I think I gained some sense of my calling when I was - what? - five or six years of age. I still remember the moment when I realised I was a poet. I was walking through a wood, the dappled glades o'ershadowing my brow, clad in shorts, cap, crisp white shirt and sensible sandals. Suddenly, as if from Heaven, it came to me with a crystal clarity that "wood" rhymed with "food". And therewith my first poem was formed. Naive, yes - but also, friends assure me, deeply poignant in its very simplicity:
Walking through the shady wood
I think that in a few hours time I
should like to eat some food.
I hope it will taste good
Because I can't deny I'm in the mood.
This poem - "Repast V" is to be found in my new tome, Smoke-Rings from a Poet's Pipe: The Collected Poems of Wallace Arnold (Oxford University Press). In the past few days, I have taken the liberty of forwarding it to Mr Campbell at Downing Street with this accompanying note:
"Dear Alastair (may I?!),
"Friends have informed me that your shortlist for the exalted post of Poet Laureate is lacking in a certain - how to put it kindly? - a certain `oomph'. Of the four nominees, one is a woman and the others are photographed in open-necked shirts. It must be clear to all at No 10 that not a single one of these scruffs is suited to the task of composing a sufficiently respectful ode in celebration of the forthcoming marriage of HRH Prince Edward and Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones. They may well make the right noises in "Writers' Workshops" (dread locations!) or the like, but does this really qualify them to expound on matters of national and international significance? Methinks not.
"I enclose my collection for your approval, together with a first draught of my `Edward and Sophie: Ode to a Super Young Couple,' to be officially released to coincide with the Wedding of the Century. My qualifications for the Laureateship - public school, Garrick, confidant of Royalty, never photographed in open neck - are gaining me a tidal wave of support. Incidentally, I am mustard-keen to compose a poem in praise of Tony's first two years in Downing Street. I have the rhymes ready in my head for immediate dispersal. Blair - extremely fair, his watchword is care, good head of hair, warm as a bear, he and Cherie make a lovely pair, always looks good in smart-casual wear, qualities oh so rare, we love him yeah yeah yeah.
"Let me know your answer soonest. A poet's blessings on you all.
"Yours ever, Wallace (Arnold)."
Though this communication was - and must remain - strictly private, I am prepared to let devoted readers of this column see selected extracts from my aforementioned ode:
Edward and Sophie - a super
They don't seem the type to cause
She, with neat, well-pressed clothes
that usually match.
He, with inoffensive face and slight
Together, oh joy of joys, they will walk
down the aisle
All hail, Prince and Commoner,
hail! hail! hail!
A joyous occasion, without a single
Britain rejoices in a couple who
share a terrific sense of humour
Through pageantry, pomp and
crowds two abreast
We may look on with pride and say,
"It's what Britain does best."
Those better equipped to judge than I assure me that this little offering is intensely moving, and perfectly in tune with the occasion. It will prove a crucial test of Mr Blair's taste to see whether he is prepared to dispatch his weak, unkempt shortlist to the wastepaper basket and rethink his plans.
It is not, of course, the fault of my fellow shortlistees if their mothers never taught them how to dress to go out. Nor can they be blamed for the sulkiness of expression that creeps into their verse. But does the nation really want the Laureate to mope around, all down-in-the- mouth?
I think not. "Cheer up, it might never happen!" should surely be the new Laureate's motto. I rest my case.