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This report is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds: On the Laureateship Andrew Waterman

The six-month delay, following the death of Ted Hughes last autumn, in appointing his successor as Poet Laureate, provided space which filled with media-babble about possible candidates and ideologically motivated demands for redefinition of the job. These, inevitable in our creed-huckster's society, were swollen by awareness that we stand on the threshold of a new millennium, in which such a figure as Tennyson knuckling down to meet Queen Victoria's commands for verse commemorating her mother ('Long as the heart beats life' etc.), or more antique incumbents of this Court post gurgling their way through the annual butt of canary wine, might seem anachronistic. Sappho's barbitos has been definitively 'replaced' not as Ezra Pound bemoaned by the pianola - itself consigned to the dustbin of history - but by the electric guitar Prime Minister Blair has told us he would instal as the representative device of our age in the Millennium Dome.

So when it came, the announcement that Andrew Motion is the new Laureate prolonged the commotion. Not here in Norfolk, where the regional TV news Look East, seeking to drum up local pride from the chance that Motion works at the University in Norwich, found no one on the city's streets had heard of him. But in the national broadsheets the appointment has triggered excoriation and defences, of both the Laureate's creative talent and his cultural provenance. The whole kerfuffle has clarified my own feeling about a venerable institution. Motion is not my concern: at least, ...

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