It's been a long time since I talked about my bookish heart. Mostly, those spaces in that little (by the sound of it, it's actually pretty big and gross, probably) beating organ of mine are reserved for one totally awesome dude (not Jesus), and the occasional movie character that refuses to disrobe before a gunfight, but sometimes there's room for another.
Have you heard of Mark Grist? If you frequent this thing we call "the Internet" you may have heard of him—he's most famous these days for being that primly-dressed school teacher laying a verbal spanking on a young MC during a Don't Flop rap battle which can be viewed here (NSFW, use headphones), but he's also a freaking bard. Mark Grist, who is actually no longer a school teacher because he's on the road to poetic success with some awesome side projects, is the Chief Bard of the Fens. (He was also Poet Laureate of Peterborough between 2007–2008.) And, I guess, since I cannot find any Internet evidence to the contrary, he might remain Chief Bard of the Fens forever, or at least another Eisteddfod is planned, so that's pretty cool.
The history of the bard is a pretty simple one where rich folk (patrons) used to pay talented artistic folk (bards) to write poems and stories about the rich folk's family, most of which were probably inflated and inaccurate, but awfully purdy and rhythmic.
Sure guys, I get that the idea of the bard has changed, and that in the modern world a bard could be anyone who is a poet, storyteller, author, or a singer-songwriter. But you know what? Not just anyone can win a poetry battle and therefore enter in to the annals of history as a certifiable bard, so don't be so smug about your beatnik bardsmanship, Bob Dylan.
What is it about the idea of a bard that is driving me so wild right now?
For years, when I thought of bards (which wasn't often, really) I'd imagined stodgy old dudes writing bogus shit for money, which I guess is sort of true, but Shakespeare (The Bard) wasn't really as stodgy as I had assumed when I was a kid, and in fact, I came to learn that he was pretty badass.
Let's face it, writers rarely get paid what they're worth these days, so the fundamental idea of a bard—though probably more a form a artistic indenturement than I'm giving it credit for—sounds excellent to me right now, but this is probably one of those anachronistic views that people hate.
You know what it is, though? (And Dylan can back me up on this point.) There are laureates and then there are bards, and while the patronage system has died, and bards—I guess—don't get paid for their work anymore, laureates, at least here in America, do. While American laureates aren't required specifically to write poetry about this country or any officials, and may use their $35,000 per year as they so desire, they're still beholden to the reputation of the country.
What about bards—are they working for the man? Hell no. Which is probably why Mark Grist can write about whatever the hell he wants and still garner enough respect to be both a laureate and a bard and then go do rap battle against some strange kid and say disgusting things about moms and vaginas, without giving a second thought to it.
But wait, there's something about my argument here that isn't right. I'm saying that bards are more badass than laureates, but Mark Grist has been both...oh right, but that's still badass because traditionally (at least in terms of the country) laureates in the U.K. have been paid in both money and alcohol, although who knows how they roll in Peterborough…maybe it's just all about respect, which is probably better than anything.