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New Poet Laureate

11 May 2009

The announcement of the new UK Poet Laureate, combined with a series of BBC programmes on poets, has brought poetry into the headlines in the UK in the last couple of weeks. The appointment of Carol Ann Duffy, the first woman to hold the post, also means that the Laureate will be someone whose work is familiar to a very wide range of people, as her books have been very successful and her work has been part of the national curriculum for a number of years. Her poems are often accessible and can be enjoyed by a wide audience, which includes in particular many enthusiastic women readers and a great many children.

Duffy succeeds Andrew MotionEnglish poet, novelist and biographer; Poet Laureate of United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009; during his laureateship founded the Poetry Archive, an online resource of poems and audio recordings of poets reading their own work, who in his ten years as Laureate (he was the first to have a fixed tenure) has done a huge amount of work to promote poetry. His work on establishing the Poetry ArchiveOnline archive with recordings of over 130 living poets' voices, mostly from the UK; you can listen to excerpts on their wonderful site or go to to buy hour-long recordings on CD., recording the voices of living poets, will be part of his legacy, but his untiring activities on behalf of poetry have had a significant impact and his Laureateship will be remembered for this.

In the States the Poet Laureate serves for just one year and some have argued that this shorter tenure is fairer on the poet concerned. The current American Poet Laureate is Kay Ryan. Motion has made no secret of the effect that his public duties and particularly his public visibility have had on his writing. It is good to note that his new collection, The Cinder Path, sees him back on form with some excellent lyrical and rather personal poems.

On both sides of the Atlantic poetry is flourishing in some ways and doing worse in others. In the UK most poetry publishing is subsidised and it's therefore a relief to know that for the next two years at least there will be no substantial cuts to the Arts Council which provides the funding. In America things are very different and the subsidised poetry publishing sector does not exist in the same way, but there is still a lot of poetry coming from small presses - let's hope they can survive the downturn.

Poetry in both countries, and in many others, is flourishing in terms of live events and cities like London and New York offer continuous programmes of poetry events. London has amongst others the extremely successful Poet in the City, the Poetry Society and Apples & Snakes, which specialises in performance poetry, and in New York there are lively programmes from Poets' House, Poets and Writers and the Academy of American PoetsThe website of the wonderful Academy, which was founded in 1934 to support American poets at all stages of their careers and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry. Any poet or poetry lover would find it worth a visit., amongst others. Outside these cities it is a more mixed picture and the availability of poetry in printed form is more important.

Poets are said to outnumber poetry readers in the UK. Nobody knows whether this is just a joke or a reality but any observer of the scene can see that there are a very large number of people writing poetry and trying to get it published, and great pressure on the small number of publishing houses. Poetry is benefiting in a major way from self-publishing, which works well for the poets as they can sell their work after their readings and thus have a direct route to readers.

Poetry Archive

Poetry Archive CDs - 60 minute recordings including Carol Ann Duffy