It was a warm night in London and difficult to sleep. Strange where the mind wanders in the wee small hours but I amused myself by considering this caper of appointing Poets Laureate in the UK.
Poets Laureate is quite an old tradition dating back to Plutarch I believe but in the UK it is now more or less a University/academic appointment and cleared by the palace as the Laureate's duties in return for the traditional butt of sack is to write poems around national occasions and the cultural life of the country.
Andrew Motion was the previous Poet Laureate and the newly appointed Laureate is Carol Ann Duffy who fits the University theory of society- female and openly gay. Huzzah etc etc and we're all delighted I'm sure.
I don't like the politics or the lack of concern for obvious talent in these appointments. I'm certain both Motion and Duffy can dactyl one a trochee or trochee a dactyl in a trice which is ... nice.
But then I think of Philip Larkin who every dog on the street knows should have been Poet Laureate except for his rather worrying habit of having to be ejected from the Marks & Spencer lingerie department in Hull on a fairly regular basis.
The palace I am sure and the English arsecrockery are no strangers to the sexual peccadillo but they must keep up appearances and prefer the devious rogue rather than the public one. Its the Hyacinth Boucquet policy.
The Times Literary Editor Erica Wagner kicked off a debate around Xmas 2008 to identify a popular choice for best post-war British writer. After many furious letters to the Times, drive-by essaying and floods of bitter tears the Times' readership settled upon Philip Larkin. I couldn't argue with that and its a welcome readjustment with respect to the literary reputions of John Betjeman and Larkin.
So. Here is the point of my idle ramblings. Should national poets be placed by University academics? By palaces? By small groups of usually self-interested ivory tower inhabitants? Is Famous Seamus the best poet on the island of Ireland or is he the approved choice of the establishment?
In the UK I would argue ( and be damned for it I'm certain) that the best poets don't come from the tedious Universities at all.
Britain's poet of the people may not be a career poet at all but a lyricist. Why can't Morrissey get the job? Or Mark E Smith?
I wouldn't recognise an Andrew Motion poem if it ran over me. I don't care about Duffy no matter how technically proficient she is- I suspect she's the politically correct choice and swablocks to all that.
'Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate,
will nature make a man of me yet?'' (This Charming Man, by Morrissey)
'Trudging slowly over wet sand ... to the bench where your clothes were stolen' (Every Day Is Like Sunday, by Morrissey).
Philip Larkin would have been proud of these lines I am certain. I am equally convinced that Morrissey would throw punches at the suggestion he become Poet Laureate.
Doesn't mean it shouldn't be offered to him. And the other thing is his poetry is instantly recognisable to a generation of English people. So why not?