Carol Anne Duffy has now become the one living poet that the British public are likely to have heard of. I watched Newsnight Review last night on which Andrew Motion and assorted pundits discussed her appointment and her poetry. It's interesting to me that when people on TV or radio arts programmes discuss poetry, they appear not to apply the same critical standards to it as they do to film, music, novel or theatre. I couldn't imagine them laying into the poems or saying, well, this poem was weak or dull, or questioning whether poetry that's so amenable to dissection in the classroom is as subtle or profound as poetry which isn't etc. It's irrelevant what my opinion of Duffy is; I'm saying that it would be normal to ask these questions of other types of artistic endeavour. They all praised the poetry. The word 'Great' was bandied around (Great poetry, Great poet); they didn't express a single reservation about it or compare it to any other contemporary poetry, something inconceivable had they been discussing a film or pop album. Why is this? Because they don't take poetry seriously as an art; they see it as an archaic form, like classical music. The laureateship confirms for people that poetry is, in fact ,archaic; that, like the post itself, it is stuffy, Establishment and associated with class hierarchy. We don't have a Royal purveyor of music, or Her Majesty's Director of Movies. Music and movies don't need that kind of patronage. The implication of the laureateship is that poetry does.
Duffy's grand gesture of giving away her 7K or so salary is unfortunate. On principle, people in public office should be paid, otherwise the offices are only open to those how can afford it. She donated the money to found a poetry competition. Enough said.
Other problems with the post are:
1. It's an archaism that harks back to the time when powerful poeople paid poets to praise them.
2. No-one can decide whether the incumbent is supposed to act as a poet, or as a superior arts administrator. Motion was generally praised for the latter role.
As you can probably gather, in my view the post should be scrapped.