Right of Reply
A poet responds to our recent leading article on reforming the post of poet laureate
Monday 24 May 1999
Poetry itself has a pedigree and a dignity far greater than the laureateship, and should no longer be shackled to such an anachronism.
There is no reason why a crown of bays should only be awarded to one living poet at a time. In ancient Athens, for example, the competition for the best tragic poet was held annually. Let us have a new laureate elected periodically, say, every four years - taking the Olympics for a parallel - the choice to be made by a college of, say, 100 poets.
The prize would bring a stipend of pounds 20,000 a year, for life - since poets are poets for life. The candidates should perhaps be over 40: apart from exceptional youths like Keats and Rimbaud, a poet's worth is not often established until middle age. Even if all the laureates were unusually long-lived, it is unlikely there would be more than about a dozen of them at a time, at a total cost to the public purse of less than pounds 250,000 a year - a droplet in the ocean of opera funding!
The prize should undoubtedly be open to all poets writing in English, regardless of nationality, since all their work redounds to the credit of our chief export - the language.
The great benefit of this system is that it would provide a regular diet of literary jealousy and malice to keep poetry in the public eye.
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