The new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, will represent poetry and its practitioners to the masses. In the spirit of working to commission, we asked a range of poets to give the new laureate some advice in verse form.
IAN MCMILLAN Ian McMillan has been a poet, broadcaster, commentator and programme maker for over 20 years. He presents The Verb on Radio 3 and appears on Newsnight Review, Have I Got News for You and the Today programme. He writes comedy and plays as well as verse and is poet in residence for Barnsley FC and Humberside Police's Beat Poet. ---------------------------- Advice to the New Poet Laureate
Think twice before you take on Royal commissions
Or they'll be little more than rhyming emissions
On a birth or a death or a visit to Crewe
Or whether a Queenly snuffle is the onset of swine flu.
Be sparing in the poems you agree to write
Or your verse will start to veer from serious to light
And your muse will sit and cower where she previously took flight
Because the stanzas that you're penning are just a pile of detritus...
LEMN SISSAY Poet and playwright Lemn Sissay is artist in residence at the Southbank Centre. Aside from his writing, he is in demand as a speaker and broadcaster, and recently made a documentary about poet and musician Gil Scott Heron for BBC Radio 4. Sissay said: "Whether people like it or not a writer's relationship with his or her words is more powerful than any commission, publication, TV show or award. My eight lines is entitled Rest, to try and capture the decisive moment before the writer sleeps on the night of the award."
I expect you might at some point tonight
Beneath the sheets before sleep
Still reeling from the flaying lights,
Want or more likely seek
Rest. There is no manifesto in this
Nor snake-like list of things to do.
There is no tomorrow either,
There's poetry as ever and you.
LUKE WRIGHT 27-year-old Luke Wright won the 4Talent award and went on to write the poetry for Channel 4's 2009 programme The Seven Ages of Love. He is poet in residence for Radio 4's Saturday Live and he hosts and programmes the poetry tent at the Latitude Festival. In one of his solo poetry shows, Poet Laureate, he put himself forward for the job. The pitch "Rates negotiable. Has own quill. NB: Won't write about Royal Family" - was surprisingly unsuccessful. He sent us "a verse of standard habbie, a form favoured by Roberts Burns. What a Poet Laureate he would have made." ------------------
For poets taking royal laurels
and painting patrons bright as coral
I charge you don't forget your morals for a few bob, take all your skinflint, bitter quarrels
with you to the job
SCROOBIUS PIP Scroobius Pip takes his name from Edward Lear's unfinished poem The Scroobious Pip. He is a performance poet and one half of the electro-hiphop outfit Dans le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip
They have performed at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and Coachella and their 2008 debut album Angles went to number 16 in the UK Indie chart.
You can hear Pip's poem to the right and here's a quote as a taster:
Being Poet Laureate gives you absolute carte blanche
to lead this brave, great nation on your own nonsensical dance.
ANNELIESE EMMANS DEAN Anneliese Emmans Dean worked as a translator, an editor and a phonetician for the Oxford English Dictionary before becoming a poet. She writes about the environment, including two eco-musicals and runs education projects in schools. She sent us two poems and told us: "When she took office in May 1979, Britain's first woman Prime Minister paraphrased the Prayer of St Francis. I thought I'd do likewise in my advice to Britain's first woman poet laureate." --------------------------
Where there is discord, may you bring euphony
Where there is error, may you bring scansion
Where there is doubt, may you bring rhyme
And where there are royal weddings
May you bring sonnets of sterling sincerity
(Or, failing that, limericks.)
On The Role Of The Next Century's Poet Laureate
Opium of the masses
Feed their habit
Feed their habit
For the working classes
Let 'em have it
Let 'em have it
Raise your champagne glasses
Chitter chat it
Chitter chat it
For the lads and lasses
Twitter chav it
Twitter chav it
With OAP bus passes
Zimmer jab it
Zimmer jab it
Opium of the masses
Live it, gab it
Give it, fab it
Skit it, scat it
Brit it, bat it!
A F HARROLD Performance poet A F Harrold describes himself as "a man for all seasons (except summer, which is a bit hot on the whole)." He has published four collections, both for adults and children and his work appears in magazines such as Poetry London and The Erotic Review. He runs the regular Poets' Cafe nights in Reading. ------------------- On The Occasion Of Being Asked To Write A Poem About The Forthcoming Handover Of Poet Laureate-ship Duties, April 2009 - A Friendly Rubbing Of Shoulders With Tony Harrison's Laureate's Block, 1998
To have to write a verse or two about
each chinless royal marrying his cousin
was bad enough, but easy, I've no doubt,
compared to requested verses by the dozen
one had to write to give a jolly shout,
to get the entire country up and buzzing
with news of some new bridge that's just been built -
that's a topic for the poet in the kilt.
(Not Robbie Burns, or Douglas Dunn I mean,
but the Dundee maestro utterly inept:
McGonagall - a man who dared to dream
the job might be his; whose wee heart leapt
every time he heard that Alf was seen
to have a touch of flu. He always kept
his fingers-crossed, but even come Alf's end,
the request to him Queen Vic didn't send.)
Now Tony Harrison is quite correct
in dismissing that job of pleasing all the nobs -
of being a poet who only stands erect
at the sound of the Queen tossing him a bob -
like a poet's just a loyal royal subject
and not a republican heart and brain and gob
that has to say the things it needs to say -
aware of the uz and them - the crown and clay.
And as long as the job was always paid in sherry -
a butt of canary to keep the poet safe -
it wasn't a proper job - you could do it blurry -
treated like a condescended waif -
'You've written another poem? Oh, how merry!'
Such unserious attention had to chafe.
(No wonder William Morris turned it down -
better refusenik than Queen Vic's clown.)
But when Ted died things began to alter -
the next laureate would not be worked to death -
a tour of duty, then out before they falter -
before their pen and wits run out of breath -
and no expectations, it's said, no guiding halter
as to what to write (though best not write Macbeth -
that was written once four hundred years before -
or write it, of course, but pop it in a drawer).
Motion has said the only advice he'll give
is to remind the one who's next they can say 'No'
when asked to throw their penmanship in with
some wretched self-congratulatory blow,
or for any event that's tainted with the whiff
of hypocrisy. Just write the things you know,
that need to be said - you've got a new soapbox -
just remember it's not you who's in the stocks.
A Poet Laureate in this brave new century
has to have a conscience, has to stand
perhaps they'll write a world that's meant to be,
and send the vision out into the land -
contrast it with the wretched things we tend to see -
and pin the pulsing heart down by hand -
Poet Laureate should let their guiding light,
as ever, be their conscience wrong or right.
And although the paltry poet's money's paid
out of some Minister's department's bowl -
that has, to be frank, always been one way
for the artist to fill his bank manager's hole -
paid by the government in Artists' Aid -
how many down the years have drawn the dole?
And just because the salary has a source
doesn't force the poet off their hobbyhorse.
Good Tony Harrison won't take that shilling -
he sees it as indubitably cursed -
but someone else will surely be more willing,
and someone, likely, equally well-versed -
they'll take that two fold task, begin spilling
ink on paper - soon become immersed
in the thankless job of churning out the words
and ignoring snide editorial turds.
For it's a losing game no matter how you play it -
too glib and flip and try to make it light,
the weighty press will hate the way you say it -
'too Betjeman, but without his wit or bite' -
alternately let a metaphor in the way - it's
'far too Hughes, all tarot and second-sight -
rainwater that's got nothing at all to do
with Harry's birth - I don't understand, do you?''
But the job is what you make it in the end -
the poems written are the smallest part -
a Laureate is the public face, the friend
of poetry - that vast, enticing art -
literature - a perfect way to send
down through time a beating human heart -
we touch the past in poems, reach ahead -
it's one way to touch the living when we're dead.
So forget the Queen, forget all that guff
about royal weddings and sycophantic verses -
we've heard all that before - Tony, enough -
let's get behind a person who rehearses
this art of ours and says it's blazing stuff -
look at it - you'll see what the universe is -
it's people remembering things that have been done -
there are many ways - and poetry is one.
BRIAN PATTEN Brian Patten lit up the Liverpool scene in the 1960's along with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. He has published over 50 works, writing both for adults and children and has been printed in numerous anthologies. He offers the new laureate a variation on a thought he has held dear over the years. ----------------------
One thing about poetry's eternally true:
The best reminds us of what we forgot we knew.