Saturday 11 May 2019

A New Poet Laureate

So we have a new Poet Laureate, and it's Simon Armitage. This seems an excellent appointment, as he is just the kind of poet to fit this particular post: he's already a 'public' writer, popular (as poets go), accessible, active, media-friendly, prolific to a fault, and willing to tackle 'big' themes (I see he has promised to address 'climate change', for which many thanks). In terms of quality, Armitage is certainly good enough for the Laureateship – which, let us remember, was recently held by the proser Andrew Motion – though I'd judge Carol Ann Duffy a better poet. The giants are all gone now, so a kind of Silver Age competence is the best we can hope for. But let's not be ungenerous – at least those bestowing this honour held their nerve and appointed a white middle-aged male, and one who is a decent poet.
Most of Armitage's work is too long to quote here, but this (English) sonnet, called Poem, is an effective piece of work –

And if it snowed and snow covered the drive
he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night
And slippered her the one time that she lied. 
And every week he tipped up half his wage.
And what he didn't spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.
And once, for laughing, punched her in the face. 

And for his mum he hired a private nurse.
And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.
And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse. 

Here's how they rated him when they looked back:
sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that. 

When Larkin was offered the Laureateship, he rightly turned it down; he was creatively blocked and not far from death. It went to Ted Hughes, a poet of whom Larkin was not an admirer. 'The thought,' he wrote to Kingsley Amis, 'of being the cause of Ted's being buried in Westminster Abbey is hard to live with.' But in the end they both got their stone in Poets' Corner, where Simon Armitage might join them one day. He'll be a good Laureate (I just wish he'd change his hair style).

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