"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
Today’s big yellow blob goes to someone who is not short of awards. Even if it existed in real life, she would not be able to find room for it on her mantelpiece. But still, it might just offer her something that other plaudits don’t.
We like to snipe at those who are in a lofty position, especially when that lofty position is bestowed by HM the Q and the dark forces of the Establishment. I hold no brief for them, dear reader. But this time, they got it right. They gave the biggest gong in UK poetry – whether by accident or crafty recognition, who knows – to a person who uses it as a crowbar to open the doors and windows of the establishment, and bring in some fresh air.
The Poet Laureate title is no longer an award for forelock-tugging classicists who won’t embarrass the monarchy at public receptions. CAD writes as a feminist, an activist, a wit, and has not hidden her politics under her serviette for the duration. Her first laureate poem was a sonnet on the British MPs’ expenses scandal. She’s written about David Beckham, the Iraq inquiry and the war in Afghanistan.
But there are other awards for poetry, and she has quite enough of those. The Big Yellow Blob is not a poetry prize, but a recognition of those who furnish the poetry landscape with opportunities for others. So what has the poet laureate ever done for us?
Well. She has not been sitting on her arse and going to poetry parties since 2009. She is a pragmatist laureate who never stops using that shiny golden title to good effect, creating events that showcase poetry from all backgrounds, from all ages, on all subjects. She brings on new poets at her own readings in Manchester, and judges prizes which bring up new talents. She has lent her name as patron to organisations including Chorlton Arts Festival, Camden and Lumen Poetry, the Wenlock Poetry Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival and (erm….) the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Yes.
Her predecessor, Andrew Motion gave us the great gift of the Poetry Archive, but Carol Ann grabs the poisoned chalice of the laureateship with both hands and makes it a collection plate for British poetry. She immediately gave up her laureate fee to create the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. That prize alone, giving a blast of press to winners like Kate Tempest and to shortlisters like Steve Ely and Hannah Silva, is a big contribution to our ecology. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee saw no bunting go up in my household, but CAD used it to give sixty contemporary poets exposure in her anthology Jubilee Lines. She gathered poets for readings in London and Edinburgh to raise money for victims of the Haiti earthquake. This week she is sticking her neck out again, using her celebrity to agitate against the books ban in prisons. Last year she called, and poets came to her swell party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate UK poetry. Like it or hate it, British poetry got wall-to-wall press coverage for that week.
There are many other fine poets who are also enablers – David Morley, Patience Agbabi, Alison Brackenbury and Ian Duhig spring to mind immediately – but Carol Ann, stately as a galleon, sails on unperturbed by silly griping and just gets on with the job. Poets, we have a friend in high places. Long may she reign.