Thursday, 28 July 2016

I Tick A Box

I was have been asked by  to rate my recent experience of New York City.  Apparently, this will help other people to decide whether or not to travel there:  Did you like NYC?  Please tick Yes or No.

In my day job, I am often asked to write references.  This is a responsibility I take seriously, and it requires me to use my judgement and to be truthful to my experience.  But when asked to do this by ticking a series of boxes, I find myself flummoxed. 

Consider the following example:

Please assess (to the best of your knowledge) the applicant’s qualities and abilities :






Not Known/Comments








Faced with recommending a candidate I've known for a couple of years, but only in one context, I don't know which box to tick. Is Excellent Honesty the default position, or starting point, from which someone can only slide towards Poor as occasions for Dishonesty arise, or do I assume Poor Honesty until opportunities for deception have arisen and not been taken, or opportunities for Honesty been taken?

What, I wonder, is the definition of Good Honesty and could it be better than Excellent Honesty (too brutal in some situations) for this particular job?   Is my definition of Good Honesty of too high or low a standard?  Who says?

Is Average Honesty acceptable or the sign of moral deficiency?  And when working out Average Honesty, am I required to use the mean, mode or median?  And should I show my workings?

Does Honesty which could be described as  Poor become Dishonesty?  Unreliability can't be a synonym for Poor Honesty as there is another assessment to be made about Reliability in the row below.  But I won't take you there.

As it happens, I liked New York City.  Yes I did.  I liked it a lot.  And I mostly liked it because I went there with my son.  But there's no box for that.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

I Carry A Placard

Friday 24th June was a troubling day - the date had long been in my mind.  I woke early to the news of the Leave vote, felt stunned. 

Much has been written about the reasons for and fallout from the millions of decisions made by individuals faced on 23rd June with a binary choice: Remain / Leave - a choice reducing the nuances and complexities of the UK's relationship with the EU to something blunt and, as it turns out, dangerous.

The reason the date of 24th June had been on my mind, however, was more personal.  That evening, I read as the guest poet in the Shore to Shore tour organised by Picador and Wenlock Books.  Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and John Sampson stopped off here to perform at one of a series of events celebrating poetry and community spread along a route from Falmouth to St Andrew's. 

All that day, I wondered what to read.  The set I'd planned in advance seemed flimsy, inconsequential.  What could a few hundred words do or mean in this context of new social, political and economic upheaval?  I am not a poet of grand themes - I write about what's ordinary: about queuing, about small encounters, about everyday instances of connection.  

What I remember most clearly about the evening, two weeks on, is the transformation of the confused and sombre mood by the reading of poetry, along with John's fanfares and musical frolics, to a responsive, bewildered and committed audience.  I remember being amongst strong and strongly feeling women whose welcome of me, whose humour, fury, passion and incredulity gave me a sense that all was not utterly lost.

'Everything is politics', says Thomas Mann.  And so I started with my poem Michelangelo's David.  It's about a queue.  But it's set in Florence.  So it's also about love, language, and the fluidity and permeability of borders between people and cultures.  It's about the joy of the taken-for-grantedness of those exchanges: it's about knowing the words pizza, gelato, cappuccino without having to try.  I read the poem with new energy, as an act of poetry. 

After all the beauty and wisdom of the poems read in sorrow, conviction and rage by Gillian, Jackie, Imtiaz and Carol Ann, right at the end, each of us poets, with Carol Ann directing, raised in turn a defiant placard.  I held up my one word feeling that sense I often get amongst poets: of being held, of belonging not just to this momentary four word phrase, but to people amongst whom truths must be told.