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Sunday, November 8, 1998 Published at 19:48 GMT


Poetic race for royal appointment

Ted Hughes: Hard act to follow

Poets across the country are honing their verses and sharpening their stanzas in the hope of becoming the next Poet Laureate.

The BBC's Briony Leonard: The government wants this to be a people's choice
It follows the death last week of Ted Hughes.

Bookmakers put writer and Arts Council member Andrew Motion as the front runner for the prestigious post.

William Hill places him at 6-4 ahead of James Fenton at 7-2 and Wendy Cope with odds of 4-1.

[ image: Sir  Paul McCartney: Mo Mowlam's favourite]
Sir Paul McCartney: Mo Mowlam's favourite
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, is rooting for former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney - he trails behind at 33-1.

Her suggestion reflects the government's desire to break with tradition.

Since 1666, it is the monarch who has made the appointment with advice from the prime minister. But Labour wants this to be a people's choice and there is even talk of a national opinion poll. The Queen will still have the last say.

Jamaican-born James Berry would be some radical poet lovers' perfect choice.

"Poetry has become such a lively kind of commodity and something everybody's taking part in," said Mr Berry from Brighton.

"So we have to have someone as a poet laureate responsible for occasional poems to the [Royal] household being concerned with community as well and really enliven the whole thing even more."

'No decision behind closed doors'

David Lepper, the Labour MP from Mr Berry's home town of Brighton, said there needs to be a more democratic approach.

"Let's have a discussion about this. Let's have a debate about it. Let's not just have a decision made somewhere behind closed doors with charges of cronyism that are bound to come from that."

Other populist poets on the people's wish list include John Hegley, Simon Armitage, Roger McGough and comic Pam Ayres.

[ image: Pam Ayres: Comic choice]
Pam Ayres: Comic choice
Wendy Cope leads the female candidates, and Hasting's poet Fiona Pitt-Kethley wrote her pitch - in verse of course - directly to the Daily Telegraph letters page.

But the favourite, Mr Motion, was a friend of Mr Hughes, who died of liver cancer a week ago.

He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has written biographies of Philip Larkin and John Keats.

Second favourite James Fenton is an Oxford University poetry professor and a former newspaper foreign correspondent.

[ image: Seamus Heaney: Nobel prize-winning contender]
Seamus Heaney: Nobel prize-winning contender
Irishman Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, ties in fourth place with Carol Ann Duffy at 8-1.

Whoever succeeds Mr Hughes will join a long line of official poets which began with John Dryden.

William Hill's odds are:

    Andrew Motion - 6-4
    James Fenton - 7-2
    Wendy Cope - 4-1
    Carol Ann Duffy - 8-1
    Seamus Heaney - 8-1
    Charles Causley - 10-1
    James Berry - 12-1
    Tony Harrison - 12-1
    Benjamin Zephaniah - 14-1
    John Hegley - 14-1
    Roger McGough - 14-1
    Simon Armitage - 16-1
    Fleur Adcock - 20-1
    Danny Abse - 20-1
    Douglas Dunn - 20-1
    John Fuller - 20-1
    CH Sisson - 20-1
    Derek Walcott - 20-1
    Tom Paulin - 33-1
    Paul McCartney - 33-1
    Pam Ayres - 33-1

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