There have been lots of obituaries of Shelagh Delaney this week, quite rightly so. Her career is evidence that one great work at the right time can make you historically significant whatever happens afterwards. One thing which struck me was how all seemed to mention that A Taste of Honey was written in a fit of defiance after seeing a Terence Rattigan play and thinking she could do better. What is the role of scorn in the urge to make art, I wonder?
You only have to watch an episode of Top of the Pops 1976, which BBC are re-running at the moment, to understand why young people in the 70s were ready for punk, and wanted to stick two fingers up to those on stage, or those on the 'rock' stage at the time. I remember starting a poetry magazine very much because the ones I started to get published in were, with some notable exceptions, pretty rubbish to my mind. (Looking back, that's probably why I was able to get in them....) There are numerous other examples.
I don't mean the relatively simple generational renewal issue, but one of difference of substance, motivation and values. Sometimes our rhetoric of 'support the arts' can gloss over this. To be honest there is some art I simply don't want saved, I want it to go away except as a spur to creating something I think does work. (If it's a poem, anyway. In other artforms I just want changes to the power structures so I don't have to see another Hockney or hear another Motion.) The voice on my other shoulder does of course remind me it doesn't do for us all to be the same...
How much of our current product is building up some creative resentment in a 21st Shelagh Delaney, I wonder?
(If you're quick you can hear a good radio obit about Shelagh Delaney as part of a very special Last Word which also includes the great poet Peter Reading and part of apartheid's downfall Basil D'Oliveira. This is the kind of thing that makes me stick with Radio 4 despite the ever-growing amount of their output which makes me want to set up a radio station from my spare room...)