Skip to main content

Cope Can't

Wendy Cope has been quoted by the BBC as suggesting the position of poet laureate be binned (or banned). What a pity. Cope - one of the truly beloved poets in the UK of the last 40 years (in the company of Larkin, Hegley and Hughes in terms of public esteem) - often uses her public profile in ways that endorse a conservative view of the world - witness her public opposition to copyleft poetry online.

I admire her a great deal, and consider her a friend, but often find myself disagreeing with her opinions, if rarely disagreeing with her poems. Ironically, she seems to undermine her own position - that poets should write poems, not become statement-machines - by actually being that rare thing - a poet the press and people want to hear from, on any number of topics, not all of them poetic. Anyway, her latest jibe at the poet laureate position is, I think, sad, because she would have made a great one. She's wrong, in my book, to think the "role" of the poet is merely to "write poems". In this wired age, where intertextuality, education, and the Internet, fuse ceaselessly, poets are, above all else, master communicators - and what a "poem" is is expanding.

As Broadband moves into every UK home in 2012, what new forms of hybrid poems may emerge - ever-more performative, digital, or multidimensional? A poet laureate needs to reach out, I think, to several communities - the young, who need to believe poetry can speak to them, and also, the educated and well-off, who more and more tend to prefer novels, plays, and films, to a good collection of poems. A third community is the disenfranchised - a poet laureate can speak to and from the margins, of class or wealth as well. I have tried to speak to all three of these communities as Oxfam's poet-in-residence, 2004-0ngoing, through various events, and CDs etc. Ultimately, Andrew Motion made the position viable again, and very 21st century. Cope's complaint seems very last-century, and does much to undermine what could be an increasingly innovative and wide-reaching remit.


Julia said…
Harold Rhenisch said…
Hi, Todd,

there are two issues. 1. Does a laureate have a role to play, as a poet, and as a citizen, and 2. How is a laureate chosen. They are not the same thing. An active, challenging, far-reaching laureate, representing change and inclusiveness and a certain standard of excellence, let me say a challenging and inclusive standard of excellence, could, perhaps be useful. Laureates, however, tend to be chosen by a far more conservative process. Thereafter, the laureate wears that hair-cloth shirt, which is not good for poetry and not good for the poet. What would be useful would be a wide-ranging, challenging discussion about the nature of a laureateship, coupled with an equally rigorous discussion of how a laureate gets chosen. It would be great to see you initiate such a raucous and important debate. You're probably one of the few who could pull it off.

Popular posts from this blog

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…


Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand


With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.