The Return of Rip Van Winkle (John Quidor, 1829)
Carol Ann Duffy was recently named Britain's first female poet laureate. William Langley (Daily Telegraph, May 5, 2009) provides some background on the poet and her new post. Here's an excerpt :
Cecil Day-Lewis, upon accepting the post in 1968, described it as the “kiss of death”. His successor, Ted Hughes, suspected – on the basis of such ill-fashioned lines as “A helicopter snatched you up / The pilot, it was me” (composed to celebrate the nuptials of the Duke and Duchess of York) – that he had become a laughing stock. Our outgoing laureate, Andrew Motion, whose efforts have touched on everything from the Queen’s wedding anniversary to the TUC, has complained that the job was “incredibly difficult and entirely thankless” and had given him nothing but writer’s block.
All of which has brought heated calls for the post either to be abolished or radically reformed to better reflect the Twitterised realities of modern Britain. But last week the Lord Chamberlain, advised behind the scenes by Downing Street, came up with a new solution. Give the job to a woman.
Carol Ann Duffy, a 55-year-old Glaswegian lesbian, has thus become the first female laureate, attracting national attention and disturbing the peace of what a succession of commentators described as “the male-dominated world of poetry”. The record suggests that is a dodgy contention, and that women poets – from Sappho to Pam Ayres – have held their own, but it doesn’t explain why none of them has made it as a laureate.
Germaine Greer, writing in anticipation of last week’s announcement, argued that: “Most women would have the sense to refuse the chore.” Too right. The pay works out at £5,760 a year, plus 650 free bottles of oloroso sherry. “I’ve heard that Andrew Motion hasn’t had his yet, so I’ll be asking for mine up front,” Carol Ann declared after her appointment, also revealing she will use her stipend to set up a new poetry prize. Ostensibly, the duties are not onerous, but laureates – nominally members of the royal household – are expected to produce lines upon notable royal events, such as weddings or funerals, for which they are traditionally pilloried.
Click here to listen to an interview with Duffy on BBC Radio 4.
Here's another poem, from Mean Time (1994), entitled Prayer.
(via Adina Gerver)