Thursday, May 06, 2021

Poetry Friday: The Poet Laureate Writes

In April as Americans were celebrating National Poetry Month, the British had another poetic occasion: the death of their 99 year old Prince Consort. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was celebrated in many ways after his death on April 9th. One of the ways was by having a poem written by the official Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Simon Armitage. 

The role of Poet Laureate is a time-honored one in Great Britain. It has been held by many famous men (and one woman) since 1668: to name just some, Dryden, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hughes, and Carol Ann Duffy. It used to be that the Poet Laureate was required to write about all the royal occasions, but now there is no official job description. (You can read about that, and various other FAQ, here.) So Armitage wasn't required to write about Philip's death, but he chose to, anyway.


Writing about royal events is a bit more of a tricky proposition than it used to be. There are mixed feelings about royalty in the United Kingdom these days. I read several articles during the funeral period about how the BBC had received many complaints about their coverage being too long and extensive. But of course, there are others who couldn't possibly get enough royal coverage.


I thought Simon Armitage hit a nice compromise with his poem, in which he eulogized (or eulogised, as they spell it in England) not just Philip, but his generation. The poem begins this way:


The Patriarchs - An Elegy

by Simon Armitage


The weather in the window this morning

is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,

a slow winter's final shiver. On such an occasion

to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up

for a whole generation - that crew whose survival 

was always the stuff of minor miracle,

who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,

fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea

with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.


You can read the rest here. And/or, you can listen to it as you watch this video released by the Royal Family, including photos of Philip from throughout his long life.

Of course, many towns and cities and countries and other bodies have Poet Laureates, too. Who's your favorite Poet Laureate of the past or present? And do you think you'd like a job where you're supposed to write poems for official events? Would you thrive with all those built-in poetry prompts, or would it give you writer's block?


You can see this week's roundup here.


Janice Scully said...

Ruth, this is a wonderful post, the poem just right and is a eulogy for a generation. We still do feel gratitude for World War 11 heroism, and I think of my father who fought as an American.

Elisabeth said...

I heard the poet read it as part of the service, and thought at the time what a difficult challenge that would be, to write about a public figure. Not one I would want to take on!

Denise Krebs said...

Ruth, thank you for this interesting post. It was fascinating to read the FAQs about the UK's poet laureate. I wondered about the fact that they only had one woman in all those centuries of choosing poets! What? Then I realized that for the first 330 years the poet was given a lifetime appointment, but still there is a 20:1 ratio between men and women.

I think the first time I noticed the poet laureate for the U.S. was when Billy Collins was chosen in 2001. His poems made poetry more accessible to me, so maybe he is still my favorite.

Interesting question about whether we would "thrive with all those built-in poetry prompts" or get writer's block. I am much more productive with built-in poetry prompts, so yes, I would like that!

Linda Mitchell said...

Oh, my. The eulogy poem is elegant and grand and every bit worthy of a royal. Thank you for sharing. I had no idea of this poem. I'm going to read it again.

Bridget Magee said...

Thanks for sharing this Elegy, Ruth. It's fascinating the strong emotions (both positive and negative) that people (all over the world) have for the British Royals. Most Brits I've met seem to be the least interested! Ha!

Linda B said...

I love seeing the video and hearing the poem, Ruth. I've been reading and looking for poems by the poet laureate for a long time, a boost for them, of course, and for poetry itself in our country. The names on the list are ones most of us know & love, I guess, like Kumin, Kooser, Collins, Brooks & now Harjo. Thanks for this lovely post.

jama said...

Thanks for sharing this eloquent eulogy. I'm not familiar with Armitage's work, so this was a real treat.

Michelle Kogan said...

I think as Jama mentioned it's an eloquent poem, with so many rich words taking you through Prince Phillips' life. The video enhances it even more, thanks for sharing it Ruth!

Mary Lee said...

Thank you for posting the video. The photos masterfully amplified the words. What a life. What a generation.

As for Poets Laureate, right now my favorite is Tracy K. Smith. Hubby added to my collection of autographed books by the laureates with her 2018 WADE IN THE WATER. I'm savoring it.

Could I be a laureate and write poems of commemoration? I think not. No thank you. I'll stick to the small moments of my small life.

Tabatha said...

What a lovely poem, and what a treat to hear him read it himself.