Learning from Writing 101

First of all, I should apologize for not having completed all the Writing 101 assignments. I am sure that, had I done so, I would have gleaned much more from the course. Nevertheless, as someone who is relatively new to blogging, I learnt an enormous amount and am very grateful to the organizers for this.
Perhaps the most important lesson came from the pressure to post regularly—something I have hitherto been reluctant to do. This was helped greatly by being encouraged not to be too self-critical. After all, there is no feedback but paranoia, unless you put stuff out there! And I was pleasantly surprised by the warmly positive comments I received on posts that, had it not been for this course, I would certainly have self-censored, endlessly edited, or not produced at all.
Having to produce texts relatively regularly also helped me to strive to be more succinct and I found myself becoming more aware that I am writing for a much wider audience than I am accustomed to and adapting my style and extending my repertoire accordingly.
Although I baulked at some tasks—short-stories and dialogue aren’t really my thing—I found the course helped me out of a rut I had fallen into of thinking that a blog should be a kind of journalistic extension of essentially academic discourse… I took the opportunity to try out posts with a different kind of style and content and found this both liberating and rewarding in equal measure.
I was especially impressed by the global reach of this project and the diversity of the potential audience. I have certainly changed my approach to blogging in the light of this experience and would like, once again, to thank the organizers and all those around the world who visited, liked or commented on my posts.
Congratulations to everyone involved!

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A Tragedy in Brazil

In England we are accustomed to disappointment in the World Cup, but so far as I am aware, we have never been subjected to such a humiliating defeat as Brazil was tonight. The England norm has tended to be an over-cautious play for a draw upset by some unfairness and bad luck, followed by a failure of nerve during penalties.
The best English teams of the 1950s and 60s were composed of ex-miners and factory-workers, schooled by the life-or-death need for teamwork in foundries and pits. Glory could temporarily be attained on a football field, but no-one was a celebrity and no players earned much more than a decent living wage. They used their picks in the mine and their studs on the football field merely to ensure the roof never fell in…
This glorious if austere age ground to a halt in the 1970s and 80s, as big money entered the game and teams came to depend on—and compete financially for—newly groomed star players. The performance of the national team necessarily dwindled, as players were required to devote more and more of their energies to satisfying the needs of their club teams and grooming their celebrity status as a way of insuring the great wealth they had increasingly accrued against the risks of career-threatening injury and the inevitability of early retirement.
In Brazilian football, the romance of the talented kid rescued from but schooled by the hard-knocks of the favela has persisted a little longer than in the UK. Yet the vultures of celebrity culture and international contracts have recently fallen rapidly upon it.
If Ronaldo was Brazil’s George Best—with one foot in the squalor of poverty, one in the glitz of contemporary celebrity—Neymar is Brazil’s David Beckham—coached to the point of brilliance from his infancy in certain set-pieces, brimming with over-confidence, but limited, as a team player, by his celebrity and perceived worth at a perilously tender age in the inflated stock-market of transfer fees and marketing deals…
Even hard-nosed super-competent managers such as Felipe Scolari find themselves at once bedazzled, hog-tied and ultimately side-swiped by this obsession with celebrity. Strategy is swept aside by the pursuit of a Hollywood-like spectacle whereby the supposed superhero inevitably lifts the cup at the end of the tournament.
In real life, and increasingly in the game of football, superheroes cannot be relied on. On the contrary, we should regard them with suspicion. They are as human as the rest of us, prone to injury, selfishness, cynicism and greed. And should they fail, as they will, the best strategy is to ensure you still have a solid team to fall back on. Germans have learnt this… the hard way…
Football is just a game, of course, but it reaches out to a much wider audience than politics and is itself always tinged with political ideology.
7-1 is a shaming final score for Brazil in a World Cup semi-final on home ground… Yet, it is a telling sign for a culture that continues—despite its vibrancy and the best efforts of the government—only to exacerbate already deeply entrenched inequalities, at home and abroad…
Just cause indeed for gasps and tears…

Voice and Song (Part 1)

As a poet, I have long been interested in singing and listening to singers and observing the often fraught and frayed relationship between music and words. In this series of posts eulogizing the vocal styles that have especially moved and influenced me over the years (arranged in no particular order of merit), I attempt to explore the concept of ‘voice’ in the poetry of popular music. My views, as always, are entirely subjective, and friendly feedback is, as always, warmly invited……
Leonard Cohen
I used to say of Leonard Cohen that he can’t sing, he can’t write poetry, he can’t play any musical instrument very well… and yet, when he brings all of these shortcomings together in equal measure, he inevitably comes up with something magically and universally enchanting. Cohen’s voice has attained a surprising maturity with age… It is not that he has trained or honed it… He is way too old and way too famous for that, and it wouldn’t have helped him anyway. Like some Old Testament patriarch, he always knew where he was headed. It just happened. His voice has now descended into the depths—both physically and figuratively—where the difference between song and recitation, enchantment and law-giving, blurs into something that transcends both. “The Darkness” from his most recent album, while not his best piece by far, epitomizes this vocal trend. An eighty-something guy still awes us and sparks us to life with a seemingly sempiternal frisson of cool…