Poetry in motion

<p>Andrew Motion found being poet laureate &quot;incredibly &shy;difficult&quot; and &quot;very very damaging to [his] writing&quot;. The casual observer might say that he is a poor poet anyway, as demonstrated by his poem on the TUC Congress, and that his writer's block did literature a service.</p>
<p>Anyway, Tony Blair made it clear to Motion that laureates no longer have to produce poems to order about state occasions. Their role, which Motion made some progress with, is to champion poetry.</p>
<p>Now, for the first time, the poet laureate will be elected after public consultation &quot;with academics and the public&quot;. This is a fine idea, but will it prevent another snivelling <br />
failure?</p>
<p>How about asking booksellers too? We know that there is a huge gap between academic reputation and what the public really buy, and therefore enjoy. In my pocket-&shy;battleship Waterstone's branch, since opening in 1990, I have sold more than &pound;170,000-worth of poetry and met three laureates: Betjeman, Motion and Hughes. Two epic drinking sessions with Ted Hughes convinced me that poets are a mystical necessity to society, not some sissy indulgence. When a friend said &quot;How pretentious!&quot; because I was packing Wordsworth for a Lakeland trip, I think they demonstrated the bad reputation that lingers around poetry. Teachers and academics are responsible for this bad name, by pumping bad or irrelevant poetry at us. As a teenager I was made to study Byron's tedious epic &quot;Childe Harold&quot;, when I should have been reading Carver and Bukowski.</p>
<p>People love, and steadily buy, Shakespeare, Burns, Kipling, Betjeman, Hughes and Pam Ayres.</p>
<p>The two pallid candidates for the laureateship, Simon Armitage (&quot;Colin Northerner&quot;) and Wendy Cope &shy;(doggerel-&shy;writer), will be out of print within a decade, and they lack a talent for either the cosmic or the quotidian.</p>
<p>As Shakespeare said: &quot;The lunatic, the lover and the poet/Are of imagination all compact.&quot; We need a charismatic, elemental figure for laureate, not some time-server who is currently working the literary festival circuit. Nor do we want someone pompous, dull, and issue-led such as Heaney. Sonnet means &shy;&quot;little song&quot;. The poetry people&shy; love sticks in the head as good songs do. Heaney does not grasp that, so only 16 of his fragments have made it into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Kipling did and, as a true people's poet, has 92 entries in the latest edition.</p>
<p>Pam Ayres would have been better value for the taxpayers' stipend than Motion. But I vote for rising star Alice Oswald. She has a normal job as a gardener, young children and a growing public following. It's her or Chris Martin of Coldplay. </p>