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ANDREW MOTION is emerging as front-runner to succeed Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate, writes Marguerite Jones. The biographer of Keats, prolific poet and professor of creative writing at East Anglia is seen as an Establishment figure who would be highly acceptable for the job.

Some sense that Professor Motion's application for the post was submitted 16 months ago: he wrote a poem on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, published in the Times on the day of her funeral.

Should he be appointed, it will disappoint those who believe the next Poet Laureate represents an opportunity for the position to reflect Britain today: multicultural, with women playing a far greater role in public life.

Wendy Cope has been cited as a candidate by the Independent, the Times, and Peter Forbes, editor of the Poetry Review. "She is genuinely popular, funny and topical. She works very well to commission," Mr Forbes said. "She is something of a female Betjeman; wry and very much a public poet."

Also a contender is Fleur Adcock, who achieved notoriety with her "In the dream I was kissing John Prescott" line of verse.

Benjamin Zephaniah, whose verse draws heavily on Afro-Caribbean speech and culture, and Derek Walcott, who hails from St Lucia, are also considered candidates who would bring a breath of fresh air to the job.

One of the most popular poets of the age, the Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney, is ineligible because he is Irish. But as Mr Forbes puts it: "Might Number 10 think that Seamus Heaney as Poet Laureate would give a boost to the peace process?"

Candidates who would win the youth vote are Simon Armitage and performance- poet John Hegley.