Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 10:10 UK

Poets advise new Laureate - in verse

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.

Lemin SissayAF HarroldBrian PattenIan McMillanScroobius PipAnneliese Emmans DeanLuke Wright

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

Pitter-pat it

Tit-for-tat 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.

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