So we have a new Poet Laureate. For my non-Brit readers, this is a position conferred by our monarch (as advised by the Prime Minister) and worth, in addition to the honour, £5750 a year plus a butt of sack. The laurels now sit on the brow of Simon Armitage, who used to work as a probation officer, so no whiff of an ivory tower there. And as a son of God’s Own County, he’d probably be happy to swap the sack for a cask of Ossett’s Yorkshire Blonde.
Mr Armitage has been told by Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, a Government department as philistine in its opinions as in its title, that he is under no obligation to write poems alluding to Royal events. Or indeed any poems at all. Well. What would Lord Tennyson say?
What our new Laureate says is, that he has no idea what he’ll write. I imagine two of his predecessors might be on the phone to him with words of advice any day. Andrew Motion got mocked for his poem on the occasion of Prince Charles’s marriage to Camilla. Carol Ann Duffy, the gay Laureate who wrote something for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, got lambasted by the sistahood for celebrating a traditional heterosexual marriage. A minefield.
From his statements since his appointment, Simon Armitage sounds pretty ‘woke’. He says he hopes he won’t be judged on his identity as a white male. What can he mean? What’s wrong with being a white male? If we’ve so far only had one female Poet Laureate it’s possibly because women are often too busy keeping the world running smoothly to be full-time poets. Was it just a touch of self-deprecation? It was public knowledge that he hadn’t been the first choice candidate. That was Imtiaz Dharker, a female, Glaswegian Pakistani, who declined the honour because of the demands of the position. Which are what exactly? To encourage the nation, particularly children, to read and write poetry? Good, fine. But I still think we’re owed the occasional encomium.
I’m no poet but I thought I’d offer something to encourage Mr Armitage in his new role.
Hail, laureled poet, Y-chromosom’d and pale.
Theresa says no need of toadying lines.
Just trade the sherry for some Theakston’s ale.
Okay, it’s a work in progress.