Yesterday evening, feeling flaked out, I thought, ‘Must be something on BBC4’ and was just in time to catch Great Poets in Their Own Words. This was a fascinating compilation of archive TV footage and radio broadcasts, most of it new to me. T S Eliot, for instance, seems such a figure of the first half of the twentieth century that it’s easy to forget that he lived until 1965, in time to appear on television, reading his own work and looking pretty uncomfortable about it. W H Auden was on the Michael Parkinson show! Can you imagine such a great man chatting to Graham Norton? Edith Sitwell was well able to cope with John Freeman’s notoriously tough questions on Face to Face. And what a pleasure to see Stevie Smith reading Not Waving but Drowning. I must have listened to a lot of her readings at one time because I now hear her voice when I read her poems.
Apart from the works of Hugh MacDiarmid and R S Thomas, which mean nothing to me, every line read was familiar and so doubly delightful. The programme made me wonder why I bother reading anything except poetry. After all, I could spend the rest of my life at it and still not read the half of what is worth reading. If the aim of the programme was to send viewers back to the texts, it succeeded admirably. Highly recommended and I’m looking forward to the next episode.