The ever febrile world of poetry, or at least that which camps on Facebook, has been all agog this week, as invites have landed on desks for an event next week entitled "A Celebration of Contemporary British Poetry." Nothing new or unusual in that you might think, except the inviters are Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip, and the venue is Buckingham Palace.
It's one of the ever-ironies about the arts in this country that although there is a constant debate about funding the arts, "the establishment" has, now and then, a keen interest in art forms that are otherwise seen as under threat, or at least, that area of the arts which has its imprimature. There is after all a Royal Society of Literature; a Queen's Gold Medal Poetry; the Poet Laureateship. Always struck me as a little odd, as the Windsors have never been notorious bookworms. Maybe its a hangover from their German origins - or some strange formulation that means for every fifty horse races the Queen goes to she agrees to a literary event. Who knows who decides these things? Neither the Royal Family or the Government are particularly enthusiastic about literature despite this being the land of "Shakespeare and Dickens."
More curious still, is that word "Contemporary", presumably not just inserted so the Duke of Edinburgh can't bemoan the lack of some Kipling (or is Phil the Greek a Seferis fan? We should be told!) This means that it will be live poets in Buck house, hosted by the poetry world's usual host of choice, the eminently comforting (if not yet eminent - maybe that will come) Ian McMillan. The guest list is going to be a scream, of course.
My favourite story about the royals and poetry is the one about the Queen Mother, when subjected to an evening of T.S. Eliot reading, bemoaning a dreadful man reading some dreary poem called "The Desert." Apocryphal or not, I think its suitably accurate representation of the Royals' relationship to the most important poem of the 20th century.
Dressed up to the nines (or at least in the "lounge suits" of the invite) the poets will probably no more dysfunctional a bunch than any of the other groups who attend Buck house. What's surprised me a little is, that though generally left leaning, the poets seem a little desirous of this formality. Lets be honest, I wouldn't say no, myself (just to see what the loos are like - would we be able to ask which one John Lennon smoked a joint in?) but has made me wonder where's the Republican strand in this land of Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth - sadly lacking it seems. The $64,000 question of course is whether or not Pam Ayres is invited. I really do hope so.
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