Thursday, 23 August 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 25) Singing For Our Laurels

Previously on 80 Gays : 50) Sadiq Gillani of Lufthansa worked previously for an airline in Rio de Janeiro where Lufthansa flew the German team to the 2016 Olympics in which some athletes competed in Flamengo Park, designed by 51) Lota de Macedo Soares (1910-1967), whose partner 52) Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was one of the few female Poets Laureate, the current UK holder being 53) Dame Carol Ann Duffy (b.1955).

53) Dame Carol Ann Duffy was appointed as the UK’s first female Poet Laureate by the Queen in 2009. There have been speculation about the sexualities of a previous Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, but Dame Carol is the first openly lesbian holder of the position.

Dame Carol was an avid reader in her childhood. She began writing poetry when she was at primary school at the age of 11. Encouraged and supported by her English teacher Carol had some of her poems published when she was 15. She won the 1983 National Poetry Competition and in 1996 became a lecturer in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University where she is still a faculty member as Professor of Contemporary Poetry.

When Poet Laureate Ted Hughes died in 1999 Carol Ann Duffy was considered as his replacement. However, Carol was in a relationship with fellow poet Jackie Kay and had a young daughter, and she wouldn’t have felt that the appointment would fit in with her private family life, if it was offered to her at that time.

Dame Carol has written poems on a variety of subjects ranging from the traditional poems to celebrate state and royal occasions to MP’s expenses and David Beckham’s Achilles tendon injury. In 2010 she wrote “Vigil” for the AIDS candlelight vigil at Manchester Pride.

There is also a Scottish Poet Laureate whose official traditional title is Makar. The first modern Makar was appointed in 2004. He was Edwin Morgan (1920-2010), the first openly gay holder of the position. The third Maker, the current one, is someone I’ve already mentioned, Jackie Kay, Dame Carol’s ex-partner.

The word “laureate” comes from the practice of crowning the winners of the Pythian Games with a laurel wreath. Because these games were held at Delphi at the shrine of Apollo the victory wreath was made from his sacred plant, the laurel. Apollo was the god of poetry and music and the Pythian Games began as song contests.
 The original Pythian contests consisted of entrants singing in honour of Apollo accompanying themselves on the lyre. This is why the type of song became known as lyric poetry, and why the words of songs are still called lyrics. Gradually the rules of the contest were relaxed to include singers with an accompanist lyre player or flute player. It was at about this time that athletics were introduced and the contest were officially given the name of the Pythian Games and began to be held once every four years, two years after the ancient Olympics. Very quickly the Pythian Games became the second most prestigious of all the Greek games. Other Greek sport festivals had song contests as well, the Greater Panathenaean Games, for instance.

There was also another type of song contest in ancient Greece, the amoebaean song contest. This name comes from “locus amoenus” which means “pleasant place”, indicating the countryside (as opposed to the busy, noisy places of the city and town). Amoebaean songs were usually sung by shepherds and goatherds to keep themselves entertained on the long hours out in the countryside. Once a theme was chosen two singers would take turns to improvise two lines of the song, each one trying to outdo the other in poetic skill.

The amoebaean songs and poems are classed as pastoral poetry because of their origin in the countryside. One poet is said to have invented this genre, a Greek poet called 54) Theocritus of Syracuse (c.300 BC- c.260 BC).

Theocritus was born in the Greek colony of Syracuse on Sicily. It is possible that the pastoral genre and amoebaean song contest were practiced on Sicily when Theocritus was a boy and he established the genre in its written form. His is the earliest surviving written forms of both. In his pastoral poetry, his Idylls, Theocritus includes an example of an amoebaean song contest between two herdsmen.

All through his poetry Theocritus has themes of boy-love and homoeroticism. In Idyll 12 he writes of his delight in the return of a young lover and hopes that he would be forever remembered as a lover of boys. Also in this idyll he mentions another contest that took place every year at the tomb of Diocles of Megara, a soldier whose fame rests on him saving the life of his boy-lover by sacrificing his own. The contest was a kissing contest to see which boy gave the “sweetest” kiss to an adult judge. Oh, the agony of responsibility the judges must have felt. Actually, agony is right, because the word given by the Greeks to any contest, whether, sport, poetry or kissing, was “agon”. Agony is the concept of competition, and those who compete are called antagonist and protagonist.

The modern idea of agony as being something painful can certainly be applied to the modern television song contest. The histrionics of competing on such shows like “X Factor” or “Britain’s Got Talent” seems too theatrical from some contestants at times. Another song contest was “American Idol” which began broadcasting in 2002. It was a version of the UK’s “Pop Idol”, the first winner of which was Will Young. He came out as gay the day after the final was televised.

“American Idol” has also featured lgbt singers, and one of the first lgbt contestants to achieve stardom was 55) Clay Aiken (b.1978).

Next time : We see what falls out of Clay Aiken’s family tree before we take him into the recording studio and pull a few strings.

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