On an unused door in Bristol, birthplace of Banksy, someone has stencilled, several times, in silver spray-paint: ‘Carol Ann Duffy for Poet Laureate’. And then in thick black marker between each glittering demand: ‘Yes!’ – I imagine they came back, ecstatic, on Friday to graffiti their graffiti. I didn’t know anyone cared so much. I thought everyone was with Ian Hamilton, who wrote in the LRB, just before Andrew Motion was appointed ten years ago, that ‘the whole thing is now generally agreed to be a joke.’
The post did, in fact, begin as a joke. The modern poet laureate evolved from the court jester. The position was made solemn by Dryden, the first official laureate, who defended the Stuarts, as Matthew Reynolds put it, ‘with a readiness that at least challenges the border between loyality and servility’. Dryden was Royalist when it meant something to be Royalist (and loyal to James II: he too stepped down after the Glorious Revolution); but it’s not clear that even a loyalist could be inspired by Edward and Sophie’s wedding, which Duffy said she was unequal to ten years ago.
Then, it was thought she would scare off middle England; now she makes the Guardian and Times quiver with self-satisfaction. (The Daily Mail: ‘The bisexual single mother, 53, with a poem that was banned for glorifying knife crime . . . She’s the new Poet Laureate.’) But the fuss belies the fact that she’s already been laurelled by the AQA; already the most read, the most studied living poet. And the most appealing to graffiti artists.