What the Chairmen are telling us

If you're ever foolish enough to dip into the comments on any article or blog about the arts on a newspaper's website (if that phrase doesn't make me sound very old!), you'll know there are people out there who don't just not value the arts, they resent public money going to the arts, and probably hate artists. You can't tell how many there are, but they're there. (Actually, the Arts Council's Public Value work picked up on the resentment factor a little, though mainly that talked about feelings of exclusion.)

This brought to mind Basil Bunting's poem 'What The Chairman told Tom', which begins:

'Poetry? It's a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr. Shaw there breeds pigeons.

It's not work. You dont sweat.
Nobody pays for it.'

and ends

'Go and find work.'

(You can read the whole poem here.)

The poem is based on an experience of Tom Pickard, but as he's said, is also about Bunting's own experiences. There have been times the poem felt a little historical, but it appears that may be changing. There is a challenge, however, in this: in articulating the work of being a writer or artist, we need to find ways of not making it seem like a hobby, like a break from reality, describing it as a profession for some who want to make it so, with all that involves perhaps, without making out it is exactly the same as any other job. It's a tough one.