Poet laureate options (by Michael Prodger)


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Poet laureate options

The poets who are in line to be Britain's next poet laureate

By Michael Prodger, Literary Editor
Last Updated: 11:00PM GMT 22 Nov 2008


Fenton comes with an unimpeachable poetic pedigree: at Oxford he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, which puts him in the company of Ruskin, Matthew Arnold and Oscar Wilde, and went on the become Professor of Poetry at the university. He has brought the experience won as a war correspondent and political journalist to bear on his verse, expressing himself powerfully but, to traditionalists, unthreateningly, in established forms. Fenton will also have heavyweight supporters in the shape of Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and Ian McEwan with whom he once worked at the New Statesman and in admirers of the stage-show Les Misérables for which he provided the libretto and which in turn made him rich.


At 45 Armitage has youth and energy on his side. He also has impressive poet-of-the-people credentials having, in his pre-muse life, worked as both a probation officer and as an undertaker's assistant. He is a prolific writer in various genres, the author of a dozen collections of verse as well as radio, television, film and stage scripts he has also written a novel. Armitage has made strenuous attempts to broaden the appeal of poetry outside its heartlands; his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, bringing Middle English to an audience who first encountered the poet on his regular appearances on Radio 1.


Cope has previous form, having won a Radio Four listeners' poll in 1998 to succeed Ted Hughes in the Laureate post. Not the most prolific of poets, she owes her popularity with both adults and children to a deft comical voice that has drawn comparisons with John Betjeman and Philip Larkin among others and in which she makes even misery gently amusing. This gift meant that her collection Serious Concerns, published in 1992, sold an unprecedented (for poetry) 180,000 copies. A note of caution should be sounded by the fact that Cope has expressed her reluctance to become Poet Laureate – not on ideological grounds but because she doesn't want to be pestered by journalists.


Zephania, the Birmingham-born Rastafarian and dub poet, is an adherent of poetry's verbal tradition and his verse comes from his Jamaican roots, having the rhythm of reggae without the music. A favourite in schools, Zephania's political activism – from race to human rights and veganism – is a ready source of material. He has 13 honorary doctorates to his name as well as a number one record (Rasta) – in the former Yugoslavia. Should he be offered the Laureateship a gracious acceptance is unlikely: he turned down an OBE in 2003 in protest at 'how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised'.


Highly regarded and many people's pick for the post, Duffy is adroit at handling controversy: earlier this year the exam board AQA removed one of her poems, Education for Leisure, from the GCSE curriculum (where she is a staple) claiming it glorified knife crime. The poet's elegant response was to write a reply in verse pointing out the amount of knife usage in Shakespeare's plays. Her work is potent but approachable; as she says: 'I like to use simple words in a complicated way.' Her leftist, feminist and lesbian ethos should tick Government boxes, nevertheless, she missed out on the Laureateship in 1999 because, it is said, Tony Blair feared her sexuality would play badly in middle England.


As the grand old man of British verse (he was born in 1932), Hill's poetry has different origins to those of the other likely candidates. He was formed in earlier times when poetry was widely understood to be a vehicle for transmitting complex ideas; his work, therefore, is often unapologetically demanding, a direct response to the urge towards simplification he sees in the modern world. Hill's cause will not be helped by some critics' reading of his subject matter – the landscape, British and European history – as reactionary whereas he sees his affiliations as humanitarian rather than sectarian. He may be held back too by an ear for language that can be at times too subtle to attract notice.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/3500734/Poet-laureate-options.html
« Last Edit: 23 Nov, 2008, 01:58:44 by wings »
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