David Lister: A Poet Laureate should work harder

Share
Related Topics

Who'd be the Poet Laureate? They have to write verse about those increasingly unfashionable and largely unpoetic royal occasions, births, marriages and birthdays. They traditionally receive a quantity of sherry for their pains, but no actual dosh. And, as the departing Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, pictured, complained this week, they are subject to mockery. No wonder some of the names of those being bandied about to succeed Motion are letting it be known that they are not interested.

Clearly the life of a Laureate is a tough one. It brings a tear to either eye. Andrew Motion says that the eight poems that he wrote during his 10-year tenure were the hardest of his life. One could focus on the word hard, and muse on how hard a task that must have been. But I am more struck by the word eight. In 10 years, eight poems. That does not seem to me too draining a work rate.

Motion goes further in detailing the ardours and, indeed, humiliations of the job. "How was I to steer an appropriate course between familiarity, which would seem presumptuous, and sycophancy, which would seem absurd?" He recounts how he tried to steer exactly that course with his commemoration of Prince Charles's marriage to Camilla. Part of his poem went: "I took your news outdoors and strolled a while. In silence in my square of garden ground." However, the press was scathing, he says. "They get on the phone to as many people as it takes to find someone who doesn't like the poem. Then they have their story: Poet Laureate writes another no-good poem."

The consolation must have been that he was only humiliated eight times in a decade. Better than most of us manage. Perhaps Charles and Camilla, with all we know about the history of the match, was not the best subject for a poem. A limerick, perhaps. One thing we can surmise about Camilla is that Diana wanted to kill her. With the need to cover royal occasions a part of the job, a Limerick Laureate might not be a bad idea. But there is another way to look at the job of Poet Laureate, an approach that should make all those reluctant laureates feel ashamed. The Poet Laureate could actually make use of his or her status as the only household name poet in the country to be the nation's advocate for poetry.

As far as writing goes, it would be good for the public profile of poetry to have more than eight poems in a decade. Yes, do the verses for those royal occasions, but why not poems for to mark other occasions – the Olympics, England winning the Ashes, the Glastonbury Festival, the recession, a soldier's death. No subject should be beyond poetry's reach. Why not a poem for the first day of spring? Poets used to like that sort of thing.

But beyond that, the Poet Laureate should truly be the nation's poet, an advocate and champion of the art form. Certainly he or she should visit schools and appear at festivals; but the Laureate should also be a familiar face on TV chat shows. Poetry, uniquely among art forms, has one person singled out as its representative, given, for what it is worth, royal approval, identified in the public mind as the nation's poet. To fail to make the most of that privilege is a wasted opportunity, not just for the individual, but for all who love poetry. To refuse the post altogether is a betrayal of poetry.

The secret of their success...

James Corden and Mathew Horne are probably trying to understand what's hit them with the barrage of critical abuse they have received for their TV sketch show and for the film Lesbian Vampire Killers. Critics and public alike wonder how the two golden boys behind the funny and charming TV series Gavin and Stacey could have come so badly unstuck.

I think I have the answer. It is Ruth Jones. It seems to have been forgotten that Corden did not write Gavin and Stacey; he co-wrote it. Jones, pictured, who also plays, rather brilliantly, the Welsh tough nut Nessa in the series, was the other co-writer. My hunch is that while Corden supplied the laddish dialogue, Ms Jones was behind much of the characterisation.

Why have Horne and Corden come a cropper? Look for the missing link. There's no Ruth Jones.

Get happy: Judy's back on screen

It's strange that there has not been a proper big-screen biopic of the late Judy Garland. The singer's fame, talent, her performance in The Wizard of Oz, unhappy private life, drink, drugs and early death contain the ingredients for quite a script. Perhaps it has been the lack of the right actress to play her.

In which case, the news from Hollywood this week that Anne Hathaway has been cast in a Harvey Weinstein project to play the singer is most welcome. The actress not only has a passing resemblance to Garland, but is also a major talent herself, and was unlucky to miss out on an Oscar for her portrayal of the bride's self-absorbed sister with a drug habit in Rachel Getting Married.

She could certainly do justice to the part of Judy Garland, though I hope that Weinstein will insist on her miming to Garland's voice. No actress, not even Anne Hathaway, could capture that.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones