Crap and credulity: Richard Alleyne on Seamus Heaney









 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  list of some current rankings for this site in Google in Advertisements for myself will put in perspective some unflattering comments which have been made about me. The comments include those of Kenny Hodgart, writing in 'The Herald,' 'You've met Mr Hurt's type: not thick exactly, just a bit impervious to nuance, a bit cognitively impaired, like Sarah Palin maybe,' those of 'Macheath' in his blog 'Newgate News,' 'The concept of metaphor, or of extended imagery, seems to have passed him by, suggesting a certain lack of imagination - or sense of humour,' those of the blogger who wrote of me, 'this jerk ...' with 'what passes for a mind,' and the commentators of the immensely rich The Poetry Foundation of Chicago in their condescending piece on metaphor and myself, entitled 'Also, Rimbaud not actually a boat.'

Richard Alleyne's online and print reports in 'The Daily Telegraph,' abysmal in standard -  crap - fooled these and other credulous writers, who  ignored 'the danger of believing everything they read in 'The Daily Telegraph.'
Other comments, from the paper's Website:

Squarepeg: 'Mr Hurt is obviously a philistine.'
Eleanor Turney: 'Oh dearie me, someone needs metaphor explaining.' Lorelei: 'Oh dearie me, someone needs metaphor explaining.'
LabianQuest: 'What a dickhead.....!!!'

Some responses have been more extreme than 'jerk' and 'dickhead.' See psychopathy and 'Bookninja.' (Bookninja is described - by George Murray of Bookninja - as 'the premier Canadian literary site, and one of the top literary sites in the world.') Janet Reid, a literary agent in New York City, didn't disapprove at all of the psychopathic comparison and published Angela Robbins' description of me as 'bad, bad ...'

This page's ranking  for search terms including "Richard Alleyne": the current ranking of the page for "Richard Alleyne" "Daily Telegraph" is 8 / 4 610  and for "Richard Alleyne" journalist is 8 / 4 100.  If employers thinking of hiring Richard Alleyne in the future conduct an internet search before they commit themselves, as is quite likely, and come across the criticism here, it may be one of the factors they will take into account. My own harsh view is that someone so deficient would be advised to earn his living in some other way, but I'm not in the business of giving Richard Alleyne careers advice and newspapers advice on hiring. If a lacklustre newspaper is looking for a lacklustre writer, Richard Alleyne would strengthen the newspaper's lacklustre reputation. He could be just the person for the job.

Despite my supposed ignorance of metaphor, the site's current ranking in Google for metaphor theme is nothing to be ashamed of: 4 / 8 060 000. I don't claim, of course, that a high ranking is a certain guarantee of quality. I examine the linkages between popularity, and similar measures, and quality on other pages.See also my technical contribution to the study of metaphor.  

Not one of the 'commentators' who have criticized me for alleged failures to understand metaphor or poetic imagery in general in Seamus Heaney's poem 'Tate's Avenue,' including the Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music Jonathan Reekie and the 'commentators' of 'The Poetry Foundation' show any sign of having read the poem before commenting. There are no metaphors at all, no use of figurative language, in the poem's reference to bullfighting!

 



 

Introduction: 'The Arsehole'
Tranquil leafletting: the lull before the storm
Richard Alleyne makes two phone calls
Richard Alleyne unleashes his reports
The smoke screen of poetic imagery
The first casualties
The chain of command: Alleyne and Gallagher
Seamus Heaney's transcendental experiences
Documents on the state of the British press

Joe Simpson and death on the Eiger

See also the pages

Seamus Heaney: ethical depth?
Bullfighting: arguments against and action against

Metaphor

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, a defender of bullfighting who    killed a bull in the bullring, quotes Seamus Heaney  in his blog as evidence in favour of bullfighting.      More.

Supplementary material is in italics

Introduction: 'The Arsehole'

Richard Alleyne can be a very unreliable writer even when the facts are well known to him. In his twitter profile, he writes,  'I am a senior general news reporter on the Daily Telegraph.'  Not any longer. The Telegraph group made 80 journalists redundant in April 2013 and Richard Alleyne was one of them. The paper's Website gives this: ' 'Richard Alleyne was a senior general news reporter for the Daily Telegraph until April 2013.'  A leisurely reading of the entire contents of Richard Alleyne's own Website takes less than a minute. The address is  richardalleyne [dot] com

The opportunity to earn a living as a journalist, and not just to write journalism or something similar to journalism, unpaid, for a blog, I regard as very important. For this reason as well as others, I regard print journalism as very important, and supporting publications by 'buying and subscribing' as very important. I buy 'The Daily Telegraph' almost every day. The news of these redundancies at the Telegraph is bad news for everyone who values a flourishing press, an indispensable part of a flourishing society, but an exception must be made for the loss of Richard Alleyne.

He's introduced in this poem of mine:

Disappointment - a missed opportunity

'Arsehole,'

by Craig Raine,

is a poem about

the arsehole

and not about

Dick Alleyne.

(It also appears in the section 'Humour and Sarcasm' on the page Poems in Large Page Design.) Richard Alleyne has done so much to publicize  'the danger of taking poetry too literally.'  It's up to him whether he uses this principle (if you can call it that) to interpret this poem.

Although this is obviously not in the least a major poem, it does have a simplicity and neatness which I think are attractive  (in contrast with the subject matter.)  I think  that the poem makes good use of the sound-linkage between 'Raine' and 'Alleyne.'  The sound-linkage scheme is clear enough. After an introductory line, there are five lines in centred rhyme: a b c a c b.

Craig Raine, the poet and critic, wrote a poem called 'Arsehole,' which he describes as 'a version of the Rimbaud-Verlaine sonnet called 'Sonnet d'un trou de cul.' He is emeritus fellow in English at New College, Oxford and the founder and editor of 'Areté,' the interesting and often very incisive arts magazine. I discuss his acute analysis of the closing line of Philip Larkin's 'An Arundel Tomb' in my page Criticism of Seamus Heaney's 'The Grauballe Man' and other poems.

As this is, amongst other things, a literary site, I provide more supplementary material. Below is the original text of the 'Sonnet d' un trou de cul,' followed by my translation. Albert Mérat had published a book of sonnets called 'L'Idole,' in which each sonnet praised a part of the body of his mistress. He did leave out one part of his mistress' body. Rimbaud and Verlaine provided a sonnet to praise the part of the body which had been missed out. It was published in the book of parodies called the  'Album Zutique,' published by the literary circle who called themselves 'Les Zutistes.'

Sonnet d' un trou de cul

Obscur et froncé comme un oeillet violet,
Il respire, humblement tapi parmi la mousse
Humide encor d'amour qui suit la fuite douce
Des Fesses blanches jusqu'au coeur de son ourlet.

Des filaments pareils à des larmes de lait
Ont pleuré, sous l'autan cruel qui les repousse
A travers de petits caillots de marne rousse,
Pour s'aller perdre où la pente les appelait.

Mon Rêve s'aboucha souvent à sa ventouse;
Mon âme, du coït matériel jalouse,
En fit son larmier fauve et son nid de sanglots.

C'est l'olive pâmée, et la flûte caline
C'est le tube où descend la céleste praline:
Chanaan féminin dans les moiteurs enclos!

Sonnet of an arsehole

Dark and wrinkly like a purple carnation,
it smells, hidden, unassuming, in the moss -
damp, still from 'l' amour' - which follows the sweet surge
of white buttocks to the core of its hem.
Strings like milk-tears
have wept, beneath the cruel föhn wind pushing
them back across tiny clots of russet marl,
lot where the slope was calling.
My dream has coupled often with its suction-cap,
My soul, of worldly, jealous coupling,
has made it its dusky dripstone and its nest of sobs.
It is the swooning olive and the cuddly flute.
It is the tube where celestial praline comes:
feminine promised land, muggy enclosure!

Tranquil leafletting: the lull before the storm

This site isn't a blog, and mentions of my personal experiences aren't at all frequent. Here, though, I do necessarily discuss personal experience.

In August 2010, Seamus Heaney spoke at The Snape Maltings, Suffolk, in an event organised by The Poetry Trust and Aldeburgh Music. I handed out leaflets before the event, drawing attention to his treatment of bullfighting in some of his writing. I felt strongly - and feel just as strongly now - that his treatment was without ethical depth. The leaflets couldn't give details of the arguments and documentation which led me to carry out the action but I informed The Poetry Trust, joint organisers of the event, of the arguments and documentation on this site long before the event and none of this was challenged in any way. The leafletting was reported in the regional and national press. Richard Alleyne's print and internet reports in 'The Daily Telegraph' were read uncritically, gullibly, by a number of bloggers and others. Some of their comments are given on the right, and there's a fuller account below.

The publicity material I'd seen before the event only mentioned The Poetry Trust as the organisers. I contacted The Poetry Trust on 30 May by letter and email, nearly three months before Seamus Heaney spoke, informing them that I intended to protest against Seamus Heaney and referring them to the documentation and discussion on this site. A few days before travelling to Suffolk, I sent The Poetry Trust an image of the leaflet I'd be handing out. By this time, I'd decided not to undertake anything like a vocal 'protest' but simply to hand out leaflets. I don't describe myself as an 'animal rights protester.' That' the media's description of me, not my own. I've consistently described myself as involved in animal welfare and as a matter of fact, I've devoted far more time to human causes than to animal causes.

None of my claims regarding Seamus Heaney and bullfighting were denied. In the two hours before the event when I was distributing leaflets it would have been easy to approach me and present any evidence that I was misinformed. There was no attempt.

I stationed myself at the main entrance of the Snape Maltings Concert Hall a couple of hours before Seamus Heaney was due to speak, although I'd been there for hours before that time, and came in the morning to look and find the best position to station myself - I believe in meticulous preparation. Suffolk constabulary had sent a policewoman, who approached me a few minutes later. This wasn't in the least heavy-handed policing, not in the least the repressive power of the state trying to interfere with an individual's right to protest. It was a completely reasonable precaution for the Suffolk Constabulary to send someone. I've taken a prominent part in very vocal, high-profile 'animal rights protests' (but I'd prefer to call them 'animal welfare protests'). I'd decided, though, that this was completely inappropriate for this venue and this occasion. The policewoman was a credit to the force. Two of the staff of Aldeburgh Music introduced themselves to me as well, including Jonathan Reekie, the Chief Executive.

I explained to the policewoman and the staff of Aldeburgh Music that I was on my own, and that this was a literary event which called, in effect, for an 'undemonstrative demonstration.' I would simply hand out the leaflets I'd had printed to any members of the public who would like one, and answer any questions they had. I wouldn't be attending the event.

The Programme of 'The Twenty First Aldeburgh Poetry Festival' (organized by The Poetry Trust) included these words of Tom Paulin, who spoke at the festival: 'I do think culture is an argument, that ideas should be flying about and banging into each other.' My own arguments and ideas about bullfighting (as about many other things) had been 'flying about' before the event and are flying about now after the event. If The Poetry Trust or Seamus Heaney or anybody else would like to launch their own ideas, then let them 'bang into' mine and let's see what happens.

I began to ask people arriving for the event from about 5.30 on if they would like a leaflet. If they declined, I said nothing. During the two hours I handed out leaflets, I had some interesting conversations. A woman who was attending saw the leaflet I was holding and immediately told me that she knew Seamus Heaney personally and knew that he supported bullfighting. She used the actual words, 'Seamus Heaney supports bullfighting.' I've no further information. I certainly didn't put any ideas into her mind.

The policewoman went into the building and came out at one point. We didn't talk about anything other than Suffolk. I did nearly all the talking. I said that I'd come down to Suffolk for this event but it was a pleasure to be back in the county. I said that I liked very much the lack of congestion in the parts of Suffolk I knew and the beauty of the villages. I said that I was surprised on my first visit to the county to find that Suffolk was undulating rather than flat. After we'd talked about Suffolk for a little time, she went back in the building. There were no incidents of any kind, whether great or small.

I was determined that I'd give no opportunity for anyone to claim that I'd been aggressive. I was aware that there would be bullfighting supporters attending. Two of the people said that they supported the bullfight but I made no comment. I was determined too that I would give no opportunity for anyone to claim that I'd 'gone back on my word' by leaving later than 7.30. As I was about to leave, a photographer arrived from a regional newspaper. He said that a reporter couldn't be here. I've very little interest in photography and I'm averse to being photographed, but I agreed. I didn't conceal my uneasiness, I think.

It was a great pleasure to be back in Suffolk, a county I like so very much (obviously, not unreservedly) in a region I like so very much, East Anglia (again, not unreservedly) despite the fact that there had been almost continuous heavy rain since I'd arrived. I was staying at a muddy field, a farm campsite. A bull was in the enclosure very near to me at various times. It was good to see the magnificent animal. I reflected, not, obviously, for the first time, on the despicable cruelty of our ancestors, who saw nothing wrong in the public spectacle of dogs biting and tearing at a tethered bull. Some of these people were cruel in almost every way, others included good parents, hard-working people, the highly cultured, writers of sonorous prose and poetry, of the kind Geoffrey Hill would particularly admire, and Shakespeare. Bullfighting is a very different activity from bull-baiting - one with artistic pretensions, for one thing - but despicable too. Polemicists and activists have an answer to anyone who claims that polemicists and activists are somehow 'excessive,' a variant of this one: if it depended upon you, bull-baiting would still be taking place and we would still have slavery, child labour, the death penalty for children ...

The rain which had battered Suffolk and the whole of the South of England for a long time eased off and stopped before I began giving out leaflets. It resumed after I left Snape. In the past, when there has been a lull in bad weather whilst collecting money for Amnesty International, I've said, without meaning it in the least, of course, 'God obviously supports Amnesty International.' I could have said of these favourable conditions for leafletting, with equal lack of conviction, 'God obviously opposes bullfighting.'

This was my first visit to the Snape Maltings and it surpassed all my expectations - a calm but thrilling place, an exemplary achievement. And this was where Peter Grimes, amongst other works by Benjamin Britten, was composed! Snape and Aldeburgh represent the authentic way for a place to form a linkage with culture, in the way that Wordsworth's poetry and prose ('The Guide to the Lakes') had given a further dimension to the Lake District: {modification} of 'genius loci' by genius.

Richard Alleyne makes two phone calls

I returned to Sheffield not very long after the leafletting. A couple of days after that, Richard Alleyne of 'The Daily Telegraph' phoned me. He asked me a few basic questions about the leafletting. In my answers, I made it clear to him that nobody had contacted me in the months leading up to my leafletting at the Snape Maltings to challenge any of my claims and that nobody had tried to argue against my claims whilst I was there. I made it clear to him that I didn't regard myself as 'an animal rights protester.'

After Richard Alleyne had phoned, I looked him up on Google and found material on him on the Website www.badscience.net According to the Website, referring to a report by Richard Alleyne, 'The Daily Telegraph misrepresented a scientist's work, then refuse to correct it when he writes to them.' And, commenting on another report by Richard Alleyne, ' ... this is a gamelike world of blurry truths, where ... the vague narrative shape of a story matters more than clarity, accuracy and evidence.' At that point, I began to have misgivings.

Recently I came upon this, from 'DC's Improbably Science: Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science.' ('DC' is Professor David Colquhoun FRS.)

'Why was a study on ‘acupuncture’ reported so badly?

'This week’s edition of Nature Neuroscience carried a paper with the title “Adenosine A1 receptors mediate local anti-nociceptive effects of acupuncture“. The paper was not without interest, but it tells one nothing about acupuncture in humans ...

'The newspaper reports of this paper were even worse than usual.

'The worst of the lot was Richard Alleyne, in the Daily Telegraph: “Acupuncture does work as it stimulates a natural pain killer, scientists find“.'

Irregulartimes.com has a piece which includes these comments, on Richard Alleyne as a 'science fiction correspondent:' 'The Daily Telegraph calls Richard Alleyne its “science correspondent”, but it might want to think about adding the work “fiction” in the middle of that title.' Alleyne has written a sensationalistic [report] in the Telegraph on the discovery of a microbe that incorporates arsenic into its body.' The piece concludes with this: 'As for this arsenic-eating bacteria having the ability to evolve into an intelligent life form, eventually, I suppose that’s technically correct – but only because every single living thing alive has that potential, given the right conditions, and enough time. Perhaps, if Richard Alleyne took some time to think about the consequences of what he was writing, he might himself be able to develop into an intelligent creature.' One elementary point: throughout his piece, Richard Alleyne misspells the name of the element 'phosphorus.' Throughout, he spells it 'phosphorous.' This is a mistake often found in 12 and 13 year olds studying science but not so often in science writers who can be taken seriously.

Richard Alleyne phoned me again the next day. His questions were about such matters as where I'd slept whilst I was staying in Suffolk, and the weather.

Richard Alleyne unleashes his reports

I bought 'The Daily Telegraph' and was astonished, but when I I read the online version of his report I was even more astonished. His reports were full of false allegations. In the online report, he wrote, 'The organisers tried to persuade him his protest was a folly.' This is completely false. The organisers had nearly three months after my letter and email to try to offer arguments in a letter or email to me before I set out for Suffolk. Why they would leave their earnest attempt at persuasion to this late stage, the actual evening when I was handing out leaflets, is beyond me.

The reports on The Daily Telegraph website and in the print edition of the newspaper (there are significant differences between the two) contain other information which is completely false.

Another completely false allegation in the online version of The Daily Telegraph report: 'The organisers even offered him a free ticket.' Squarepeg is one of the people who accepted this unthinkingly. I was never offered a free ticket by the organisers. As a matter of elementary common sense, organisers who offer a free ticket to a protester are virtually certain to antagonize members of the public who have paid for their ticket, once they find out. They would complain, 'Why should I pay all that money for a ticket when he gets in for nothing?' What's more, the event was sold out. People who wanted to buy a ticket but were unable to would be outraged by the giving of a free ticket to me. The idea is ridiculous. Further reflection shows that the idea is more than ridiculous . If the organisers had encouraged me to attend rather than leave at the time I said I would, there would have massive tension for them. I might be disruptive inside the hall, for all they knew. If, hypothetically, I had attended, I wouldn't have been disruptive. I would, though, have asked questions if questions were allowed at the end.

Those people who have mentioned this particular matter in their internet postings as 'evidence,' so-called, that my actions were 'ridiculous' haven't been critical readers at all. If they had stopped to reflect and think, they would have realized that this claim was ridiculous - without the need for any inverted commas. On this occasion, they were gullible.

I was offered a ticket, not by the organisers but by a couple who said that after reading my leaflet they had no wish to attend. I had no wish to attend either. I'd made it clear that I'd be leaving at 7.30 and I felt it was essential to stick to that.

The couple tore up their tickets - the allegation in 'The Daily Telegraph' (print version) that I persuaded them to tear up their tickets is again false - and they left. My conversation with the couple was witnessed by one person only, a member of staff of Aldeburgh Music and wearing a name badge of Aldeburgh Music, but I didn't make a note of his name. I'd be very surprised to find that the false information that I persuaded this couple to tear up their tickets came from anyone but this individual.

Yet another false claim in 'The Daily Telegraph' (print and online versions): 'the police intervened.'

To accompany Richard Alleyne's report, there was a piece of clapped-out rubbish in the 'Comment' section of the paper, 'Tilting at Windmills.' 'Mr Heaney is not actually a bullfighting aficionado at all,' according to the writer (probably not Richard Alleyne.) I never claimed that he was. I'd explicitly stated that I didn't believe he was an aficionado, with all the connotations of knowledge combined with passionate interest (the knowledge and the passion both taking debased forms, as I see it.) My emphasis was, and is, on ethical depth: the words were in large print on the leaflets I handed out. And more from this writer: 'As there is no plaza de toros in Snape, this may seem a puzzling expedition.' Years before, I travelled to London to take part in a vigil organized by Amnesty International to protest against the planned execution of a juvenile offender (but there were doubts about his guilt) in Texas. As there's no execution chamber in London, this may seem quixotic, 'a puzzling expedition,' too.

The piece concludes with some allusions to Englishness which amount to insulting caricature: the English as completely ineffectual, not the English who are tolerant, kindly and flexible but completely determined, intransigent, when necessary. I write too as a Northerner of working-class origins, someone who would never use the phrase mistakenly attributed to me in Richard Alleyne's report, 'the awful truth is ...' and someone whose attitudes and view of the world are probably very different from the perpetrator of 'Tilting at Windmills,' whoever it was.

Daniel Hannan, one of the most prominent supporters of bullfighting in this country, has been a leader writer at The Daily Telegraph since 1996. Whether or not his view of bullfighting has influence at the paper, and influenced these comments, I've no idea.

The smoke screen of poetic imagery

Arguments based on poetic imagery play an important part in 'The Daily Telegraph' reports. A curious fact is that the arguments don't come from Seamus Heaney the poet but from Jonathan Reekie, the Chief Executive of a musical organization, Aldeburgh Music, as reported by Richard Alleyne, a science reporter. 'The Daily Telegraph' dispensed with the services of its Literary Editor some years ago. Although he's quoted freely in 'The Daily Telegraph' reports, in his email to me of 15/09/2010 Jonathan Reekie writes, 'As far as I know no-one from Aldeburgh Music has spoken to anyone at the Telegraph (or indeed any national newspaper) about your protest.' At the moment, how 'The Daily Telegraph' obtained its quotations from Jonathan Reekie is unknown to me.

One quotation from Jonathan Reekie may even appear in future Books of Quotations: he warns of 'the danger of taking poetry too literally.' In the print version of 'The Daily Telegraph' report ' ... as everyone who loves poetry knows, he uses images and associations that are in no way meant to be literal.' His words have been eagerly used by a host of bloggers and other commentators.

Jonathan Reekie, and Aldeburgh Music in general, has made and is making an impressive contribution to serious modern music, which is vastly more adventurous and invigorating than Seamus Heaney's archaic approach to poetry, even if the virtues of the poetry compensate to some extent for the obvious weaknesses. I think his intervention here was misguided, but this is someone I respect very much even so.

I've claimed that in 'Tate's Avenue,' it's Seamus Heaney and not someone else who is planning to attend a bullfight. Jonathan Reekie claimed that this is ' ... a piece that Seamus Heaney wrote about somebody else.' I now have decisive evidence that the part of the poem 'Tate's Avenue' set in Belfast has an autobiographical basis and no reason whatsoever to suppose that the part of the poem set in Spain - before the bullfight - is anything other than autobiographical.

In the poem, there's a description of lying on a rug in Belfast in the warmth:

A walled back yard, the dust bins high and silent

In 'Stepping Stones: interviews with Seamus Heaney' (published by Faber and Faber, the publisher of his poetry) Seamus Heaney, in his own words, tells the interviewer, Dennis O' Driscoll, that

' 'Death of a Naturalist' I wrote in one of the flats on a Sunday afternoon, after lying out in the sun with Marie [his future wife] and her flatmates at the back of a place they had in Tate's Avenue. The dead heat in their little back garden and the reek of litter bins in the alley behind the houses reminded me of the stink of flax in the dam years before.' Tate's Avenue is a road in Belfast. For most of the time he lived in Belfast, Seamus Heaney lived in a street which runs in parallel with Tate's Avenue and about 100 metres from it. (He lived at 16 Ashley Avenue.)

Does Seamus Heaney claim that the Belfast episode in 'Tate's Avenue,' lying out on a rug, is autobiographical, the Spanish episode - lying out on a rug before attending a bullfight, the rug

Laid out by the torrents of the Guadalquivir
Where we got drunk before the corrida.

not at all autobiographical, conveniently fictional?

All the ridicule I've received for claiming that the poem has an autobiographical basis, all the condescending objections which appeal to poetic imagery, for example 'The Poetry Foundation's' 'Also, Rimbaud not actually a boat' and Jonathan Reekie's comments, have to take account of this evidence from Seamus Heaney himself. Poets often make use of a central experience and modify details. No matter what details may have been modified in the writing of 'Tate's Avenue' (it may well be, for example, that there were no 'olive stones,' as described in the poem) the experience of preparing to attend a bullfight is far more likely than not to underlie this part of the poem.

Not one of the commentators who made these condescending objections appealing to poetic imagery showed any sign of having read 'Tate's Avenue.' I doubt if any of them actually took down the volume 'District and Circle' from a bookshelf (it can't be viewed on the internet) before making their comments. If they'd read the poem, they would have realized that their comments were wide of the mark. These commentators were silent about another document I used, Seamus Heaney's comparison of W H Auden as prose writer to the men who stab bulls with the six barbed banderillas (after the bull has been speared two or three times by the picador). This stabbing is 'closer to comedy than tragedy' according to Seamus Heaney.

To return to 'Tate's Avenue.' all the condescending objections which appeal to poetic imagery fail to take into account too the elementary fact that the lines contain no metaphor and no simile. Appeals to poetic imagery are irrelevant here.

It's been assumed by some people, without any evidence at all, that my knowledge of Seamus Heaney's poetry must be meagre, the skills needed to interpret poetry - and prose pieces such as the one by Seamus Heaney discussed below - obviously beyond me, no more could be expected of a 'well-meaning' 'animal rights campaigner'.

The list of Google rankings at the top of the page is evidence against such views. Some of these rankings relate to my pages on Seamus Heaney in this site, amounting to over 125 000 words. The page Criticism of Seamus Heaney's The Grauballe Man and other poems gives ready access to these links. There are many pages on other aspects of poetry, eg a technical study of poetic imagery These pages can easily be found by using the left side of the main Site Map.

'The Poetry Foundation' is a Chicago-based American foundation created to promote poetry in the wider culture. It was formed from Poetry magazine, which it continues to publish, with a 2003 gift of $200 million from philanthropist Ruth Lilly ... The new board used a recruiting agency to find John Barr, a rich executive and published poet, to head the foundation.' (According to the Wikipedia entry. The figure of $100 million is sometimes given.)

The Poetry Foundation headed their piece on me: 'Also, Rimbaud not actually a boat.' (A piece in 'A Books Blog' likewise.) They were referring to Rimbaud's 'Le bateau ivre,' which opens,

Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles,
Je ne me sentis plus guidé par les haleurs :

In my translation,

As I was floating down impassive Rivers
I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:

The translation of the first line in the Wikipedia page on 'Le Bateau ivre' is faulty. It translates 'impassibles' as 'impassible,' when the correct spelling is 'impassable.' But the French 'impassibles' means not 'impassable' but 'impassive,' 'expressionless.' The word for 'impassable' in connection with rivers is 'infranchissables' (in the plural.)

I was already aware that the 'I' here is the boat, not Rimbaud, but the 'we' in ' ... Where we got drunk before the corrida' isn't like the 'I' in 'Le bateau ivre' at all. The 'we' in the Seamus Heaney line has no similar reference to poetic imagery.

'The Poetry Foundation' found an account in the media obviously believed everything in it: misguided 'animal rights protester' who seems to have no knowledge of poetic imagery, who believes that a metaphor gives literal information, and the rest. Their reading wasn't critical reading at all. As 'Harriet' is the 'news blog' of 'The Poetry Foundation,' some basic fact checking was in order, as for any responsible source of 'news.' The money they received from a rich philanthropist should have given them the resources to carry out some basic fact-checking, unless the $200 million (or $100 million) has all been used up and the Foundation is now as poor as I am. This is very unlikely, but if they really are impoverished, if all their staff are now destitute, having to face the long and bitter Chicago winters with inadequate clothing and food, they can contact me and I'll be happy to send a donation.

. When Jonathan Reekie comments, 'as everyone who loves poetry knows, he uses images and associations that are in no way meant to be literal,' he's making a very elementary comment about imagery. Obviously, the heart for Yeats isn't literally a 'foul rag and bone shop' (I discuss this example in my page on Metaphor) and Burns's love isn't literally a red, red rose.

But imagery doesn't in general leave the writer's attitude vague, unclear, or the opposite of what the imagery suggests. The role of imagery in a poem is very complex but in simple terms, one use is to make more vivid the poet's feelings. Similarly with imagery in prose. The fact that Seamus Heaney uses imagery from one phase of a bullfight in connection with the prose writings of W H Auden (the stabbing of the bull with six banderillas is 'closer to comedy than tragedy') doesn't make it impossible to detect Seamus Heaney's attitude to bullfighting. Anyone who actually opposed bullfighting would use very different imagery. There are other images which would vividly convey 'closer to comedy than tragedy,' or Seamus Heaney could have simply omitted imagery. There's no compulsion to use a particular example of imagery.

When I put 'Richard Alleyne' into Google after his first phone call to me, I found in a prominent position the claim 'Richard Alleyne is a lying piece of shit.' I don't comment on the validity of the claim here - I'd have to spend time investigating the matter thoroughly before I could comment on that - but this claim is obviously metaphorical. The Poetry Foundation could comment, 'Also, Richard Alleyne not actually a piece of shit,' Jonathan Reekie could warn of the danger of taking metaphor too literally, but these are elementary, obvious points. The fact that the writer used metaphor doesn't leave the writer's opinion of Richard Alleyne in doubt.

'The Poetry Foundation,' Jonathan Reekie and 'A Books Blog' concentrate their attention on the trite, elementary fact - and ignore the use of poetic imagery to convey the deepest experiences and insights of the poet. Baudelaire's poem 'The Albatross,' for example, is an extended simile, 'the poet is like ...' If 'The Poetry Foundation' and 'A Books Blog' entitled a piece on 'The Albatross' 'Also, Baudelaire not actually an albatross' they would have pointed out something that everyone is already aware of - but the poem is about the plight of poets and surely the plight of the 'I' who wrote the poem, the contrast between the poet able to soar and the poet who is 'exiled on earth.' The original and my literal translation:

Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.

À peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d'eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L'autre mime, en boitant, l'infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.

Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
capture albatrosses, huge birds of the sea
that follow, indolent companions of the sea journey,
the ship gliding on the bitter abyssal deep.

Hardly have they put them on the planks
than these kings of the blue sky, clumsy, ashamed,
let their great white wings pathetically
drag besides themselves like oars.

This winged voyager, how clumsy and weak!
The one so beautiful before, how hilarious, hideous!
One man teases his beak with a pipe,
another mimes, limping, the cripple who flew!

The poet is like the prince of the clouds
who haunts the storm and laughs at archers;
exiled on earth amidst jeers,
his giant's wings prevent him from walking.

Does Baudelaire's imagery, his choice of imagery, tell us nothing about Baudelaire's attitude to the poet? Does Seamus Heaney's imagery, his choice of imagery when he compares W H Auden to the man who stabs the bull with barbed darts, something 'closer to comedy than tragedy,' tell us nothing about Seamus Heaney's attitude to bullfighting at the time of writing? Does imagery, the choice of imagery, convey in general nothing of the deeper - and less deep - attitudes of the poet?

Seamus Heaney's poem 'Punishment' has these notorious lines,

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings.

Here 'cauled' is an example of imagery: the 'caul' is the amniotic sac which sometimes covers a child's head at birth. Seamus Heaney isn't suggesting that the girls are literally covered in amniotic sacs, but making their covering in tar more vivid by the use of imagery. But the lines still have a literal meaning. The 'I' who said nothing, who made no intervention, when he saw the girls punished by some nationalists was Seamus Heaney. Every commentator has taken the 'I' to refer to Seamus Heaney and he has acknowledged it. The poem shows Seamus Heaney in a poor light but imagery or no imagery, this is about him. I'm confident that in the end, Seamus Heaney will acknowledge that the lines in 'Tate's Avenue' concern him. They show Seamus Heaney preparing to attend a bullfight.

If the lines in 'Tate's Avenue,' supposedly, aren't about Seamus Heaney at all but about other people, then he could just as well have written

... by the torrents of the Guadalquivir
Where they got drunk before the corrida.

My italics, of course. This would have entailed no artistic disadvantages at all. Seamus Heaney might be advised to put out a statement with information as to who these people were who were preparing to attend a bullfight, if they weren't purely fictional - after first putting out an unambiguous statement that he was not preparing to attend a bullfight, as described in 'Tate's Avenue' and did not go on to attend a bullfight. But he can't possibly deny that he hasn't attended at least one bullfight, in view of what he says in 'Stepping Stones,' and perhaps a number of bullfights or even a large number.

My very extensive page which gives a detailed analysis of over thirty poems by Seamus Heaney, and links to pages which discuss in detail many more, and which discuss many aspects of his poetic practice, are evidence that my study of his work has been very thorough. It has included very extensive study of the 'I' and 'we' in his work, and the critical opinion of commentators about the role of personal experience in his work.

Despite Jonathan Reekie's warning about 'the danger of taking poetry too literally,' Seamus Heaney's poems give Seamus Heaney's actual experience very, very often. A few examples, quoting Seamus Heaney's answers in 'Stepping Stones:'

I'd like to move from the closing poem of Door into the Dark to the title poem. Was the forge a real one or is it a composite picture of a place and a man?

Somehow, any forge is all the forges. But yes, I was thinking of Barney Devlin's forge at Hillhead ... The poem 'Wedding Day'

Another memorable journey, clearly, was the one you memorialized in 'The Flight Path' ... I assume you describe the encounter as it happened.

The account of what went on in the train is as it happened, yes.

The man Seamus Heaney spoke to was Danny Morrison, who was imprisoned for his IRA activities. He discusses at length Seamus Heaney's answers in 'Stepping Stones' on his site and claims that 'Seamus Heaney 'I feel has distorted and exaggerated the nature of our exchange.' I very much prefer Seamus Heaney's view of the world, with specific reference to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, to Danny Morrison's, but I've no evidence as to which account of the encounter on the train was more accurate, if it can be decided now at all.

The poem Wedding Day ('Wintering Out') I describe in my analysis as an uncharacteristic poem, an unusual poem, one I rate highly. This is a Seamus Heaney poem, surely, where the 'I' doesn't refer at all to the experiences of Seamus Heaney? Even so, in 'Stepping Stones' we find this:

I assume that the 'Wedding Day' poem in Wintering Out recreates your mood on the day you and Marie were married. There's a hallucinatory quality about the images in it ...

Dennis O' Driscoll is obviously not deterred by 'the danger of taking poetry too literally.' He's correct in his assumption that 'Wedding Day' does have reflect Seamus Heaney's actual experience. Seamus Heaney's reply makes this completely clear.

His poem 'Summer 1969' has

We sat through death counts and bullfight reports
On the television ...

This is one of those instances of 'we' which have been in existence for a long time, the subject of commentary for a long time, and it can be fairly assumed, assumed with a very high degree of probability, that the 'we' here includes Seamus Heaney. It can be fairly assumed that he had ample opportunity to see bullfight reports on Spanish television. These would have supplemented the experience of attending at least one bullfight, and possibly far more than that. At just one bullfight, he would have witnessed something like fifty stabbings, six or more sword thrusts and probably a number of blows intended to sever the spine of the bull, enough blood to satisfy all but the most bloodthirsty of spectators, and horses terrorized, or worse. Anyone who had seen these and actually opposed bullfighting would be overwhelmingly unlikely to write so casually about attending a corrida, fictionally or non-fictionally.

In a prose piece, he writes of W H Auden, in a failed and laboured attempt at vivid imagery. (For my study of imagery see the page Metaphor.) He writes:

'When he faced the bull of reality, he was more a banderillero than a picador or matador: he made nimble dashes at the neck muscles, conspicuously rapid and skilful forays that were closer to the choreographer's than to the killer's art, closer to comedy than tragedy.

'Yet in the beginning, this metaphor invoking the panache of the corrida would not have served.'

So, he thinks that the six barbed banderillas thrust into the neck of the bull are light relief. The bull in the image above has been treated to those six 'nimble dashes' with the banderillas (one of them has been detached) - this is after the picador's lance has been thrust two or three times into the neck - in a choreography 'closer to comedy than tragedy.'

See also my discussion of Rilke's poem Corrida: In memoriam Montez, 1830 in which the bull, according to Rilke,

... took the stubbornness of the picador
and the beribboned barbs as a game.'

There was comedy in the bullfight for Ernest Hemingway too, similarly perverse and perverted comedy, but not in connection with the stabbing of the bull with those six barbed darts. He wrote in 'Death in the Afternoon,' 'I believe that part of the bullfight which inflicts most pain and suffering, some of it useless, on the bull is the placing of the banderillas.'

The first casualties

The phrase 'the first casualty of war is truth' is well-known. Truth is the first casualty when people release their thoughts into the cybersphere with minimal fact-checking or no attempt at fact-checking at all., with minimal thinking and reflection or no attempt at thinking and reflection at all. Another early casualty may be loss of respect.

Some of the responses to Richard Alleyne's report in 'The Daily Telegraph' by people in 'the literary world' have been extreme. I sent an email to Janet Reid, a literary agent at FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. I give an extract. George Murray's 'Bookninja' here is described (by Bookninja itself) as 'the premier Canadian literary site, and one of the top literary sites in the world.' To avoid confusion with anyone else called Angela Robbins, the Angela Robbins mentioned below is an 'insurance professional' and has the blogs 'Chip off the old writer's block' and 'Turn the page.'

Ms Reid,

I haven't until now used the link you provide to Bookninja on your page which comments on me. I've now done so, and found this:

In reply to the question, 'Dear Bookninja, What does a psychopath look like? Sincerely, Billy Jones.'
The answer given is 'Dear Billy, This guy. Sincerely, Bookninja.' The image given is of me.

... you published on your site a description of me as a 'bad, bad crazy man' by Angela Robbins, one of your contributors, who, like yourself and George Murray of Bookninja had no information whatsoever about me - except, that is, for 'information' in a report by a journalist whose standards of accuracy in the report, whose journalistic standards in general, were abysmal, and give a link to another site which compares my appearance with that of a psychopath. You, a literary agent, are prepared like George Murray to sink to this despicable level ...

Paul Hurt

On the 'Bookninja' page which mentions me in connection with psychopathy, there's a response from 'Monica:' 'George, i hate to differ with you, you know that. But that’s not what a psychopath is. A psychopath is someone who is devoid of compassion and empathy.'

George Murray replied, 'Of course I meant that in the most hyperbolically insulting way possible.'

I know that George Murray is well known for his individual sense of humour - or for claiming to have an amazing sense of humour, which is a different thing - but his comments here, and the original answer to 'Billy Jones,' have the disadvantage of not being funny, not to me anyway. Here, George Murray is something less than a wit - a half-wit? His comments are disturbing - extreme, in fact. Some people have the notion that they are funny and should be recognized as being funny and other people, who don't value their humour on every occasion, are 'humourless.' In an interview on the books.torontoist.com site he says of his sense of humour that it's similar to 'the witty chatter you’d hear at book parties.' He mentions people 'tone deaf enough to not get the jokes.' He says, ' I try not to be mean to individual people, though, except those cushioned from my barbs by their millions and millions of dollars.'

I can surely claim he was 'mean' to me, even though I'm not 'cushioned' by millions and millions of pounds, not 'cushioned,' in fact, by anything but very small financial reserves. (I've found nothing on 'Bookninja' remotely comparable, no comments remotely as unpleasant directed at people with millions and millions of dollars.)

When I read the reference to 'millions and millions of dollars,' what came to mind immediately was 'The Poetry Foundation' of Chicago, with its enormous wealth.

George Murray mentions his intelligence as well as his wit and humour. He says of 'Bookninja,' 'We really wanted the site to be a chatty place for a few friends (and perhaps anyone new who stumbled on to us) to discuss books the way we used to at the pub—fast, loose, and intelligent.' People who don't appreciate his humour are 'tone deaf.' He'd probably regard people who don't appreciate his intelligence fully as deeply unintelligent.

I just can't stand George Murray's smugness here, the certainty he seems to feel that he's witty, intelligent, the smugness of his conviction that his site is the best literary site in Canada and one of the best in the world. His comments on psychopathy and myself aren't immeasurably superior in wit and intelligence to the comment on 'The Daily Telegraph' Website, 'What a dickhead......!!!'

There's a great deal on the 'Bookninja' site which shows George Murray in a much better light, far less smug and far more thoughtful, for example this: He's discussing the poetry glut: 'while many others are out “promoting poetry” by reading on street corners and holding events to “increase the profile of poetry”, I basically sit on my ass at home and scribble away. I’ve given up thinking in terms of readers, writers, audiences, performers, and even “contemporaries”. I try to just think in terms of poems now. And beyond that, in terms of art. Sometimes it works.'

I comment on George Murray's 'thought-rhyme' on the page Linkage by meaning.

On the page of Janet Reid's blog where I'm described by Angela Robbins as a 'bad, bad crazy man.' there's a comment from Anne R Allen, who works in publishing and is based in Los Osos, California. She describes me as 'the nincompoop from Sheffield.'

'Anne R Allen's blog' has a section, 'Can you write a publishable first novel? 8 Do's and Don'ts to increase your chances: 'DO activate your inner sadist. Never let your characters get what they need. Throw as many obstacles into their path as possible. Hurt them. Maim them. Give them cruel parents and girlfriends who are preparing to kill them for alien lizard food. It’s OK. You’ll solve their problems in the end. Then won’t you feel good?'

An extract from Angela Robbins' blog 'Chip off the old writer's block: 'ohmigoodness ... i'm so excited, and i just can't hide it ... can i get a whoop, whoop?' (Joy at winning a writing competition judged by Janet Reid, who describes the finalists as 'outstanding.') Another example of Angela Robbins' writing: 'the beast of it, the best of it. well my beast got better, thanks to a good writing buddy ... yes, i meant write now, because my WIP is a beast. i'm back to hashing out my ya paranormal beast of burden. i shelved it for a while. i needed to get a clear mind and then revisit it. and let's just say i've been revisiting it day and night for some weeks.

'a nice chap is beta reading it currently and offering some great suggestions. can't wait until he's gotten to the end. this is like waiting for christmas morning to come.'

And one more example: 'i'm totally bummed. i can't think of one thing to write about. guess i won't be doing much chipping away today!'

Janet Reid is known by members of the coterie whose comments she publishes on her blog, or some of them at least, as 'The Shark.' She has a blog called 'Query Shark.'

Janet Reid didn't offer anything in the way of argument or discussion in her piece. These aren't obligatory in such postings as these. The point was made by no more than the title, 'What rhymes with lunatic?' and by this: 'And now it turns out that reading too much poetry can turn you into a lunatic.' And by the link to Bookninja. The 'attack' wasn't in the least formidable and 'shark-like.' It was more like the attempt to bite of a midge. The name 'The Midge' seems more suitable than 'The Shark' (with reference only to Janet Reid's attacking powers, with no criticism intended of her general state of intellectual, cultural and moral development, of course. The name 'The Shark' is obviously intended only to refer to attacking power. Sharks don't have well developed intellectual, cultural and moral powers.)

Janet Reid writes 'What rhymes with lunatic?' not 'What rhymes with 'lunatic?' ' If Janet Reid wants to have a discussion of metaphor and poetic imagery in general which goes beyond trite and facetious name-calling but has a degree of sophistication, she would do well to examine carefully the arguments for careful use of inverted commas.

Another contributor to Janet Reid's blog, 'Steeleweed' referring to me, wrote amongst other things, 'There is no limit to stupidity.' 'Steeleweed' is Ray L Saunders.

On his Website, he writes, 'The Internet has ‘democratized’ information. Democracy in any area has the virtue of letting good things arise from anywhere. It has the downside of letting bad things arise from anywhere.

'It is now easier for well-informed, educated, thoughtful people to communicate and for misinformed, ignorant, thoughtless people to communicate. We have no problem with that as long as everyone is held accountable. The Internet may do us all a favor in the long run by forcing us to be more attentive to what we read.' I agree! He also writes 'Between the politicians and the Internet, we have enough stupidity and we don't want to encourage it here.'

On the evidence I have, his critical powers are far greater than those of Angela Robbins, to give only one example. But this declaration of the importance of avoiding ignorance and thoughtlessness was made by someone whose reading on this occasion was superficial and uncritical, someone who should have been more attentive to what he read, and someone who chose to add his contribution to Janet Reid's dismal - much worse than dismal - piece.

Kenny Hodgart wrote in a Scottish newspaper, 'The Herald,' after reading one newspaper report, and, like so many others, believing everything in it, it seems, 'You've met Mr Hurt's type: not thick exactly, just a bit impervious to nuance, a bit cognitively impaired, like Sarah Palin maybe ...'

His piece ended, 'One wonders whether the animal rights folk ever got round to complaining about Philip Larkin’s line about taking a pitchfork to a toad, or indeed whether the ancient Chinese poet Li Shangyin ever received answers to his question: “How far can a pomegranate-blossom whisper?”

'Perhaps, for simplicity’s sake, Mr Hurt should be directed towards Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all/ ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

'Chances are he would be unsettled by the idea of talking urn, however. A little learning can be a dangerous thing.'

The relevance of Philip Larkin's 'line' about taking a pitchfork to a toad isn't clear. The references to the toad and the pitchfork in Philip Larkin's poem 'Toads' ('The Less Deceived') are in separate lines:

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

The relevance of "How far can a pomegranate-blossom whisper?" isn't clear.

The relevance of the quote (he gives the punctuation incorrectly) from the closing lines of Keats' 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' isn't clear. ''Chances are he would be unsettled by the idea of talking urn, however' is ridiculous. His comment 'for simplicity's sake ...' is spectacularly naive. The last two lines of Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' have generated a very great deal of literary controversy. The opposing views are often radically opposed. This isn't in the least to simplify.

T S Eliot, in his essay 'Dante' (1929) wrote, '... on re-reading the whole Ode, this line ['Beauty is truth, truth beauty ...'] strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem, and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it, or that it is a statement which is untrue. And I suppose that Keats meant something by it, however remote his truth and his beauty may have been from these words in ordinary use. And I am sure that he would have repudiated any explanation of the line which called it a pseudo-statement ... The statement of Keats seems to me meaningless: or perhaps the fact that it is grammatically meaningless conceals another meaning from me.' Cleanth Brooks, in 'The Well-Wrought Urn: studies in the structure of poetry' (1947) defended the lines. The lines seem to me far more than a blemish, but T S Eliot's arguments seem to me inadequate.

From a blog called 'Newgate News:' Paul Hurt is 'obviously a dedicated man prepared to make considerable personal sacrifices for the principles he holds.

' ... The concept of metaphor, or of extended imagery, seems to have passed him by, suggesting a certain lack of imagination - or sense of humour. This is, of course, borne out by his refusal to accept a ticket for the reading; Mr Hurt's mind is made up, so why would he want to find out more?' As regards humour, the writer could take a look at my illustrated page Ripples.

The writer here goes by the name of 'Macheath.' Following responses to this issue of Seamus Heaney and the bullfight has involved me for a short time in the world of lightweight, lacklustre blogs (following other issues has introduced the world of very interesting blogs.) In my admittedly limited experience, lacklustre bloggers don't tend to give themselves lacklustre names. Macheath the blogger has chosen the name of Macheath from 'The Beggar's Opera,' the charismatic hero-villain. If 'Macheath' wanted a more suitable name, but one which retains the antique suggestions, then he could consider 'Blunder-buss.' This has the disadvantage of not being lacklustre, though. But this would be to draw attention to one mistaken comment. In actual fact, there are far more lightweight and lacklustre blogs than his. The blog contains good things and I quote an example below.

Another blogger, 'Sordello,' not nearly as good as the likes of Blogger Macheath, writes, 'its bloggin’ time. As is often the case on these here bloggin’ things there may not actually be enough to write about, such is the mush of the mind. This is why I am blogging about blogging ... ' He ends his few lines of musing with mention of 'this entire show, wandering about like Sordello as it will.' Who wants to waste time reading about the difficulties of finding something to write about?

Sordello makes a bizarre criticism of me. Immediately after quoting me (on the development section of Beethoven's eighth symphony) he writes, 'I bet you’ve never even wrote ‘White Fang’, have you?' 'White Fang' obviously refers to the novel of the American writer Jack London. He's quite right that I've never written this novel, but why I should be criticized for not having written it is beyond me.

'Sordello' gives a link to the Wikipedia page on Sordello, which provides this information: 'Sordello da Goito or Sordel de Goit (sometimes Sordell) was a 13th-century Lombard troubadour, born in the municipality of Goito in the province of Mantua. He is perhaps best remembered for the praise heaped on him by other poets: he is praised by Dante Alighieri in the De vulgari eloquentia, and in the Purgatorio of The Divine Comedy is made the type of patriotic pride. He is the hero of the well-known poem Sordello by Robert Browning. He is also praised for his passion in Oscar Wilde's poem "Amor Intellectualis".'

Sordello the Blogger, unlike Sordello the Troubadour, won't be 'best remembered for the praise heaped on him by other poets,' as a 'hero,' or 'praised for his passion.'

Another blogger writes of the 'Adventure of thick headed libtard,' which contains this comment about me: 'this jerk ... Once a libtard makes up what passes for a mind, it’s super glued there forever.' ('Libtard' combines the first syllable of 'liberal' and the last syllable of 'retard.') This appears on the site 'Barking Moonbat Early Warning System.' This is another name which is too flattering. A simple change to 'Barking Moonbat' would make the name less interesting, more suited to the content.

In The Daily Telegraph Website one contributor, known to me only as 'Squarepeg' (but there's another contributor with this name) writes of me 'As for refusing a free ticket - Mr Hurt is obviously a philistine.' I mention above Squarepeg's failure of critical thinking (but only this Squarepeg), accepting without question Richard Alleyne's report that 'a free ticket' was offered to me.

'Squarepeg' might be surprised to find that before going to the venue, I bought a copy of Seamus Heaney's most recent volume of poetry, 'Human Chain,' at the Aldeburgh bookshop to add to my collection of books by or about Seamus Heaney. I'd already ordered a copy of 'The Cure at Troy,' Seamus Heaney's version of Sophocles' 'Philoctetes.' I've added a discussion of The Cure at Troy to the page on Seamus Heaney translations and I comment on Human Chain on this page, in connection with Seamus Heaney and the starving or hungry.

It turns out that I'm not such a philistine after all. For example, I play the violin and viola and I've played in orchestras and string quartets.

The comments of 'Lorelei' and Eleanor Turney are given on 'The Daily Telegraph Website ('Social Media Reactions.') The comments are identical: 'Poor Famous Seamus ... Oh dearie me, someone needs metaphor explaining.' The information is given that Lorelei 'retweets' Eleanor Turney.

'Lorelei' is Kim Lofthouse of York, an arts administrator who describes herself as a 'creative person.' I emailed Kim Lofthouse to inform her that there was material on this page which mentioned her comment on me. She's perhaps found now that the internet can be a rougher world than she imagined. The world of free, uncensored debate can be a rough world. 'Macheath' is very good on this aspect of the internet. He gives ' ... the message that anything published on the internet is immediately beyond your control. The best advice I’ve heard is ‘Don't put anything online today unless you’d be happy to see it on the side of a bus tomorrow’. (From his blog, 'Newgate News.')

Too many people who make comments on the internet are living the illusion of a risk-free life. They imagine that they can post whatever they like on the internet, sometimes for no better reason than 'having a laugh,' without any risk of adverse reaction on the internet.

If I'm to argue that, despite the comment 'Oh dearie me, someone needs metaphor explaining,' I'm not ignorant of metaphor after all, then it helps to quote these exact words. Of course, I can quote them freely. This denial of permission has no legal force. Quoting the comment doesn't infringe copyright. Copyright law allows quoting in reviewing and criticism which is 'fair dealing.' I make every attempt to observe copyright scrupulously in this site, as when I quote poetry or provide images (Most of the images in this site come from photographs I've taken or have been purchased from i-stockphoto. The others are Wikipedia images used in accordance with the licence.)

Lorelei is yet another person who has chosen a pseudonym with deeply interesting associations, in this case the dark romance of the Rhine and the myth of the siren luring men to destruction, the subject of poems by Clemens Brentano and Heinrich Heine.

Eleanor Turney is based in Cambridge (England) and an 'Editorial Co-ordinator for ArtsProfessional.' Eleanor Turney's use of her own name is very commendable.

Her poetry includes 'Postcard (On Telemachus),' about the development of a baby to the teenage years. Is this the Telemachus who was the son of Odysseus and Penelope? If so, he now appears in the kind of poem sometimes published by local newspapers, with mechanical rhymes throughout. It includes the lines (with this punctuation):

He grew fast
cried last.

Eleanor Turney's prose is generally wearisome. Even when it reads well enough, it's 'standard stuff.'

The comment of the two, 'Poor Famous Seamus' is facile, condescending and derivative: it's the rehashed comment of Clive James. This is an activity not much more taxing than that of the person who lies on a sofa all day, idly pressing remote control buttons to flick from one daytime TV channel to another.

Richard Alleyne and his editor, Tony Gallagher aren't responsible for the extreme reactions, but they have some responsibility for other reactions. 'The Daily Telegraph' reports, particularly the online version, contain distortions and falsifications which seem to me defamatory in the strict legal sense of the term: ' A defamatory allegation is one that tends to make right-thinking people think the worse of the claimant. In addition, allegations that would lead people to avoid the claimant or expose the claimant to ridicule may be defamatory even if they involve no moral blame.'

When I can show that I've been subjected to a great deal of ridicule as a result of Richard Alleyne's report, then surely an editor ought to take very seriously my contention that the report contained many false allegations and that its distortions were substantial.

'LabianQuest' comments on me, on 'The Daily Telegraph' Website, 'What a dickhead.....!!!' His other postings are sometimes just as direct, for instance this, 'At the Osteopaths, my wankers elbow has flared up again.' Tony Gallagher's vision of a quality newspaper seems flexible and inclusive. Perhaps he could consider giving 'LabianQuest' a job as Literary Editor of his newspaper.

I'm a polemicist. I can surely claim that. I see the need, sometimes, for acting in the spirit of this:

Cet animal est très méchant.
Si on l'attaque il se défend.

This animal is very wicked.
When one attacks, it defends itself.

(Jean de la Fontaine)

But only sometimes. I'm a polemicist to a certain extent, no more. I'm not a born complainer. I've practically never complained about anything - inedible food, shoddy workmanship, or anything else. On the few occasions when I have, I've almost always regretted it, even if it could easily be justified. The critic's role comes far more easily to me than the role of complainer but I frequently have qualms. My criticism isn't relentless. For example, I contacted one person who had given the whole of 'The Daily Telegraph' online report on his Website, pointing out the errors in the report. I made a few critical comments on the person's Website on this page. Within a short time, I removed all reference to this person and his Website, simply because I had respect for his achievement, not any achievement in his Website, but the achievement of his business, which I thought was a courageous one, undertaken in very difficult circumstances. Later, one of his friends or colleagues contacted me to say that the material on me had been removed from his Website. I hadn't asked for it to be removed. I've never asked that anyone should remove - or alter - any material critical of me. He said that the Website would be closed down, owing to pressure of work. I've removed other material as well.

Nothing of any importance to the discussion here was lost by removing these references. At one stage, I removed all reference to Jonathan Reekie, the Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music, and to Aldeburgh music as well, but these references were essential, and I reinstated them.

The chain of command: Alleyne and Gallagher

I'm far from being a perfectionist in my attitude to newspaper articles. Complete accuracy is obviously unattainable and so is the elimination of every trace of bias and distortion in comment. Newspaper people don't have endless time to reflect very carefully on everything they write. But 'The Daily Telegraph' internet report, and the print version too, but to a lesser extent, were grossly biased and grossly distorted. For seven weeks, 'The Daily Telegraph' showed no willingness to take any action, to defend their existing reports or even to acknowledge my letter of complaint.

1st November, 2010: at last, a letter from 'The Daily Telegraph' in an envelope marked 'Urgent' in large red letters. It acknowledges my letter of complaint of 8 September and my further letter of 16 September. The writer of the D.T.'s letter, Matthew Bayley, News Editor, apologizes for the delay in replying 'which was due to my absence on holiday.' He remarks, ' ... we have noted your comments that certain details in our reports are incorrect. We have made appropriate amendments to our web article.' The 'appropriate amendments' leave the false allegations uncorrected! This letter of Matthew Bayley's is clueless.

The idea appealed of presenting a supposedly naive and blundering 'animal rights protester' who hadn't bothered to check his facts properly, none too bright, out of his depth, ignorant of poetry (particularly poetic imagery) driving some distance in the pouring rain, someone who was impervious to 'evidence,' so-called, when his 'mistake' was pointed out to him by the organisers, carrying on regardless but giving up in the end. This was the 'narrative shape' of the story and the falsifications were published because they supported it.

A story about very careful preparation, information presented to the organisers well in advance, failure to respond on the part of the organisers, the handing out of leaflets quietly without any incident wouldn't have been nearly as colourful.

The Daily Telegraph Website is at the 'cutting-edge' of labyrinth construction. I spent a long time trying to find out the name of the current editor so that I could make a complaint about coverage in the newspaper. At last, I found a page which gave me the name of the current editor and contact information: Will Lewis, it claimed. But Will Lewis had left the post long before, on 26 November 2009! 'The Daily Telegraph' Website can't even get right the name of its editor. I phoned and found that the current editor is Tony Gallagher. I sent my letter of complaint to him on 8 September 2010 and a further letter on 16 September 2010. I have every reason to consider that the online and print reports on me published by his newspaper report multiple lies.

Seamus Heaney's transcendental experiences

Seamus Heaney's response in 'Stepping Stones: interviews with Seamus Heaney' to Dennis O' Driscoll's question, Did you take to the bullfight?

' ... it's still hard to know, even after you've been in attendance [he doesn't make clear how many bullfights he's attended]. I'm not sure what I'd feel about it nowadays ... I'm not saying it was without its cruelties, especially the goring of the bull by the picadors: a big iron-headed spear driving into the neck muscles and then the sweaty bleeding; that was brutal stuff.' I point out that it's common for bullfight supporters to acknowledge the brutality of the picador's spearing of the bull. This is no evidence of moral insight at all. 'I'm not saying it was without its cruelties' is half-hearted. Many bullfighting supporters have greater reservations than are expressed here. They acknowledge the suffering to the bull when lanced by the picador (but maintain that this is necessary so that the bull's head will be lowered in the final act) but they also acknowledge the suffering of the picador's horse when charged by the bull - not mentioned by Seamus Heaney.

Seamus Heaney continues with a passage which is indistinguishable from the writing of a bullfight supporter - the mention of 'choreography' and the rest. The tourists who walk out in disgust from a bullfight (A L Kennedy mentions some of them in her book 'On Bullfighting) show greater ethical depth than Seamus Heaney. He writes,

'But gradually, I would find myself in a kind of trance: the choreography in the ring and the surge and response of the crowd with the music going on and on just carried you away. And your focus stayed tight on the man and the bull. There was something hypnotic about the cloak-work ... Once you've been there, you're implicated, you have some inkling of what it must have been like in the Colosseum.'

I discuss Seamus Heaney and the Colosseum on the page 'Seamus Heaney: ethical depth?'

Before interviewer and interviewee leave the subject of bullfighting, there's this reply from Seamus Heaney which is as complete a claim for the transcendental importance of bullfighting as you'll find anywhere. It even has the Hemingway-endorsement:

'I ... felt that I'd been beyond my usual self ... You'd been taken up to a high mountain and shown things in yourself and the world, things you couldn't deny because - like Hemingway - you had been there.'

From the Website of the French anti-bullfighting organization 'Alliance anti-corrida,' 'Bullfights use the very perverse effects of seduction: colours, costumes full of light, brass bands, sunshine. Everything is set up in order to mask the bloody reality.' But the bloody reality is only masked for people who are easily deceived.

Bullfighters and bullfighting supporters aren't 'Nazis' - this is a word that has to be used very carefully - but there are linkages in their use of seduction and propaganda and in their mythologizing. Nazi Germany understood very well how to seduce the senses and mask the reality of its brutal and degraded regime: torchlit processions, the vast displays of might at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl's film 'Triumph of the Will' shows the Nuremberg uses Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung, the beating of drums, the singing of the Horst Wessel-Lied, the shadow of Hitler's plane, the consecration of Nazi Party flags, a giant swastika, silhouetted men, vast numbers of men. Ethical depth so often requires looking beyond the seductive appearance and if most Germans at the time never did so, some Germans were never fooled, and generally paid with their lives.

Nazi Germany used classical music too to mask its crimes. The great conductor Furtwängler tried to assert his independence but by the mid 1930's had effectively lost it. From Norman Lebrecht's 'Facing the Dictators' in 'The Maestro Myth: 'For the remainder of their Reich, the Nazis were able to do with him virtually as they pleased. He was the last internationally recognized conductor in Germany - Erich Kleiber had quit over the Hindemith case - and they used him blatantly for propaganda purposes. He conducted at party functions and, in two occupied countries, was driven to his concerts in an SS motorcade. 'He has done us great service abroad,' noted a satisfied Goebbels. Months into the War he added: 'Furtwängler reports on his trips to Switzerland and Hungary. He met with triumphal success everywhere. We can put him to good use, and at the moment he is very willing. He intends now to keep an eye on the music world in Vienna. And to go to Prague to raise our musical prestige.'

Whilst the regime took good care to manipulate the image, its regime of terror didn't spare the world of classical music. Jewish members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra were sent to the gas chambers. William L Shirer, 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,' of the purges of June 1934, not directed at classical musicians but with this casualty: 'One other murder deserves mention. At seven-twenty on the evening of June 30, Dr Willi Schmid, the eminent music critic of the Muenchener Neueste Nachrichten, a leading Munich daily newspaper, was playing the cello in his study while his wife prepared supper and their three children, aged nine, eight and two, played in the living-room of their apartment in the Schackstrasse in Munich. The doorbell rang, four S.S. men appeared and without explanation took Dr Schmid away. Four days later his body was returned in a coffin with orders from the Gestapo not to open it in any circumstances. Dr Willi Schmid, who had never participated in politics, had been mistaken by the S.S. thugs for Will Schmidt, a local S.A. leader, who in the meantime had been arrested by another S.S. detachment and shot.'

The mythologizing of Nazi Germany was flagrant and pervasive, based on lies which were known to be lies. The mythologizing of the bullfighting world is romanticized mythologizing. I discuss it in my pages on Bullfighting and my review of A L Kennedy's 'On Bullfighting.'

Seamus Heaney says in the interview, of attending a bullfight, 'I had to go ...' Anti-bullfighting organizations do all they can to undermine the finances of the bullrings and the whole bullfighting industry. They point out again and again that tourists, people curious about the bullfight who attend bullfights are supporting the bullfight with their money.

All this justified a leafletting, I'm sure. If I'd read these comments of Seamus Heaney beforehand, I would have felt no need whatsoever to stay away. Despite his comment, 'I'm not sure what I'd feel about it nowadays' (which gives no impression of profound reflection on the issue, and which may have simply been his feeling at that time on that day - not every answer to an interviewer accurately conveys a feeling or a conviction), the comments which follow suggest that the bullfight has a continuing hold on him.

An editor who was compiling a book of quotations in favour of bullfighting would surely be very, very interested in securing Seamus Heaney's permission to include what Seamus Heaney says about bullfighting in 'Stepping Stones.' The reservations in the book are minor compared with the fact that Seamus Heaney claims rapt, intense, deeply significant experience at a bullfight.

When Seamus Heaney said of the bullfight, 'You'd been taken up to a high mountain and shown things in yourself and the world ...' it's very unlikely that there was a conscious reference to the third temptation of Christ: 'Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world ...' (Gospel according to Matthew, 4: 8) but the similarity in wording is very striking. In The Paris Review interview with Seamus Heaney he says that he doesn't know if he believes in the devil or not, an answer which will surprise many readers with a secular world view. (He also elaborates on a comparison he had made between the work of the poet and Jesus writing in the sand.)

Seamus Heaney would have done better to have acknowledged that he'd attended a bullfight or more than one bullfight - if he's attended many bullfights then he should be honest and say so, of course. If the account can be trusted in 'Stepping Stones,' he last attended a bullfight a long time ago, and he could have asserted that this was so. (As I only recently found out about the account, this is a claim I haven't been aware of for very long.) I don't, however, see it as 'disrespectful' to call for a little fact-checking, some corroboration, for this. In the controversy that followed my leafletting, he failed to admit that he'd ever attended a bullfight, despite the clear evidence of his answers in 'Stepping Stones.' People have already been given the impression, surely, that Seamus Heaney has never attended a bullfight. The image of Seamus Heaney as someone with such a high degree of 'ethical depth' has to be preserved.

I don't think that Seamus Heaney's answers to the questions of interviewers are always as straightforward as they seem. Often, his answers, for all the appearance of uninhibited freshness, have a caution, a prudence, a discretion which I've good reason to think aren't virtues. Some literary people have been very outspoken on topics such as Moslem extremism, the drastic action taken against Salman Rushdie (I'm trying at the moment to find out if Seamus Heaney was one of the writers who signed the statement in his support - I've no reason to think that he didn't) to confine attention to just one set of issues. In general, Seamus Heaney is neither outspoken nor, of course, one of those writers who are intensely private, who only rarely speak about their art, let alone other issues.

If Seamus Heaney's answers to interview questions aren't invariably candid, his response to my leafletting was far from candid also. In the print version of 'The Daily Telegraph' report, it was stated that 'The author was not available for comment.' By that stage, there had been reliance upon intermediaries, above all Jonathan Reekie, who pronounced on matters of poetic imagery. I show in this section that his comments didn't answer the objections, but of course criticism of what Jonathan Reekie said isn't direct criticism of Seamus Heaney himself. There was no acknowledgment that Seamus Heaney had experience of bullfighting as a spectator. The impression was surely given that Seamus Heaney has never attended a bullfight. There's not the least doubt that he has. Seamus Heaney has been able to preserve his Olympian detachment but Jonathan Reekie has been placed in an unfair position here, I think. Seamus Heaney ought to have made a statement, giving his own view of the significance of imagery, if he felt that it has great relevance to the issue. I realize the demands on his time. A long statement would have been unnecessary.

In a review of 'Stepping Stones' published in 'The New Criterion,' William Logan wrote 'The poet needed few excuses for moving out of Belfast in 1972, during some of the worst of the sectarian murders; but those offered (“The apprenticeship was over …” he says. “The required thing was to step away a bit”) prove no less shifty and unconvincing than Auden’s for emigrating to America in the shadow of World War II.'

Jeffrey Side, in an essay published in 'Jacket Magazine' with the title The Dissembling Poet comments on the distortions he finds in Seamus Heaney's response to the avant-garde in poetry and claims that he's 'practised in casuistry and dissembling.' Seamus Heaney's statements shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value. Seamus Heaney's response to a very different matter, bullfighting, has to be examined very carefully, sceptically rather than unthinkingly. If a politician claims 'I support X' or 'I don't support Y,' interviewers, unless completely uncritical, don't regard that as the end of the matter and report that obviously the politician supports X or doesn't support Y. The claim has to be scrutinized. I think that Seamus Heaney, who has certainly cultivated his public persona, is quite often speaking as the poet-politician. I don't in the least regard all politicians with cynicism. There are many politicians I respect and admire, but complete acceptance of everything politicians say is obviously unwise. So much of what Seamus Heaney has to say is humane and well-informed and I see no reason to regard everything he says with cynicism. I see no reason, though, to accept completely everything he has to say. This is a very radical idea to some people in the literary world.

The leaflet I distributed stressed the notion of ethical depth. The notion of ethical depth is central here, and underlies the varied content of this page. The notion of ethical depth was my starting point. I began with the claim for Seamus Heaney's ethical depth in the Nobel Prize citation. I claimed in the leaflet I distributed, and do claim, that a writer who can describe the stabbing of a bull six times (after the bull has already been speared two or three times by the picador) as 'closer to comedy than tragedy' lacks ethical depth as regards this issue.

I'd say that I'm suspicious of 'the trance' which Seamus Heaney mentions in his reply. 'The trance' is a perfectly possible response at a bullfight but all the accounts known to me which have a bearing on the matter - by bullfighting supporters - agree on the rarity of such an experience: for the stabbing and killing of a single bull, even, but certainly for the stabbing and killing of all six bulls at a bullfight. If the cape work at the 'faena' has brought about a trance, it's more likely than not to be dissipated at the time of the killing.

Again and again, the sword thrust fails to kill the bull. The sword hits bone or is embedded in the bull without killing it. In the image at the top of this section, the sword intended to kill the bull can be seen embedded in the bull with its handle protruding but the bull is still on its feet. The bull is encouraged to turn so that the sword rips its internal organs, but often this fails to work. The sword is pulled out and plunged in again or the spine is hacked with a knife or a sword with a broad blade, the 'descabello,' before the bull is dragged out of the arena.

In 'Death in the Afternoon,' Hemingway describes the killing of a bull, the first bull he ever saw killed, claiming high emotion. He describes the killing of the second bull at this same bullfight: ' ... when, on the next bull, I watched closely the emotion was gone and I saw it was a trick.' The other four bulls at this bullfight likewise. 'I saw fifty bulls killed after that before I had the emotion again.' But again, I refer to my discussion 'skepticism and the emotions' to make clear my view of the 'emotion' Hemingway felt when he saw this first bull killed.

Such transcendental emotions may seem to be very powerful arguments in favour of bullfighting (which is why an editor of a pro-bullfighting book would be very interested in securing permission to print his words) but when they are examined carefully, it's found that they are ineffective arguments. See my discussion of scepticism and the emotions in my page on Bullfighting: arguments against and action against.

From that section: 'Nietzsche, 'Thus spake Zarathustra,' Part 3: 'For man is the cruellest animal. At tragedies, bullfights and crucifixions, he has hitherto been happiest on earth...' People are denied the intense emotions of a crucifixion for very good reasons: not due to modern squeamishness or sentimentality, but due to a real modern advance. Moral advances in our attitude to animals make the strong emotions of the bullfight just as wrong.'

The reservations concerning bullfighting in Seamus Heaney's 'Stepping Stones' interview are very muted in comparison with the reservations expressed in this account (from the Website of Alexander Fiske-Harrison: 'Whether or not the artistic quality of the bullfight outweighs the moral question of the animals’ suffering is something that each person must decide for themselves ...

'I spent most of last year travelling with bullfighters to watch them work in bullrings and ranches of Spain, France and Portugal. Following a couple of forays into the ring myself – including running with the bulls in Pamplona – this year I am training with the matador Eduardo Dávila Miura in order to kill a single bull so I can finish the project with a true sense of completeness.

'Although many will argue that this destroys any semblance of impartiality in my writing, that does not mean I do not understand – and write about – the horrible cruelties involved in bullfighting.

'There is simply no denying that watching many bullfights in a row inures one to the spectacle of the fight, and undoubtedly to the suffering of the animal.'

It would be difficult to describe a man who recently ran with the bulls at Pamplona and has been training as a bullfighter as a 'don't know' rather than a supporter of the bullfight.

Documents on the state of the British press

I quote from the document The Quality and Independence of British Journalism, part of the 'Journalism and Public Trust Project' and written by Professor Justin Lewis and other members of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. The report is available from the Mediawise Website. The report will enlighten, and astonish, anyone whose view of journalism and the work of journalists fails to appreciate the radical changes of the last twenty years.

' ... direct replication is rarely attributed as such. We found many stories apparently written by one of the newspaper’s own reporters that seem to have been cut and pasted from elsewhere. So, for example, a front page story from the Daily Telegraph about the problems at the Wembley stadium site (‘Now Wembley has broken sewer pipes’, Daily Telegraph, March 24th 2006, p1) was attributed to reporter Richard Alleyne. Most of the key facts and quotations, however, are also present in the Press Association copy from the day before, and the remaining information replicates that found in two articles in the Sun and the Evening Standard from the previous day.'

In his letter to me, Matthew Bayley, the News Editor of The Daily Telegraph, informed me that Richard Alleyne had used material provided by a news agency, which he didn't name. It's possible that it may have been the Press Association.

Next, a general comment from the report in connection with some data. This concerns particularly 'information' from Public Relations bodies:

'Taken together, these data portray a picture of the journalistic processes of newsgathering and news reporting in which any meaningful independent journalistic activity by the press is the exception rather than the rule. We are not talking about
investigative journalism here, but the everyday practices of news judgment, fact checking, balance, criticising and interrogating sources etc., that are, in theory, central to routine, day to day journalism practice. News, especially in print, is routinely
recycled from elsewhere, and yet the widespread use of other material is rarely attributed to its source (as in ‘according to PA…’ or ‘a press release from X suggests that…’). Such practices would, elsewhere, be regarded as straightforward plagiarism; certainly in the academy.

' ... it is clear that most journalists are restrained by economic and
organisational factors and thereby required to draft and process too many stories for publication to be able to operate with the freedom and independence necessary to work effectively. The danger signalled here is that the best values of journalistic
integrity will become a luxury.'

There's 'less time for real investigations, or meeting and developing contacts. The arrival of online editions has also increased demand for quick copy, reducing the time available for checking the facts."

Next, I quote from a review by John Lanchester of Flat Earth News by Nick Davies.' The review was published in the London Review of Books (Vol. 30, No. 5.)

Some reviewers have concluded that Nick Davies' portrayal is too pessimistic.Nick Davies, commenting on the reaction to his book on the Website www.ideasfestival.co.uk 'What is the reaction now, one year on, from colleagues? In the first month or so, there was some eyewatering hostility from senior Fleet Street figures and also from some of those individuals who come out badly from the book. Since then, however, the book has been supported by thousands of journalists, print and broadcast, local and national in the UK and abroad, who have contacted me to endorse the book’s arguments and who have helped me by writing about the book and inviting me to speak at public meetings.'

This page isn't concerned with an overall estimate of the extent of these problems, obviously. It doesn't give a survey. I give the quotes simply because my own experience - the experience of the reporting of a single event, and comments and allegations concerning this event - has led me to an intensified interest in the state of the press. If I based my sampling only on my own experiences, then my own estimate of the state of the British press would be ultra-pessimistic, but I often read things in the press which are well-argued and well-written, sometimes things which are heartening and occasionally things which are courageous. I even have a very extensive collection of press cuttings - pieces which have impressed me very much and which I've kept.

There are many writers for newspapers who are outstanding and if newspapers sometimes show courage, their writers show courage quite often, and sometimes very great courage. Writers for newspapers work under a system which most of them have never actively promoted and which many of them dislike, it may well be.

If research, including fact-checking, is a weakness of very many newspapers, then comment and analysis are great strengths of very many newspapers. To restrict attention to one issue only, the comment and analysis in so many newspapers at the time of the Troubles in Northern Ireland was incisive and very clear-sighted, unlike the comment and analysis of Seamus Heaney at the time, for example.

I don't lack appreciation for The Daily Telegraph for some of its coverage. The paper undertook a campaign to keep mobile phones off planes in 2007 and had a petition (which I signed, although I haven't flown anywhere for decades.)

John Lanchester writes of 'Flat Earth News,' 'His book starts at the point at which he got interested in the story of what he calls 'flat earth news': 'A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true - even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda.' That's flat earth news, and Davies became interested in the phenomenon, via the story of the millennium bug.' This example is obviously remote from any experience of mine, but the illustrative examples are innumerable and of the utmost variety.

'The most basic function of journalism, in Davies's view, is to check facts. Journalists don't just pass on what they're told without making an effort to check it first. At least, in theory they don't. In practice, contemporary journalism has been corrupted by an endemic failure to verify facts and stories in a manner so fundamental that it almost defies belief. The consequences of that are pervasive and systemic.

Nick Davies recruited researchers at Cardiff University's school of journalism to quantify what was happening in the British press. The result is illuminating and grim. There's an extract from the book which shows the dominance of 'wire copy' and/or PR material. ' ... the researchers went on to look at those stories which relied on a specific statement of fact and found that with a staggering 70 per cent of them [in that particular sample, of course], the claimed fact passed into print without any corroboration at all. Only 12 per cent of these stories showed evidence that the central statement had been thoroughly checked.

'As for the wire copy, most of it comes from the Press Association ... it matters deeply what the PA actually does - and here Davies has more grimness to impart. The agency's network of reporters is stretched increasingly thin ... The staffers, according to one of them, write an average of ten stories in a single shift: 'I don't usually spend more than an hour on a story' ... Because the PA is the basis for such a huge proportion of what's in the papers, and because its stories tend not to be checked, it is a highly effective way for PRs to plant stories across all the national media simultaneously.

'So we have arrived at a place where 'the heart of modern journalism' has become 'the rapid repackaging of largely unchecked second-hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it' ... [Nick Davies] thinks that it's sheer commercial pressure that is to blame. It's the pressure on costs - to produce more, cheaper copy - that is the ultimate culprit for the state of the modern press.'

The Media Standards Trust is 'a registered charity set up to foster high standards in news on behalf of the public ... ' Their page http://journalisted.com/article/1lf7e is yet another of those pages which have given wider currency to misinformation and false allegations, yet another of those pages which do no more than copy, without examining sufficiently whatever is copied, without examining it at all. The page draws attention to Janet Reid's comments - following the link will give access to the comparison of my appearance with a psychopath's - and gives a link to 'Adventure of thick headed libtard,' which contains this comment about me: 'this jerk ... Once a libtard makes up what passes for a mind, it’s super glued there forever.' ('Libtard' here is perhaps the conjunction of 'liberal' and 'retard.') Why The Media Standards Trust needs to increase the prominence of such obnoxious pieces is a mystery. By this time, my own detailed objections to the original report and these bloggers was online, but The Media Standards Trust made no mention of it. I contacted Martin Moore, the Director of the organization, to make my objections. His reply was very inadequate. He commented, 'For some reason the software we use to find posts linking to articles did not work in this case.'

After I contacted them, the Trust gave a link to my discussion of the issues, but in acting as automated copiers of garbage, they've fallen well short of the standards that could be expected of them.

The Website of Edgeways Books criticized the satirical magazine 'Private Eye' very effectively, pointing out that, far from acting as a healthy corrective to some dismal trends in Britain, the magazine was now part of those trends to a great extent. For example, 'Private Eye' is preoccupied with celebrity culture' rather than criticizing the excesses of 'celebrity culture.' The same is true of The Media Standards Trust in this case: it was part of the trend - automated dissemination of misinformation and false allegations - instead of being a healthy corrective to those trends.

Anyone who's the subject of blatantly distorted and unfair newspaper reporting in this country, and who finds an assortment of bloggers and others spreading the false allegations shouldn't expect the Media Standards Trust to be the least help. Their Website may simply spread the false allegations even more widely.

Joe Simpson and death on the Eiger

 I write about the mountaineer Joe Simpson (who lives in Sheffield too) on my page on smoking. On his Website, he writes about the  reporting of mountaineering accidents in the British press, the general carelessness and lack of concern for accuracy - and about the multiple failures of a piece in The Daily Telegraph:

 
'Why did I have a 'go' at the press? Because I was sick to death of reading woefully inaccurate accounts of climbing accidents. Some were so bad that you didn't even need to know the real story to realise that the report was fatuous, unchecked speculation on a subject that the reporter clearly knew nothing about and - assuming his readers were just as ignorant - was happy to present as fact. 

'The nasty suspicion that the same lax standards were applied to every other piece I read was inescapable. ... Stories are head lined not because of their import but because the press believes that is what people want to read - because it sells copy. If accuracy and journalistic integrity have to go by the way side then so be it. 

...

I admit, climbing accidents however tragic, are not world news. A few more deaths to add to the millions that occur every day. In truth their significance barely warrants publication. Yet they are often dramatic, tragic, even grisly stories - good for sales. 

'Recently I returned from an attempt on the North Face of the Eiger, which was marred by the sad deaths of two climbers, Matthew Hayes, 31, (UK) and Phillip O'Sullivan, 26, (NZ), who fell from the second ice field past Ray Delaney and I who were sheltering at the Swallows Nest bivouac. We saw nothing at the time and only found out what had happened when a helicopter appeared on the scene, though we later viewed horrifying footage of the accident captured by a Channel 4 film crew. 

' ... The Independent, The Guardian and The Telegraph all got it wrong. I didn't bother to read the tabloids. 
In fact The Telegraph appeared to invent whatever story it thought might fit the scant details they had. 


o They said the pair had fallen into a valley beneath the mountain. Wrong as well as wildly improbable. Their bodies were recovered from the face. 
o They said the pair had fallen from the upper ice field on the last part of the climb. Wrong. The climbers that were filmed were not on the 'upper ice field' but on the Second Ice Field - a point just over halfway up the face but below many of the most difficult sections of the climb. The lead climber was not held by the rope at all. As soon as the tension came on the second climber, he too was dragged from his position. 
o They said Kleine Scheidegg was a mountain. Wrong. It is a small hamlet beneath and slightly west of the North Face of the Eiger, where the trains from Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald connect with the train to the Jungfraujoch. 
o They reported that Channel 4 had refused to hand over its original film of the fall taken from Kleine Scheidegg. Wrong. The Channel 4 team did everything possible to help the police and guides immediately providing them with copies of the film. Ray and I who had seen the film also helped with the investigation providing them with an eye witness account of the conditions on the face. 
o They reported that I had survived an accident on the face 15 years previously and that I had witnessed the fall first hand. Wrong. Fifteen years ago I survived an accident on the west face of Siula Grande in Peru - not, as reported, on the North Face of the Eiger. I wrote about this experience in a widely available book called Touching the Void that is known throughout the climbing community both in Britain and overseas. Before September this year, I had never previously been on the North Face of the Eiger. Although I was in close proximity to the accident that occurred on the North Face of the Eiger on Tuesday 12 September this year, I did not personally witness the fall. I did however review the film footage prior to being questioned by police and guides. 
o They reported that the first British Ascent of the Eiger was in 1977 by Doug Scott. Wrong. It was climbed between 29 and 31 August 1962 by Chris Bonington and Ian Clough. Doug Scott broke both his legs on the Ogre in July 1977. Eiger and Ogre mean the same thing but one is in Switzerland the other is in the Karakoram, Pakistan. 
Simon Wells representing Channel 4 refuted inaccurate and poor journalistic coverage of the accident in The Telegraph. Kurt Amacher, who The Telegraph quoted as the 'head of the rescue team that recovered the bodies', was unknown to him. In the report, they say Kurt Amacher 'said he was angry that Channel 4 had refused to hand over its original film'. They then quote him thus: "They kept the original and I'm sure they are going to use this and make money out of this shocking footage. It's terrible to do this without any regard for the relatives." 
o What actually happened after the accident was that Channel 4 were approached by the local police in Grindelwald who asked if they might see the recording of the accident for evidential purposes. Channel 4 showed them all the footage they wished to see and then offered to make a duplicate copy of the tape in digital format - an offer for which they were very grateful. Channel 4 co-operated fully with the investigating authorities in the aftermath of this accident and Simon Wells was extremely angry that the overall tone and implication of the article was to the contrary. 

'So what does this say about the standards of journalism in a supposedly respectable broadsheet newspaper. Not a great deal. All these facts could be easily checked. No-one thought it a good idea apparently.'

Richard Alleyne is a versatile journalist, but too often either barely competent or incompetent.  When he turned his nimble mind to drama and wrote about the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Peter Weiss's play 'Marat / Sade' (the abbreviated title), he couldn't even get right the name of the dramatist. He was under the impression that the play was written by 'Paul Weiss.' His science journalism contains elementary errors. Like many, many school pupils, but unlike informed writers on science with professional standards, he thinks that the element phosphorus has the spelling 'phosphorous.'

I've good reason for thinking that Richard Alleyne can be a very careless and irresponsible journalist but I'm not alone in my view. I mention on this page some people who have a low opinion of some of his journalism: the writer who claims that Richard Alleyne is a lying piece of shit, the more restrained criticism of Professor David Colquhoun FRS, who wrote
'Why was a study on ‘acupuncture’ reported so badly? ... The worst of the lot was Richard Alleyne, in the Daily Telegraph' and the writer who maintains that Richard Alleyne (at that time the paper's 'Science Correspondent') should be called The Daily Telegraph's 'Science Fiction Correspondent.'

Boyan Timotijevic, in a critical piece On child abduction and bad journalism points out some elementary errors in another piece by Richard Alleyne: 'I can’t say that Alleyne’s attention to detail fills me with confidence ...  In one part Jennifer Jones is 45, but further down the article she inexplicably turns 46… and the timeline in this article is structured in reverse/from the bottom up; so in the upper part, Ms Jones is 45 and had already been caught by the police, but in the latter part she reverse-ages to 46 and is still on the run.'  A complex and harrowing situation where appearance and reality were in conflict, a conflict which needed some untangling, some patient and sensitive work on the part of the journalist, was treated in terms of 'badly written sensationalism.'

Richard Alleyne was far more fortunate when he reported on metaphor and poetic imagery, in the reports about me.   Kenny Hodgart, 'Macheath,' The Poetry Foundation, 'Squarepeg,' Eleanor Turner, 'Lorelei' [Kim Lofthouse], 'LabianQuest,' George Murray, Janet Reid, Angela Robbins and some others seem to have had a touching / hilarious / badly misguided faith in his reporting on poetry. T
hese individuals have written about many other matters, of course. I've taken the time to read a great deal of it, to arrive at a fuller ((survey)). Some of them give mediocrity a bad name, but not all.

Kenny Hodgart is a writer I respect, for instance - for his good writing, not his sub-routine piece. I quote him very appreciatively on the page Israel: boycotts and music, for example. (On the same page, I quote appreciatively from a piece in 'The Daily Telegraph,' on the bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN.)

As for The Daily Telegraph, my own criticisms here are concerned with one of its (former) writers only. I stress my  appreciation for this outstanding newspaper. I'm conservative in many of my views. This is obviously to simplify the range of comment to be found in The Daily Telegraph and my own views, but more often than not,  I'm in agreement with the paper's conservative stance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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