The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
Language is our greatest invention. As a device for understanding ourselves and the world, nothing else comes close. Poetry is language at its keenest, and the poetry of these islands is our greatest achievement.
Accordingly, the laureateship should be the highest office in poetry and the laureate should be the guardian of those ideals. It should be awarded to a poet of true recognition, a poet admired by both their fellow poets and by the public, a poet who is both expert and enthusiast, and a poet who is an accomplished practitioner of the art as well as its champion and ambassador. No one else will do.
It should be a poet who listens more than they talk, who reads more than they write, who thinks more of other poets’ work than they do of their own, and who knows and cares deeply about the poets of the past, because there are more of them than us and they are better. If you put the laurel crown on your head and you haven’t read the whole of Beowulf or the Iliad, or don’t know who wrote Lycidas, or can’t recite a poem by Sappho or Emily Dickinson, or can’t name a poem by Derek Walcott, then you are not worthy of the role. Prepare to be embarrassed at your first interview. The great majority of the best poetry ever written is freely available so not to have to read it – even just to disagree with it – is inexcusable.
The laureateship requires experience and dignity. We’re not looking to appoint the mayor of Toytown or a mascot for our everyday aspirations. Or someone who has published four books, sits on five committees, has judged six prizes and is a nice person, or someone who is a shop-steward for contemporary values first and a poet second (or third).
If you’re still in the running at this stage, you also need to be someone who will get out from behind the keyboard and the dusty tomes, come down from the ivory tower or the sunlit garret or the senior common room, and be prepared to go into the schools, prisons, communities and hospices. In fact you will probably have been doing that for thirty years. And you should happily go to the theatres and festivals and nightclubs to see and hear live poetry being spoken and performed. And you should have a long-term project in mind, like Andrew Motion’s Poetry Archive or Carol Ann Duffy’s award for new work. And you should be thinking about how to encourage and promote the poets of the future, because there will be more of them than us and they will be better.