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Fictional poets write fictional poetry, hold fictional grudges
While Dean Rader has called for a search for the ten greatest poets of all time, The Guardian’s John Mullan has set himself up with a more constrained task: the ten best poets who themselves are the figments of other authors’ imaginations. These fictional poets run the gamut from the title character in Dr. Zhivago whose poetry “survives Stalinism and the death of their author” to the fiction-within-a-fiction of the poet Bob McCorkle created by Christopher Chubb, a character in Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake: “Chubb is himself a mediocre poet, who manages to create a poet better than himself.”
Just because these poets are fictional, however, doesn’t mean that they’re immune from feeling spite and jealously for those real poets who might very well find themselves on an actual list of the greatest.
In Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Henry Perowne’s daughter is about to have her first, evidently sexy, collection of poems published. She aspires to impress Grammaticus, her grandfather, who has retreated to the south of France to glower with envy at the recognition accorded to Seamus Heaney, Andrew Motion and Craig Raine (all namechecked).
Fictional poets. They’re just like us.