Right of Reply

A poet responds to our recent leading article on reforming the post of poet laureate
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The Independent Culture
A POX upon your faint-hearted suggestions for timid reform of the laureateship. You are reluctant to do away with a centuries-old tradition, but this does the art of poetry no favours. Although the existence of the Poet Laureate affords the muse some of her rare appearances on the stage of public life, in leading articles and Newsnight discussions and the like, it's a shame she must make her entrance in antique motley, with pounds 70 clutched in her hand and a butt of wine under her arm.

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.