Marvin Thompson Takes A Punt On Jason Lee
A new name arrived on the poetry landscape last week. I’m not referring to Marvin Thompson, winner of the National Poetry Competition 2020, but to Jason Lee, who is at the centre of the winning poem.
Jason Lee… anyone? I remember him well, but I have seen plenty of comments from readers of the poem who did not know the name and had to go to Google. I bet Lee’s Wikipedia page has never been so busy – and here is the link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Lee_(footballer)
Yes, Jason Lee was a footballer, he most famously played for Nottingham Forest in the mid-90s. The poem in which he features is titled The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22) and it was chosen from 18,000 entries as the winner. I like the poem, though I think opinion of the judges’ choice has varied. It is a complex piece that, in the words of the judges, asks “What is it to raise dual-heritage children in the UK, and specifically in Wales?”
What I find interesting is the use of a reference (Jason Lee) that a large number of readers will not grasp. Marvin Thompson has taken a risk, but it has paid off in a big way. If you don’t get who Lee is and crucially, why he features in the poem, then the poem can slip away from you.
The gamble is that the poem is strong enough that a reader will spend time looking the reference up. Granted, looking things up on your phone is pretty quick these days, but Marvin must have known that Jason Lee was not top of everyone’s list of famous footballers (not at the top of anyone’s list).
I have written before about the use of names in poems – because I think there is the likelihood that the poem’s lifespan is shortened by the inclusion of someone who burns brightly for just a short while. I have used names in some of my poems – I have a whole poem that is based on David Attenborough, but generally the names I’ve used are very well fixed on our consciousness. A previous post on the subject is here https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/cheggers-plays-poetry/
Congratulations to Marvin Thompson. Perhaps his poem proves that readers of poetry are patient, and they will give time to following up on something they are unsure of. Interestingly, the judges are of an age that they may well remember Jason Lee (younger readers are less likely to recall). However, a further interesting point is that in the winning poem the term “cwtched” is used – and two of the judges happen to be Welsh – so they would not have had to double-take on the meaning of that word (it means to cuddle). Cuddle up to Jason Lee by reading the winning poem here: https://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/national-poetry-com