The men are weeping in the Oval Office…


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.

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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.

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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.

Something Understood: I Sat Down And Wept is on BBC Radio 4 this Sunday March 13th at 6am and 1130pm and on iplayer for a month after

Spotify list of music from the programme

Further reading/listening

Andrew McMillan website





About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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