|Ovid Banished from Rome by JMW Turner|
One of the archive clips shows Auden smoking and drawling his way through The Parkinson Show in the 1970s, probably at 7.30 in the evening not sure if he was up or down. It's startling to realise that a poet of Auden's calibre could have attained the celebrity to appear on a prime-time chat-show. What would be a contemporary equivalent? Les Murray on Graham Norton? The poetry world feels in a way more democratised now, we don't elevate mandarin figures so much anymore, and this can only be a good thing. It's actually easier to imagine slightly younger poets like Simon Armitage (who featured as a talking head on a couple of these BBC documentaries) on TV, or equally poet-performers like Kate Tempest.
I caught another excellent programme on BBC4 the other night, this time about the Roman poet Ovid. The way Michael Wood's historical explanations and excursions to pertinent locations were woven around Ovid's own words, read sonorously by Simon Russell Beale, brought vibrantly to life what could have been a potentially heavyweight subject. Despite his classical stature, Ovid's story seems strangely contemporary in fact: he too acquired a kind of celebrity within Augustan Rome for the erotic sophistication of his early poetry but then fell foul of the Emperor, either for something he wrote or for a personal indiscretion. He was exiled from the republic and spent the rest of his life at Tomis on the Black Sea, at the very edge of the Roman Empire, in what is present-day Romania.