Why I ... do not want to be Poet Laureate

November 6, 1998

Poet and Oxford English fellow Craig Raine was once asked to leave the Bodleian library for "laughing repeatedly" over Ted Hughes's The Iron Man. The chattering classes may be busy compiling lists of possible contenders to succeed Hughes as Poet Laureate, a post created in 1616. But Raine, founder of the "Martian" school of poetry and erstwhile poetry editor at Faber and Faber, is quick to rule himself out of the running.

"I think the position of Poet Laureate has absolutely no importance," he said. "It's like the Oxford and Cambridge boat race - we all pretend to be interested in it but actually we couldn't give a damn. It's certainly not for me. No thanks. Couldn't care less."

And neither could he care less about a suggestion floated by a member of the Poetry Council that future laureates should serve only a five-year term, allowing the post to reflect the ethnic diversity of poets and give younger writers establishment recognition.

Raine, 54, fellow of New College, believes the post is a bit of a relic. "Ted did it very well. It's a pity he isn't still doing it. In my view he's somebody who managed to take this incredible anachronism and make it work for a bit."

In 1977 Craig Raine published the poem A Martian Sends a Postcard Home. Heavily reliant on the use of arresting visual metaphors, the style spawned a host of imitators and inspired a genre.

So why does he think the post of laureate has outlived its usefulness? "I think everyone should take a good long look at the people who have been laureates," he says, before rushing off to catch a lecture.

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