Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Choosing the Queen's Canary ...and the winner is...

As Poet-in-Residence holds his bardic breath awaiting the decision from the office of PM Gordon Brown as to who will be the new Queen's Canary following the departure of Andrew Motion in 2009 at the end of his ten-year tenure he can't help but think of Dylan Thomas's spoof poem (or did John Davenport write it? - we cannot be sure), the poem which swayed the decision of the PM in the Thomas/Davenport novel The Death of the King's Canary.

...he picked up the last volume. It was called A Time to Laugh and was by Hilary Byrd. He emptied the last drop of brandy into his glass, and drained it before he began. The book seemed to be a loosely connected narrative, using different poetic forms. A young man looking for a Leader. The Leader, when found, proved to be living at the top of a mountain. The final poem was called:


This was my test: not by the easier route
But through the gentians and the rocks to hurl
My adolesence; the glacier bruised my foot
and I laughed despite at the icy wind's up-curl.
My goal was there, poised on the peak's white winter
As an eagle's eyrie breasting the burning blast,
And though the old world round me cruelly splinter
Not was for me in my pride to be downcast.

'Mountains,' he said, 'are only high in space:
Make the Andes your molehill and below
Map in the valleys lofty continents,
Plan power-houses for your island race.
Take a divining rod, and boldly throw
Alpenstock down; use plainsman arguments.'

This would do. It was frightful, but it would do. A sort of sonnet, but bringing in power-houses - 'striking a note of modernity throughout'. He hoped he might see Max in London. When they were sufficiently civilized, human beings were scarcely people at all. He felt that the stuff he'd been reading through the night wasn't likely to appeal to anybody except people. Well, he'd give them what they wanted. He steadied himself by the table, fumbled for Faraday's notes, which had fluttered to the floor.
'Hilary Byrd. b 1907. Eton and Trinity. Son of Sir Austin Byrd. Airman. Possibility. Dymmock Hall, Suffolk.'
Possibility, indeed! Old Austin Byrd's son. Funny thing he should write poetry; but still he was a poet; and he would be the next Poet Laureate!

- educational link to the current poet laureate in Poet-in-Residence's alphabetical side bar

- Syd the Satchel's latest odds - 11/10JF Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, 3/1 Ruth Padel, 4/1 Jo Shapcott, Tony Blair 5/1 U A Fanthorpe, 10/1 George Szirtes, Don Paterson, Carol Ann Duffy, Moniza Alvi, 33/1 Hilary Byrd, 100/1 bar


  1. I always thought it was a lifetime tenure. Who changed the rules?

  2. Hello Gerald,
    One assumes it must be HM. It's her thing. It surely can't be anyone else can it?
    Maybe one or two recent birthday odes weren't up to the mark...

  3. You're not suggesting that AM got the sack are you? Will have to Wiki this and get back to you!

  4. Gerald,
    Have e-mailed one of AM's 3 literary agents with your Q.
    Also asked if the 10 year rule is here to stay? Whose idea was it etc.
    Best bardic wishes,

  5. Hi Gerald,
    unfortuantely have receieved e-mail 'undelivered' reply to above

  6. OK I just did some googling and the end of a piece in the Independant says "The position was last vacant when Ted Hughes died in 1999, at which point Tony Blair took the opportunity to change the role from a life appointment to a decade-long posting."

    Doesn't answer the Q - why the change?

  7. Blairesque but nevertheless a small step for poetkind...maybe Brown will reduce it to 5 years?
    As to the 'Why', I think basically these days it's a job nobody wants; the pay, status and career prospects damned poor, even by Palace standards.
    I recall that Hughes was 2nd choice, agreed to it after Larkin had refused.

  8. Just read on 'Times Online' via my P-i-R 'Poetry Foundation' Link that it was AM himself who insisted on the 10 yrs limit before he agreed to take the job.

  9. Michael Gove (Con MP) is the source.


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