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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK


Laureate decision due soon

Ted Hughes: Choosing a successor has proved to be a lengthy task

Downing Street says a decision on the long-awaited appointment of a new poet laureate should be made soon, almost six months since the death of Ted Hughes.

Since Hughes's death in October there has been intense speculation as to who will take the job, which is chiefly to write poems to mark Royal events like weddings, christenings and birthdays.

A Downing Street spokeswoman told BBC News Online an announcement was due by the end of April, ending months of waiting among the UK's literary community.

Since 1666, the monarch has decided who will be poet laureate after taking advice from the prime minister.

But some of the favourites for the post have not been rushing to take the job up.

[ image: Tony Harrison withdrew from the race by publishing a critical poem in a newspaper]
Tony Harrison withdrew from the race by publishing a critical poem in a newspaper
In February, Tony Harrison ruled himself out of the running in flamboyant stayle with a 94-line anti-royal poem, printed across a page of a national newspaper.

He recalled the words of the anti-laureate 17th century poet Thomas Gray, who referred to the role as "rat catcher to His Majesty" - and ended the poem, called Laureate's Block, imagining himself in bed with the current queen.

The government has reportedly considered changing the poet laureate's role to reflect the life of the UK's population as a whole, not just the Royal Family.

There have been proposals for the next laureate to be appointed for a limited term of just five or ten years and to be paid a proper salary, rather than the £70 per year past laureates have received.

Favourites for the position include Wendy Cope, whose poems are judged to be witty and accessible - but some critics dismiss her as too lightweight to be the UK's first female laureate.

St Lucia-born Derek Walcott is seen as a more heavyweight contender. He would be the first black laureate and the first who wasn't a British citizen. Irishman Seamus Heaney has also been suggested.

Oxford Professor of Poetry James Fenton and Andrew Motion have been mentioned as favourites, as has UA Fanthorpe, who wrote verses to mark the Prince of Wales's 50th birthday.

Experts say her experiences working in education and the health service would boost her chances of approval from Mr Blair.

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