Leading article: Rhyme and reason

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Some of those women touted as contenders to be our first female Poet Laureate would not have got very far in a Renaissance court. Wendy Cope today dismisses the post as "archaic". Fleur Adcock describes it as "terribly hard work for little pay". Meanwhile, Ruth Padel says that "my impulse would be to turn it down".

One suspects that this is not the sort of thing that those monarchs who used to appoint poets to sing their praises would have much liked to hear. But times have changed. For one thing, the attraction of 630 bottles of sherry a year is evidently not what it once was.

For another, if these women are not attracted by the role of poet to the British royalty there is little that can be done to persuade them otherwise (however gratifying it might be to see the male stranglehold on such an establishment institution as the laureateship finally broken).

Ms Adcock and Ms Padel both feel that their poetry is not suited to the ceremonial, public function demanded by the laureateship. Ms Adcock says: "When I started poetry it was something you did in private, not in public." Ms Padel is worried that "you wouldn't be able to write what you wanted to". What better reasons for refusal could there be?

It is also worth remembering that among those who have turned down the laureateship in the past are such names as Philip Larkin, Thomas Gray and Sir Walter Scott. These independent-minded women are already in illustrious company.

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