Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Poet Laureate Prynne?

Musing about a successor to Andrew Motion as Poet Laureate, Charlotte Higgins boldly throws the hat of J.H.Prynne into the ring. I'm with her on this if only because I like the thought of the incandescent, uncomprehending rage of Big Phil on encountering poems like On the Matter of Thermal Packing. God knows what he'd write when the Queen dies. But, Prynne aside, who else is there? In terms of sheer quality, Geoffrey Hill should get it, of course, but he's difficult, old and infinitely unclubbable. Given that we don't have a spare Dryden, Wordsworth or Tennyson, all previous laureates, lying around, I suspect it will be Wendy Cope or Roger McGough, both of whom would be solid on the subject of a dead queen, but, of course and as ever, I know nothing.


  1. Simon Armitage, I reckon - fluent, accessible, no poet - perfect for the job. I was going to post as much...

  2. Armitage 'no poet'? That's uncalled for.

    At least he, Cope or McGough would likely attempt to just frigging write about stuff, instead of onanistically warbling on and on about their own warbling, which is what most of the supposedly high-brow poets do.

    (I haven't had much sleep lately so am in a tolerably foul mood.)

  3. Well, no poet compared to Hill, say - they're in a different game, which rules Hill out of being laureate and rules Armitage in.
    Go and cheer yourself up on Nigeness, Brit...

  4. Am doing index of next book -- Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England available at a giveaway price from a fine book store near you in February 2009! -- and have just typed

    Appleyard, Bryan 313 n.

    I quote Bryan's thoughts on Conrad Black who, now I come to think of it, would have made a damn sight better poet laureate than Andrew Motion

  5. Bit of a creative death sentence, being Poet Laureate, as much as winning the Nobel. Hence it should only go to those with little creative talent. The hell with it, i'll do it, i could do with the free booze.

  6. Appleyard, Bryan n.
    What a commentary on a life.

  7. Don't you just pine for the good old days of John Betjeman

    Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
    It isn't fit for humans now,
    There isn't grass to graze a cow.
    Swarm over, Death!

    If you can pen a poem about bleedin' Slough, man the worlds your oyster.

  8. Appleyard, Bryan, passim. That would actually BE a life.

  9. Along the wires the electric message came.
    She is no better, she is much the same.

    Alfred Austin?

  10. A Vision

    The future was a beautiful place, once.
    Remember the full-blown balsa-wood town
    on public display in the Civic Hall?
    The ring-bound sketches, artists' impressions,

    blueprints of smoked glass and tubular steel,
    board-game suburbs, modes of transportation
    like fairground rides or executive toys.
    Cities like dreams, cantilevered by light.

    And people like us at the bottle bank
    next to the cycle path, or dog-walking
    over tended strips of fuzzy-felt grass,
    or model drivers, motoring home in

    electric cars. Or after the late show--
    strolling the boulevard. They were the plans,
    all underwritten in the neat left-hand
    of architects--a true, legible script.

    I pulled that future out of the north wind
    at the landfill site, stamped with today's date,
    riding the air with other such futures,
    all unlived in and now fully extinct. Simon Armitage.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Nige.

  11. 'cantilevered by light' - lovely. i quite like Armitage just because he grew up near me in Huddersfield so he's not a slick Southron.

  12. How late it was, how late
    Hester Prynne is at the gate
    Her letter a faded scarlet now
    No harlot she's a starlet now
    Progenitress of poets...and Pearls

    I want to see more Prynne poems.

  13. Armitage smoked quite nicely, thanks Brit - deft, easy, fluent (but think how Larkin would have done it...). He's the man for the job, surely.
    And that's a nice one, Susan...

  14. Well said, Nige...though Armitage can hardly be blamed for writing something that Larkin didn't.

    Also, you could say of Larkin's work "Imagine if Shakespeare had written it."

    Armitage would be a decent enough laureate, but because of what he is, not because of his failings.

  15. That’s Austin indeed Nige (but “he is no better” - it’s about the Prince of Wales).

    After Tennyson died c. 1890 the post of laureate remained unfilled for about five years. The deadly Alfred Austin was eventually given the job, after Morris had been ruled out on political grounds and Swinburne on moral.

    As a younger man Austin had himself denounced the office:

    Degraded Genius ! stooping to the yoke
    Of annual pence and some pert Premier's joke,
    Once and for all these shameful links discard !
    Let verse, like Virtue, be its own reward
    Dismiss, with scornfully impartial frown,
    Snarls from the gutter, guerdons from the Crown.

  16. It's quite a long footnote, Bryan. At least 80 words, maybe 100

  17. Ah thanks Jonathan - the Prince of Wales indeed. A fitting tribute...

  18. Does it have to be someone who is still alive? They should give Thomas Hardy a go.

  19. Here's JN-T:

    'A decade later and cash-for-honours questions make Hill's redonning of the prophet's white suit timely. You have to read between the lines, though. "On Reading Milton and the English Revolution ", for instance, is ostensibly a meditation on the Civil War historian Christopher Hill. But the eighth stanza has this Hill concerned with a more recently "dishonoured / and discredited nation". He admits that this stance "smacks rather / of moral presumption", before voicing the complacency of the alternative: "Things are not that bad. / H Mirren's super."

    The reference is to The Queen - last year's film about the death of Diana - but also to the Queen. When Hill abbreviates Helen Mirren to "H Mirren", he means to imply "H M". The British monarchy is an Oscar-winning distraction. It is to be hoped that there is a good close reader on the staff of Buckingham Palace, before someone accidentally offers Hill the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.'

    Except it's not a reference to The Queen, because as Hill explained at a conference the line was written before the film came out. In fact it refers to Prime Suspect, and Tennison's promotion to Superintendent.

    Geoffrey Hill is a genius and I want to write my PhD on him. The OUP Critical Writings, one of the best books of criticism in the language, went ignored by almost every major outlet. So I worry about the obituaries.

    We should be proud of him, but yes he's wrong for the laureateship in a thousand ways.

  20. Oblivious of gelding
    the sergeantry can start. Whatever’s missing
    —glossary, granaries, ‘morn’—
    missing isn’t withdrawn.

    Pouts, tweets the organjay
    happy he is paid.
    No ruckus brought no sullen trade
    doubly-negatively to defray.

    This is immortality surely!
    Betwine the carrots.
    Entrap in court the clearly
    solvent parrots.

    In Gressingham, cast-iron
    but Hebron cress;
    in Sandringham Sephardic heaven,
    one lioness.