Commemorative verses from the virtual Poet Laureate

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SEVERAL IMPORTANT events this week. The end of duty free shopping. Murdoch's marriage. Greg Dyke's job at the BBC. And yet nothing on any of them from Andrew Motion.

What kind of a Poet Laureate have we got here? A very under-performing one, if you ask me.

So in the last few days I have gone into session with the mighty Independent computer and programmed it to make up for things by producing new Andrew Motion lyrics on a variety of subjects.

First of all I fed into the machine all known poetry by young Mr Motion. I left the computer to digest this information. Then I asked it to produce a farewell ode to duty free shopping.

What I actually got was a printed out question from the computer: "Blimey - he's not exactly a barrel of laughs, is he?"

This is true. If I had to sum up Mr Motion's basic mood, it is one of controlled melancholia, the sound of a man muttering to himself conversationally about better (though mostly worse) days gone by. But I don't like computers to get all judgemental and uppity and think themselves superior to us. So I delivered him a sharp note. "Never mind about that - let's have that little verse on the end of duty free I asked you for."

It came five minutes later.

The End of Duty Free

by Andrew Motion

I can remember the crowded bottles,

sometimes wine, more often malt,

which stood along the shelves in rows,

runners for a race that never started.

On your marks. On your francs.

On your sterling traveller's cheques.

Outside, the Channel rises and falls,

grey as my father's old war vest,

but in the duty free the colour riots,

Campari red, and Cointreau orange,

and the peculiar brown of Bourbon.

I liked the colours in the duty free,

the muted heathers of the whisky,

the massed bands of the Grenadine Guards.

I turned to you and said: "Do we need gin?"

But you had gone. Later it rained.

"Hmm," I told the computer. "Not bad. But depressing. Can you do something a bit more cheerful, maybe about Rupert Murdoch and his lovely bride?" It did as it was told. Judge the results for yourself.

A Wedding at Sea

by Andrew Motion

As the Atlantic rises and falls,

the preacher says the age-old words.

"Do you, here insert name of man,

take this Chinese woman to be your wife?

Do you also take Chinese nationality

to aid your attempt to penetrate

the burgeoning media map of China

as once you did become American?

And have you settled with your wife -

the other one I mean - who is to be

the boss of all News International

when you curl up your toes and die?"

There is a pause. The sea is grey,

the colour of my father's socks.

Old Rupert winks and says:

"I'll fax you my answer later,"

and vanishes. He has just thought

of a newspaper he wants to buy.

"That's quite enough of that," I tell the computer, but he is not done yet. A final chatter of activity and the following is printed out.

On the Appointment of Greg Dyke

by Andrew Motion

During his time, John Birt grew up, grew old,

grew like my father, grey and thin.

Towards the end of his reign at the Beeb

he grew a title, then grew invisible.

"Is the D-G in?" people would say.

But nobody ever knew. He was see-through.

Always elsewhere, like the Wizard of Oz,

a little man behind a mighty throne.

Now there is a new man at the door,

who looks round at the old wallpaper

and does not like it. Go on, Greg.

Be brave and go and sit on the throne.

It is not his now. It is all your own.

Hmm. I'm not sure. Next time I think I'll limit myself to asking him to do a poem on the backlog at the Passport Office.

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