yes, Mrs Schofield, that’s you. You’re an idiot.