Blog Our Sweet Old Etcetera

Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

The Toughest Decision of All...

Sparrows by Hey Paul Studios, under a Creative Commons licence

I’m delighted to announce that Richard Price’s 'Hedge Sparrows' is the poem we selected to represent Great Britain in The Written World project … after a lot of debate! Picking one poem to represent team GB was the toughest of all our tough decisions. We needed something under 30 lines, which ruled out many poems we would have loved to consider – Keats’ 'Ode to a Nightingale', for example, Tennyson’s 'Ulysses' (which contains that magic line ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’), 'The SUN' by Benjamin Zephaniah, 'MCMXIV' by Philip Larkin, 'If' by Rudyard Kipling … we were also tempted by 'Home' by Edward Thomas ‘T’was home; one nationality/We had, I and the birds that sang, One memory.’ And what about Laurie Lee’s 'April Rise'? ‘If ever I saw blessing in the air/I see it now in this still early day…’

Shakespeare was getting such a great airing everywhere else that we decided against going for him – although we know this would be controversial! In the search for something to represent GB rather than specifically England, we also had to set aside 'Jerusalem' by William Blake. That said, poems about London obviously crept in because of the 2012 context…of course we dithered over Wordsworth’s 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge'…

But 'Hedge Sparrows' is the poem for us. It’s a fresh, engaging prose poem, mimicking birdsong in one long sentence. It feels very apt for modern-day Britain, as it depicts a bird twittering in our rapid-fire world of social media, where messages fly around the world in the form of tweets….but people feel less linked to a ‘real’ community than ever before. As Richard Price himself says: 'It is meant to be a challenge but also a work of affection … a prose poem of punk praise.'

And there was much, much glee when we heard that Jim Broadbent was going to read the poem for us. Speaking about what attracted him to the choice of poem, Jim said: 'I love Richard Price's poem and I'm delighted to be reading it for Great Britain … As a poem for our nation, I couldn't imagine a better choice.'

Neither could we, Jim. Glad you agree!

Jim Broadbent's reading of 'Hedge Sparrows' will be first broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on Friday 27th at 05.28am and again on MacAulay & Co 10.30 – 12.00pm and on The Iain Anderson Show between 10pm and midnight. Listeners to BBC Radio's Front Row will also be able to listen to the poem from Monday 30th July.

You can download podcasts on the BBC Poetry 2012 page.

And of course the poems are available to be read on our interactive World Map.