Friday, 1 May 2009

Poetic licence

Being paid £5760 a year and 600 bottles of sherry to write the odd poem, should you be so inclined, sounds like a rather pleasant job. And Carol Ann Duffy has just landed it.

Britain's quaint old post of Poet Laureate has been around for some 340 years. What exactly the point of it is, apart from penning a few verses for the Monarch, I'm not sure.

Apparently the holder doesn't actually have to produce anything if the muse doesn't take them. If they spend the entire ten years claiming poet's block, that's just ticketyboo.

However in practice a few memorable lines are expected on Royal occasions such as weddings or birthdays. Glamorous occasions only of course. "Lines on the Queen falling off her horse and landing in a pile of horse manure" wouldn't quite fit the bill.

But no Poet Laureate has ever been sacked except the first, John Dryden, who was given the boot after he refused to swear an oath of loyalty to William the Third. Nobody has ever been fired for producing sub-standard work, even when it causes public uproar.

The process of selecting the Poet Laureate is deeply mysterious and never divulged. "Not only is the process secret, but even the reason why it is a secret is a secret" concluded one thwarted investigator. Some sort of Masonic ritual, perhaps?

Well, all I can say is, I may be out of a job but that's not one I'll be applying for. Apart from there being quite enough awful poetry in circulation already, somehow I think being a Republican would upset the apple cart.

NB: I mean Republican in the British sense (anti-Monarchy) rather than the Irish sense (a united Ireland) or the American sense (right-wing). A confusing word these days....

Photo: Carol Ann Duffy

* I'm told Blogger has lost some comments. If you're also losing comments, let me know at


  1. Oh Nick struck a chord with this one. I think its a sweet tradition but I am so unenthused about poetry, I just don't get it. Such a shame because many of the blogs I visit love it but it just makes me want to giggle half the time. And yes, there is quite enough awful poetry out there. And I take it by republican you mean ditch the queen, not adopt the far right! Hehehe! You'll confuse your American readers no end!

  2. Sometimes Blogger just swallows my comments on your blog, Nick, odd that. It just did.

    Anyway, I’ll copy it next time before I hit “post”

    I thought you might be feeling a little humbuggy this morning J
    There’s something so oddly quaint about the position and I just love that feature of it.
    And also there has been some beautiful poetry arising out of it:

    William Wordsworth,
    Ted Hughes,
    Lord Tennyson, et al.

    And Duffy is the first woman as Laureate in the 400+ years since it was started.

    Maybe it’s primogeniture next for the throne?

    Nah, I’m just dreaming. Ha!


  3. Baino - Oh, I'm not unenthused by poetry, quite the opposite, in fact I've written a lot of poetry myself. I'm not attacking Carol Ann Duffy either, she's written some great poems. I just find this particular job rather pointless and sycophantic.

    I've added a note about which brand of Republicanism I'm referring to!

    www - So Blogger finally cooperated. As per Baino, I love poetry but not this daft old tradition. Yes indeed, Carol Ann Duffy is the first woman, the first lesbian and the first Scot! How about that?

    Humbuggy, moi?

  4. Republican? Just don't mention Cromwell down this neck of the woods.

  5. Grow Up - I wouldn't dream of it. I have no interest in Cromwell one way or the other.

  6. Lesbian? Really?

    I hadn't heard this news (about being Poet laureate not lesbian). It's good news because she's a woman and a stander-upper for writers. And that's how much they get paid? Wow! I sort of thought it was done for honour and glory not money.

  7. Liz - Well, I agree she's promoting writers and poetry, but surely she can do that in a hundred other ways? Though probably not so lucratively....

  8. a "re-publican" - a Irish bar owner who reapplies for their license - not sure about the whole political connotation :-)

  9. Quicky - Ha ha. There must be plenty of poems about Irish pubs and their customers, that's for sure.

  10. For 600 bottles of sherry
    I would write
    Lines of great beauty
    and not total sh*te.

    Do I get the job? I would have made the first and third lines rhyme too but it would have been hard to work a ferry in there.

  11. Caro - For 600 bottles of sherry
    My poems would all be very
    Poignant and sad
    With a heartbreaking twist
    While I would be totally pissed.

  12. I'm rather drawn by the 600 bottles of sherry, how quaint.

    I noticed you had started following my blog Nick, thank you ;)).

  13. Hulla - It was originally a cask of Canary wine, which at some point was updated to 600 bottles of sherry. That seems quite a lot now but the post was originally for life.

    I signed in as a follower because your posting was getting a bit unpredictable and I didn't want to miss one!

  14. I am SO glad she has been appointed Poet Laureate, I think her work is brilliant. If you've not come across her poems before, start with her collection "The World's Wife". The USA also has a Poet Laureate, and at the moment it is also a woman,(also a lesbian)Kay Ryan. Mind you the post pays a helluva lot more than Duffy will be getting - $35,000 p.a. but then there are no bottles of sherry! Duffy is donating her stipend to the Poetry Society to use as a prize for the best new collection of poetry each year.

  15. Herschelian - I've only read a few of her poems. I must look at the collection you mention.

    I'm surprised there are so many people in favour of the job, considering all it officially yields are a few Royal poems. As I said, anyone can promote the joys of poetry, they don't need to be Poet Laureate to do that.