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What is from Unrelated Incidents about?
this is thi
six a clock
man said n
a talk wia
iz coz yi
mi ti talk
lik wanna yoo
it wuz troo.
jist wanna yoo
way ti spell
ana right way
to tok it. this
is me tokn yir
right way a
is ma trooth.
yooz doant no
yi canny talk
right. this is
the six a clock
nyooz. belt up.
* The poem seems to be spoken by a BBC newsreader.
* He or she explains why the BBC thinks it is important to read the
news in a BBC accent: no one will take the news seriously if it's
read with a voice lik / wanna yoo / scruff.
It is not that simple, though!
* He or she speaks here in the accent of an ordinary speaker/viewer
- just the kind of voice which the newsreader is rejecting.
* A newsreader would never really reveal his or her prejudices
directly to the viewer in this way. So what the newsreader 'says'
in this poem perhaps needs to be seen as the unspoken message (or
sub-text) of the way the news is presented.
Try re-writing the same poem in Standard English. Would it carry the
Structure and Language
The poem is carefully written in a phonetic version of the Glasgow
accent. If you pronounce it exactly as it's written, it should sound
more or less like a Glaswegian voice. Try to listen to Tom Leonard's
own reading of this poem, which is on the BBC TV programme Roots and
Water: Poems from Other Cultures and Traditions.
The poet has played with language in a number of ways, apart from the
* There is almost no punctuation.
* There are lots of slang and colloquial words (scruff, belt up).
* The newsreader talks directly to the reader (or viewer).
How do these features add to the effectiveness of the poem? For
example, there is a mismatch between the conventional image of BBC
newsreaders, and what this one is saying - calling the viewers yoo
scruff and telling them to belt up.
The lines of the poem are very short. What effect does this have
(especially when you read it aloud)? Does it make the poem sound
serious or amusing?
Tone and Ideas
How would you read this poem?
* Is it an amusing poem?
* Is it a serious poem?
Perhaps it is both.
Is the poet arguing that this is actually the way the media think
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indeed the viewers in most other parts of Britain, as scruffs. Do you
think this is fair? The humour has a satirical edge: it uses humour to
make serious criticisms.
Finally, do you think things have changed since 1976, when the poem
was written? Are BBC newsreaders still chosen for their BBC accents?
What does a Scottish accent - in a TV commercial for example - 'say'
about itself these days?
Now try a Test Bite
Tom Leonard writes his poem in a Scottish accent because that's how he
talks, it's part of his identity. But even if you live in Scotland the
news you watch is broadcast from London, and spoken in someone's
else's voice. The view that there is a 'right' way to talk the English
language is arrogant - who has the right to decide what counts as
'proper' English? The BBC accent also goes along with an English way
of looking at things, which means that the Scots point of view gets
ignored. That's why Scotland voted for devolution. If you come from
Glasgow, like Tom Leonard, then it must seem like someone else's ideas
are being imposed on you, that you are being told to 'belt up'.
The argument of the poem comes out in the way it is written. You could
almost say that the poem is written in a mixed language - it's a kind
of English, but it's also in Caribbean. The poet writes 'wid' and
instead of 'with' to show that the speaker has a Caribbean accent.
Some people might call this half-caste language, saying that it's not
proper English, but Agard would say it's just a different variety of
English. Also, he writes in a jokey style, like I explained above,
it's like he's teasing people who think he's "only" half-caste, and
taking the mickey is a good way of putting your ideas across, and
making people think again, which is why Agard wrote the poem. So the
way the poem is written suits what it's trying to say.