For National Poetry Day, I’ve dredged much of the #chloesmithpoetry out from the depths of my Twitter timeline to archive it here.

People may remember the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Chloe Smith MP, who appeared on Newsnight on 26 June 2012 to defend the Government’s recently-announced delay to the introduction of a planned increase in fuel duty. It is widely reckoned that she didn’t do especially well in the interview–the words “car crash” sprang to many minds, which judged her to be hopelessly out of her depth. Criticism was spread around, to be sure: some found Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style objectionable; others–well, everyone, actually–thought it cowardly of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, to send the most junior minister he could find into the lion’s mouth, rather than defend the U-turn on television himself.

But in a small corner of Twitter the following day, some of us were more struck by the way in which English literature graduate Chloe Smith’s words lent themselves so easily to poetry, and we started experimenting with the literary form made possible by reflecting on the transcript of the interview in the context of a strict 140-character word limit.

So many thanks to Eleanor Crawford, whose marvellous idea it was, and to the others who joined in. It made me happy for days.

  1. el_crawford: They fall across and in different ways/ And that figure will progress, if you like…/that figure is evolving somewhat. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:34
  2. el_crawford: Two roads diverged in a wood and I-/I took the one less travelled by/And that has helped households and businesses. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:35
  3. el_crawford: For reasons which are interesting in themselves/the figures are interesting in themselves. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:36
  4. chrisbrooke: It’s valuable to help / Real people in this way / And I do think that is valued / By people who drive. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:06
  5. el_crawford: I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox/and which you were probably saving for households and businesses/Forgive me #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 13:11
  6. chrisbrooke: It’s an aggregate figure / If you look at the data / It’s an aggregate figure / And I think that’s what’s important here. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:47
  7. chrisbrooke: On Tuesday’s Newsnight / A slogan was unfurled: / Jeremy, I don’t think many things / Are certain in this world. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:49
  8. thhamilton: In front of Parliament we revealed to Parliament / As is right and proper, by the way, to Parliament / Help #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:07
  9. chrisbrooke: When I am not sure what to think / I find it helps to say / “The figure is evolving somewhat / As per the data today.” #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:16
  10. woodscolt79: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Listening to families and businesses. Alas! #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:19
  11. chrisbrooke: They do relate / To rather one-off factors / Specifically in terms / Of when some payments were made. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:20
  12. chrisbrooke: I woke up in this morning / And know actually that some of my constituents will really value not having to pay… [etc] #chloesmithblues Wed Jun 27 14:23
  13. chrisbrooke: In a world that we’re facing / Where things are very hard / You have to do what you can / In these hard times. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:28
  14. chrisbrooke: Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / They fall across / And in different ways. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:32
  15. chrisbrooke: We had a collective discussion / Of that in due course / Although I can’t tell you / The ins and the outs. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:47
  16. chrisbrooke: Households and businesses / Families and businesses / Households and businesses / And families. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:02
  17. ejhchess: It doesn’t matter if you’re shite / You’ll get support from Michael White #chloesmithpoetry #sortof Wed Jun 27 15:20
  18. chrisbrooke: As Chloe Smith was fumbling with fuel duty / Old Aaro, watching, thought, “You gorgeous beauty.” #chloesmithpoetry https://t.co/RYsfh1IK Wed Jun 27 15:24
  19. chrisbrooke: The question being asked in May / Was about full cancellation /But as you’ll be aware today / We’re talking about deferral #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:39
  20. chrisbrooke: That is of interest perhaps / In a different conversation / But the fact is here / We are sticking to the overall plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:05
  21. chrisbrooke: It’s not just a Westminster Village / Story, Jeremy / It’s real money / In real people’s pockets. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:12
  22. el_crawford: @chrisbrooke I find her turn of phrase Audenesque. Almost chillingly so. Wed Jun 27 16:15
  23. chrisbrooke: As a Minister / In the Treasury / I’ve been involved in the discussions for some time / As a Minister in the Treasury #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:15
  24. chrisbrooke @el_crawford Yes: some of the rhythms of her speech esp. at the end of sentences & the partial repetitions are very twentieth-century verse. Wed Jun 27 16:17
  25. chrisbrooke: It’s not that, I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that. I’m afraid, Jeremy. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:22
  26. chrisbrooke: Mortal, guilty, but to me / Rightly what we seek to use for the credibility of our fiscal plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:34
  27. chrisbrooke: I think the point to be made out of that / And out of what’s been said today / Is that it’s important to do what you can #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:44
  28. microlambert: I love you Twitter, because you did this: #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 20:08

Bonnie Honig on Slumdog Millionaire

It turns out that Slumdog Millionaire is a much more interesting film than I took it to be. Faced with cardboard-cutout characters and an implausible plot, I rather switched off and stopped enjoying myself. My former-teacher-and-current-colleague Bonnie Honig, on the other hand, started thinking instead about what it all had to say about democratic theory — and her splendid essay on Slumdog has just been published on the website of the Indian Express newspaper (albeit under a not-entirely-ideal title). So go over there and read it.

Exhibitions of the Year

We enjoyed Hannibal ad portas, which we saw in Karlsruhe just before it closed in January, and we’re looking forward to the Persians at the British Museum, though we won’t catch that until the New Year.

Biggest disappointment was Turks at the Royal Academy, which had some splendid objects, but wrapped it all up in the kind of ideological nonsense which pissed you off the more you thought about it.

Shows of the Year

I’ve been to the theatre even less often than I’ve been to the cinema this year, but the two outstanding shows this year for me were both called Don Carlos. We saw Derek Jacobi in Schiller’s play in the middle of the year in London, which was splendid (costumes, acting, production, play); and we saw the Welsh National Opera’s production of Verdi’s epic opera towards its end in Oxford, which had one or two medium-sized problems (not enough subtlety on the part of the chap singing Philip in particular), but which was a thoroughly worthwhile production of a very difficult piece — and they made – in my opinion – all the right choices, with the five-act ever-so-slightly-trimmed-down French version, and the more brutal finale at the end. What did we miss (theatre and opera, please; concerts and other kinds of music will follow in a separate post)?

Pliny Beaver Blogging

Yup, it was Pliny the Elder alright, Natural History 8, 47. Here’s the Latin:

Easdem partes sibi ipsi Pontici amputant fibri periculo urgente, ob hoc se peti gnari; castoreum id vocant medici. alias animal horrendi morsus arbores iuxta flumina ut ferro caedit, hominis parte conprehensa non ante quam fracta concrepuerint ossa morsus resolvit. cauda piscium his, cetera species lutrae. utrumque aquaticum, utrique mollior pluma pilus.

And here’s the splendid English translation of 1601 by Philemon Holland:

The Bievers in Pontus gueld themselves, when they see how neere they are driven, and bee in danger of the hunters: as knowing full well, that chased they bee for their genetoires: and these their stones, Physicians call Castoreum. And otherwise, this is a daungerous and terrible beast with his teeth. For verily, hee will bite downe the trees growing by the river sides, as if they were cut with an axe. Looke where he catcheth hold of a man once, he never leaveth nor letteth loose untill hee have knapped the bones in sunder, and heard it cracke againe. Tailed hee is like a fish, otherwise he resembleth the otter. Both those beasts live in the water altogether, and carrie an haire softer than any plume or downe of feathers.

That’s probably enough Beaver-Blogging for one morning. I’ll get back to Kitten-Blogging soon.


On the whole, as I think I’ve said, I quite like the new-look Guardian. I think they bollocksed up a few things — theguardian masthead, obviously, the decision not only to have five columns rather than six (Le Monde-style), but also to fill up the right-hand column on the front page with nonsense, and so on — but something I’ve noticed is that I don’t think I’ve been able to read the Giles Foden Diary column since the new paper came out, not because I have any opinion about whether he’s a good diarist or not, but because the sketch they have of him is so off-putting, and makes me want to turn the page. So if anyone could tell me whether I’m missing anything, that’d be quite useful.

Occasionalism Now!

Is it just me, or does this week’s Onion article, “Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory” present an argument eerily similar to everyone’s favourite Augustinian Cartesian Nicolas Malebranche’s metaphyisics of “occasionalism”?

From the splendid, every-home-should-have-one Cambridge History of C17th Philosophy [vol.1, pp.538-9]:

“The occasionalist conclusion drawn by Malebranche and Cordemoy is that an explanation of any natural effect which refers only to matter and motion – that is, which specifies only the shapes and sizes of material particles moving with given directions and velocities in accordance with certain laws – will ultimately fail to account fully for the phenomenon, since physical bodies have no causal efficacy. In fact, there is and can be only one true cause of any phenomenon, namely, the infinitely powerful will of God. God alone has a power to act, and there is a necessary connexion only between God’s will and its effects. All events in the natural world, all motions, collisions, separations, changes, and other effects in bodies have God as their direct and immediate author. Thus, any metaphysically complete explanation of a phenomenon must refer at least to the divine volition which is its efficient cause (although, as we shall see, in physics one need not take explanation to this high a level).”

OK, it is just me. It’s the last, parenthetical clause that gives M. the get-out.