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Pope on The Ropes?

As a Catholic based in Britain, I have mixed feelings about the Pope's official state visit this week.  Of course, he is the head of my Church, and I want him to be welcomed properly, as befits his role.  However, I cannot ignore the many (human) failings of the recent decades.  Too many issues have been badly handled.  I also am a more liberal Catholic than Pope Benedict, and therefore listen to some of his words with concern.  Nonetheless, the Catholic Faith is far more profound, and complex, than sex scandals, though terrible - and one Pope's position.  The Church has moved through two thousand years of history - the oldest surviving institution of Western civilisation - and those comedians and scientists like Fry and Dawkins who seek to undermine it need to be sure they have something to put in its place.

I think the Pope shows great courage and conviction coming to such a lion's den as Britain is for him at this time.  I fear things will not go well for him, with many in the media and the public baying for his blood.  I only ask for tolerance.  Around 10% of the people of Britain are Catholic. In the same way that is surely wrong to burn or despoil the holy objects of Islam, in America, it must be wrong to mock or despoil the holy things of Catholicism in the UK.  Peaceful protest and letters to papers are one thing, but let us hope the outrage fails to become nasty or brutish.  We don't want people getting medieval.

Finally, shall I prepare a letter for Mr. Fry listing all the crimes, sins and faults of his English government - starting with colonialism, the potato famine, child labour, the creation of industrialisation, class warfare, the invention of concentration camps (Boer war), the first world war (a ludicrous massacre of youth), bombings of Dresden, Suez, Iraq, and myriad other offenses, including support for arms manufacturing, big pharma, and the banking industries on dubious scales, and the murder or deposition of various developing world leaders over the years? Of course, such a list would be partial and unkind, and vaguely pompous and foolish.  History is too vast to be fought over in sound-bites.  At least Catholics acknowledge sin.


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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.