Lucy Dichmont and I have made a Something Understood for Radio 4 about Weeping. I knew I wanted to talk about the Wailing Women in the Bible and especially that I wanted to talk again to award-winning poet Andrew McMillan about his poem The Men Are Weeping In The Gym.
He has so many fascinating observations about the gendered value judgements used against people’s weeping: About how women like Adele are described as “losing control” at the Brits, when a man would be said to be “fighting back tears”. In our conversation we talked about how men can be mocked for crying for political reasons – George Osborne at Lady Thatcher’s funeral – but also how male politicians can deploy them strategically in a way a woman couldn’t. Take Obama’s tears over gun crime. Now imagine how Hillary Clinton’s tears might be commented on.
Another favourite poet Grace Nicols reads live from her great work about Picasso’s Weeping Woman – Picasso I Want My Face Back. Among my personal memories drawn on in putting together this programme are a recollection of the physical extremes of mourning in Shia Islam witnessed in Iran, and a conversation at a VJ Day anniversary commemmoration 11 years ago when a daughter told me how most of her father’s generation never talked about their horrific experiences in Japanese POW camps; until for some, JG Ballard’s book and the film Empire Of The Sun gave some the confidence to open up for the first time.
But I had the idea of starting with Debussy’s La Mer and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in her pool of tears – surely the disturbing but also playful idea of the overwhelming possibilities of extreme emotions. Along the way we have Nick Cave, The Byrds and of course Julie London. There’s a Spotify list of most of the music in the programme here and some of the extras that didn’t make it into the final edit; notably an extensive section on Crocodile Tears. Dido’s lament about her faithless lover Aeneas by Purcell is particularly gorgeous and poignant.