`A nice fellow. He'll do it well'

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The Independent Online
IF EVER a man was destined to be damned with faint praise it was the poet Andrew Motion yesterday. The news of his appointment as Poet Laureate drew a muted reaction from his peers, with little in the way of enthusiastic approval,

Many who have been outspoken in the past were suddenly unavailable for comment and those who did react said merely that they were "pleased". Oxford poet Craig Raine said: "I think it is great. He will do very well." Wendy Cope, who shares a publisher with Motion, said she liked his work and it was a "good appointment".

But a strong contingent believed the position should have gone to Carol Ann Duffy. Neil Rollinson, a former winner of the National Poetry Competition, said: "I would have preferred her but the message we are getting from the establishment is no gays, no blacks and no Paddies.

He added: "Andrew is a nice fellow and I'm sure he'll do a good job, but he isn't held in the greatest esteem. They had the chance to bring the office of Poet Laureate into the modern age and they blew it. Carol Ann's work is highly regarded and she would have been the poets' choice."

Prize-winning poet and jazz musician, Don Paterson, agreed. "I am disappointed that Carol Ann didn't get it because she was a very strong candidate and I think it would have been a good opportunity to set a precedent for a woman," he said, before adding politely: "But Andrew Motion is a very good poet, and I'm sure he'll do very well."

One publisher, who did not want to be named, said it had been an impossible task to choose the new Laureate. "There were only about three people left once various others had said they didn't want to do it," he said.

He added: "It's unfair to call Motion the safe establishment choice. Poets are never complimentary about each other and Motion is on the Arts Council so he will not be popular ... The most imaginative choice would have been Simon Armitage or Carol Ann Duffy, but Motion is a good poet."

But Motion can take heart from his predecessor, Ted Hughes. At the time of his appointment in 1984, critics complained that Hughes had been very good some 15 years previously but had begun to write obscure work that no-one understood. Motion may not be the choice of his peers, but as yet no-one has suggested that he is past it.