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Last - minute withdrawal from 'gross' poem recital

A SCHOOL has been threatened with legal action after pulling out of a public poetry reading because of the sexual content of the verses.

John Masefield high school in Ledbury, Herefordshire - named after the town's most famous literary son - has incurred the wrath of Birmingham poet Jim MacCool.

A marathon eight-hour rendition of Ionan Tales was to be staged during the annual Ledbury Poetry Festival to raise money for the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

But when Martyn Moxley, the school's head of English, read the poem he was appalled. The school refused to let sixth-formers take part.

"We were very unhappy with the script we were given," said Chris Tweedale, the headteacher. "It wasn't appropriate for the youngsters to be reading, certainly not in the town, through a microphone, in the middle of the morning. Some of the storylines involved paedophilia, cannibalism, drug abuse and sex."

The school planned to let three members of staff take part in the reading instead, but there were misgivings about whether the work was even suitable for an adult audience.

"The staff who were going to do the readings weren't happy with he script. So I decided that the school shouldn't be associated with it at all."

Poetry festival founder John Burns was to have helped staff with the reading, but he dropped out when he read the work.

"People would have found much of it blasphemous," he said. "In one tale this young deaconess falls for the new organist and there's rumpy-pumpy in the organ loft. It's fairly gross stuff really."

Mr MacCool, 46, who was described by festival organisers as a relative unknown, insists his work is suitable for schoolchildren. He describes it as a "modern parable".

After the school failed to turn up for the reading, his solicitor sent the school a letter demanding the return of his script.

The school has returned it, but now he is seeking further legal advice alleging breach of copyright of his work by Mr Moxley.

"We carried on with the event, which went incredibly well. We had members of the public shouting 'brilliant' and we raised pound;152."

A spokeswoman for the RNIB which organised the poetry reading said: "We were unaware of its controversial nature. We are concerned that parts of the poem could have caused offence."

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