With Andrew Motion’s tenure as Britain’s Poet Laureate coming to a close next year, there’s been active campaigning for the post to be filled for the first time by a female poet.
The post—formerly held by Ted Hughes and Ben Johnson, among other dudes—involves a five thousand pound salary, free sherry, and an obligation to write poems for state occasions. While the idea of a female laureate has gained wide support, three of the leading female contenders have caused a minor kerfuffle by shrugging off the honor in advance.


Poets Wendy Cope, Fleur Adcock, and Ruth Padel, all voluntarily took themselves out of contention.
In the tradition of Philip Larkin, who declined the post after John Betjeman’s death, the three poets have said in advance that they’d rather not.
"Personally I feel it is an archaic post and means nothing,” Cope said, “It's simply not important."
"It's terribly hard work for very little pay," Adcock added, "The poet laureate is fine as an institution, as long as I don't have to do it."
The British press has given the story quite a bit of play, with the Guardian clamoring for a change in the role, Channel 4 nominating one of their own for the job and the Telegraph saying that whoever gets the job should spice it up a little bit.
In other June laureate news, a Tennessee man quizzed the presumptive Republican nominee for president, John McCain, about his own country's poet laureate.
“I give up. Want to tell me?” McCain answered.
The man replied, “Robert Pinsky,” causing civic-minded poets across the country to smack their foreheads, since, of course, Charles Simic is the current laureate.
Pinsky held the post from 1997-2000.
(Also, read up on Gloucester, Massachusetts' laureate wrangling here).

Originally Published: June 20th, 2008

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. June 21, 2008
     David

    "In the tradition of Philip Larkin, who declined the post after Hughes’ death..."
    Eek! Was the ghost of Larkin invited to be laureate for the second time after he first refused it following the death of John Betjeman?
    :)

  2. June 21, 2008
     Travis Nichols

    Whoops. Fixed it. Thanks, David.

  3. June 24, 2008
     unreliable narrator

    How devastating to learn that Cope has recused herself. She who once patrolled the unconscious of Ted Hughes might have been the only candidate (of either gender) capable of keeping her irony screwed on in spite of all that terrible watery sherry.
    If only Stevie Smith would return briefly from her eternal slumber just to write a mordant little quatrain for the occasion.
    (Pssst: Channel 4 not Chanel 4? Unless it's more fragrant than cultural, these days.)