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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Duffy's Prize

The new poet laureate has met The Queen and announced a new UK poetry prize. It is named for Ted Hughes, is worth £5000, and will run for the next decade, using the annual fees she receives as its award money. My first reactions are mixed, though obviously money to support new work in poetry is a good thing. I suppose I wonder why the prize was not named for a woman poet - there is already the T.S. Eliot Prize.

However, that's not a major concern. What is worth thinking about is that the prize money situation somehow supposes that the fee for the laureate was a frippery meant for better use. It will be morally hard for a future laureate to dispense with this prize, if it does well, but the laureate may not always be self-sustaining or wealthy. The money, though symbolic, actually does allow the poet to pay for things they may want to do - like travel to various events. Andrew Motion, for instance, was all over the UK promoting events big and small.

Poetry tastes and opinions are widely divergent in Britain, and the terms "new work" and "innovative" may not actually join up. Finally, it is just a little puzzling that the very inclusive category - almost confusingly open (even one poem can be considered, as well as multimedia work) - includes books. Unless the judges are very daring indeed, it may be that collections tend to be awarded the prize, when the more refreshing and original idea behind the award, surely, was to prize work that usually falls between the cracks - performances for screen, stage and new media among them.

Ultimately, this prize is a very good thing, so thank you Carol Ann, but it does seem to have been announced very soon in the new laureateship - one which, all things considered - has been going very well indeed.
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