The power of poetry
Poetry is all too often seen as a private pleasure. And the world of poetry is small compared with that of novels.
Of course the world of poetry has its best-selling writers, from Seamus Heaney to Sharon Olds and many more. But I've read two things recently that may put the art form more centre stage, and carve a more public profile for it.
The first is that Mayor of London Boris Johnson is calling for "universal saying lessons" in English poetry. Given the premium he puts on language, that struck me as particularly inelegant.
However, his point, which he presents in the Daily Telegraph today, is made to focus the Conservative Party's minds on education policy. He says the way to create good schools is to insist that the children learn something good.
They should learn two or three poems a term, by heart, and he adds as an aside, that we should put them on television and get them judged by Simon Cowell. His thoughts spring from a visit to a school where he asked sixth formers what poetry they could recite by heart and there was silence.
To get a sense of his passion on the subject, his response was "rage, despair and a desire to do something about it".
The second thing I've seen recently, which will surely gladden Boris Johnson's heart, is the Off by Heart verse reciting competition, the final of which will be hosted by the Oxford Literary Festival in early April.
The idea is Daisy Goodwin's, who has done a great deal already to raise the profile of poetry. 10% cent of the UK's primary schools took part in this competition, and it's hoped that the event will become an annual one, bringing in greater numbers of schools and children every year.
Perhaps Boris Johnson can be tempted to show how much fun learning poetry can be. He describes himself as a slightly wonky poetry jukebox, and professes to know thousands of fragments of poems and rather impressively, a dozen of Shakespeare's sonnets, the whole of Lycidas and the first 100 lines of Homer's the Illiad in Greek. He is surely not typical, but I am happy to be proven wrong.
So what can you recite off by heart and does it matter? Poetry is the one art in which this island excels above others, and yet it has such a minor profile. Will learning it by heart at school change its status?