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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 1, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    Carol Ann Duffy is new poet laureate

    Fiona McCann

    Carol Ann Duffy is the new poet laureate across the water, the first woman to occupy the post famously scorned by Wendy Cope earlier this year. Course the yearly stipend is not to be sniffed at -  £5,750  Sterling for a few verses on royal births and coronations, no small sum in these troubled times. Then there are the 600 bottles of sherry traditionally bestowed on the poet laureate, which Duffy has reportedy requested up front, after learning that her predecessor Andrew Motion (the first poet laureate to resign the post) had yet to receive his. The question is whether any writer should be beholden to the king or state, under obligation to trot out poems for occasions regardless of muse or inspiration, and presumably only those that toe the state line.

    It must be said that Carol Ann Duffy is not a woman famed for line-toeing,  though her poems have been taught widely and included on the English school syllabus for years.  She’s a polished performer with a sharp wit (I saw her read at Seamus Heaney’s birthday tribute during the Poetry Now festival this year, and at Cuirt last weekend), and has been quoted as saying that she accepted the position of poet laureate because “they hadn’t had a woman” and “as recognition for the great women poets we now have writing.”

    Was she right to accept? Does Britain need a poet laureate? Should we have some state-sponsored equivalent over here? Does anyone care?

    • Paul Tubb says:

      It is interesting that they talk about updating the post on a regular basis and the post still has yet to be updated.

      I saw Andrew Motion on the One Show yesterday talking about how the role was hard, but he did like the opportunity of being allowed to speak passionately about something he feels passionately about. I believe that this is part of the role of every poet, whether they are poet laureate or not…

      I wrote my own blog about the poet laureate a couple of days ago, which can be found here: http://asifiknowwhatimtalkingabout.blogspot.com.

      And Finally Congratulations to Carol Ann Duffy…

      I’m sure the post will be a good fit.

    • Sarah says:

      We have an equivalent in Ireland..This gap was filled in 1998 by the establishment of the Ireland Chair of Poetry. It came about as the result of a partnership of three of our universities – UCD, Trinity, and Queen’s University Belfast – together with the support of the two arts councils, the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

      The Chair was specifically set up to celebrate the recent achievements of Irish poets, and in particular to commemorate the achievement of Seamus Heaney in winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

      The ten years since have seen John Montague, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Paul Durcan and, now, Michael Longley take up the opportunities presented by the Professorship, delivering presentations and workshops or readings in that role.

      Michael Longley will be residing in UCD next – after completing a successful term in Queen’s and Trinity, so keep your eyes on the papers for details of lectures, readings and more…


    • JC says:

      hmm. Cranking out doggerel at the pleasure of the Queen? It does seem a leetle antithetical to the what I want my poets to stand for. But that’s a lot of sherry, and more poetry is generally a good thing. So I guess I’ll allow it. Please tell Royals I am available.

    • Fiona says:

      Paul Tubb: I guess it does give them a national platform for such passionate speech, which is a valid point.

      Sarah: Good point about the Chair of Poetry. Is the sitter required to produce poems for specific, state occasions also? Also, still ten pages left on Molly Fox. Sigh. Slowest reading of book imaginable.

      JC: No doubt this blog is read by several royals who will be contacting you directly forthwith.

    • Sarah says:

      No…the poet has a certain number of obligations: one original lecture per university and a couple of readings, as well as a certain amount of outreach. The scope outside of that is determined by the poet, really…

      So, a bit different, obviously, but I think in a good way!

      Good luck with those last pages. It grows on you after reading, I think…

    • “how the role was hard” – so tough he was asking 1000 pounds sterling appearance fee, according to Oxford poet Vidyan Ravinthiran:

      “Andrew Motion’s agent…wanted a £1000 fee and delivered a mortifying spiel about how we should just ramp ticket prices up (usually £3 for non-members) to £10 to cover it since ‘people will come less for the poetry than to see the Poet Laureate.’ I tried to explain that we were a destitute student organisation without university funding, and that Heaney had just read in the Sheldonian for free and not packed the place out, etc — but to no avail. He reminded me of Jerry Maguire.”


      The Poet laureate of England, has to be personally approved by the Queen, who gets her own personal poet for 5000 a year, which is very little for this one family on lottery sized state subsidies.

      I sincerely hope Duffy uses the post to her own advantage and subverts it to demonstrate the hypocrisy of a Labout government whose mantra is fairness and equality for all (unless your name is Windsor and then the rules do not apply).

      The politics of it stink, for 5000 usually they have had a poodle whose ego overides any principle, of being a mouthpiece legitimising the existence of what is clearly an unfair set up.

      The British go on about a failing underbelly, and yet one small state subsidised family are born with privileges their equivalent in Toxteth or the Gorbals are not, and not only are they on lottery sized bens, but also the perversity of the other citizens having to address them as Your Majesty.

      These things are really condusive to making people feel good about themself, that they are equal to the ones they must physically bow in front of?

    • John Self says:

      The poet laureate isn’t actually required to produce any poems for state or royal occasions, though that was his/her traditional role. Duffy says:

      “The ministry of culture and the palace made it very clear, particularly the palace, that there is no expectation or requirement at all to write royal poems and the same with government people.

      “I don’t have to write anything about anything if I don’t want to.
      Like all the poets, I would only ever write poems that are truthful, from an authentic source, whether that’s private or public.”

      I can’t say the presence or absence of a poet laureate is of particular interest to me. Most of Ted Hughes’ laureate poems were pretty bad, and I have never had any interest in reading Motion’s poetry in any event (there’s something slightly unctuous about him, isn’t there?). Still, Duffy is a good poet and anything that gives her more exposure is worthwhile.

    • There are various layers and depths of potenital comment/debate this appointment allows us to contribute and engage in.

      The most benign reading of it is that the post affords the appointee a great opportunity to *outreach* and spread the magic dust of Poetry to make it more accessible and relevant in peoples’ lives.

      We can say that the role is not political and is a very minor thing in the grander scale of British life and that we should not hold it against a poet who takes it on if we cleave to the republican ideal.

      Another interpretation is that it is another example of divide and rule, which keeps the vast majority of British citizens are untitled and not born with a right to be called Your Highness, Sir, Lord, etc – in a state condusive to perpetuating a set up which, depending on where you stand, can be grossly abhorrent and unfair, or the reflection of a long and noble tradition which defines who the British are and how they view themselves.


      If there is no requirement for the appointed one to write royal poems, this begs the question, why the Queen needs approve it and why is it tied to the Windsors?

      The seer of shadows and conspiritorial forces can argue that the reason it is tied to the Windsors, is to keep their dabs on as much of contemporary life as possible, so as to consolidate their position, to throw bits of nomenclature to sell-outs who talk a big game about principle and fundamental rights and wrongs of civic life – but whose ego and vanity cannot resist the letters that elevate them to an Upper Chamber in the minds of others. The royal-by-association.

      The very class system itself on which British society is founded, the labels and terms of Upper and *lower*, have a psychological effect and condition the citizens to self-police, and you have situations were people voluntarily refer to themselves as *lower* middle class.

      On the basis of birth, just because of who one’s parents are, how you speak and dress, codifies British society in such a fundamental way, that it is impossible to grasp untill out of the culture and viewing it at a remove and distance.

      The most important live symbols in that society are overt in their display. Horse parades, pomp and deference, the most important person in that society, immediately obvious, and it filters down from the top. The Briitsh are not the most subtle when it comes to their pecking orders, unlike cultures such as this one which evolved on the basis of nod and wink, the least likely most-important person, being the very one. Michael Collins on his bicycle under the noses of the colonialists, who took their cue from Their Majesties, the behavioral more and mode being on of born-better.

      Changing the political set up and effecting a removal of the monarchy from political life, is beyond the scope of this blog-comment, but it seems to me, that the reason British poets who were rebels in their younger days, sell out on the principle of equality whilst dressing it up as some noble selfless attempt at spreading the poetry gospel and unconnected to personal ambition – is because they are up a cul-de-sac in regards to poetic examples or routes to enoblement.

      In order to escape one’s birth-class in Britian, there is a heavy pressure to change accent, mobilely go up the pole and re-invent oneself by adhereing to a set of principles in which ennunciating correctly carries very subtle political implications, where speaking the *queen’s* English carries the charge of being sympathetic to the cause of that one person born into being Head of State, Defender of a Faith and two pages of upper cased titles designed to make the working class feel they to can make it to the top?

      If Duffy has any intelligence and is still a goer to the church of socialism, she could use this appointement very wisely, to change the very fabric of British society in an effort to effect what the real Labour founder Kier Hardie was after doing: removing the barriers which are fuedal in origin and cause serving only the people in one small family, who could detach themselves from political life, go private and show the rest of the citizens of Britain, *we* are just like you and all the fancy dress and baubles of nomenclature make nbot a jot of difference, because self-enoblement is the purpose of poetry and it is found by studying and knowing your tradition, which in this country was 1200 years in print and now, is all but forgotten.

      The document underpinning it, the holy grail of not only Irish poetry, but any tradition, was only first translated in 1983 and on the face of it, answers the age old question, What is Poetry?

      Have a gander, forget the sideshow, re-connect with Amegin’s philosophy and the wishy washy gobble dee gook from the plastic laureates who seek to serve themselves and their Queen, not for any purpose related to the working class, but the exclusive class based on *if yer names not chuck, yer not gerrin in*


      This untitled 7C text is translated by Erynn Rowan Laurie .

      This text, faithfully copied through the centuries in the original Old Irish, is found in a 15C Harleian (Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford) manuscript 3.18, one of the Irish legal codices now at Trinity College, with the identification tag: MS 1337, and not one poet has yet talked with me about after repeated attempts to share it.

      This text was only translated in 1983, and when i first clapped eyes on it three years ago, thought this cannot be, as – on the face of it – it explains what poetry is, where it comes from and how it humanly works; from the point of view of a 7C bard, who had (say) 1000 years of druids behind him or her, and 1000 years ahead of them, and it has no title, i am guessing, because it needed none as it was the first poem the grade one fochloc (sapling) was given at their first day in bard school.

      Cauldron of Poesy

    • Paul Tubb says:

      Fiona said, ‘I guess it does give them a national platform for such passionate speech, which is a valid point.;

      It is a very valid point, but Benjamin Zephaniah recently turned down his MBE nationally, Wendy Cope recently scorned the position of the Laureate, nationally. They were poets with a national platform not provided with holding a high poetic position…

      My point was simply that a lot of published poets already have a huge platforms, and none of them should be waiting till they are Laureates to use these platforms to promote poetry.

      I am a less well known poet who travels around schools, in Ireland, promoting the Art of poetry. I would love a larger platform and I do not believe that the larger platform needs to be given to me by a government or a monarchy.

    • John Self says:

      Bloody hell Desmond, you don’t half go on.

    • Una P says:

      What ever pain Duffy may feel at being Royal poetic property shall surely be subdued by the sherry…

      I say congratulations to her for taking a role others would subject to scorn.

    • Jane Delmer says:

      At last Carol ann duffy has been honoured, she was in the runnin some years ago but was over looked on account of her beiing a lesbein like, now its been all settled and she must be right chuffed , good on ya girl, Ya done us proud!
      Now she go ahead and write all abaut her lovleys and Prince aRRY and at; Im right gobsmacked I am,sruth!! Watt news!

    • Kynos says:

      always thought “This Be The Verse” was worth putting up with the whole charade and all the baubles and gee-gaws of royalty. Haven’t we aosdana over here? Frances Stuart’s wartime broadcasts ditto.

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