What do they do and who could Australia’s be?
Peter Rose, poet and editor of Australian Book Review, one of the country’s leading literary magazines, said Australia needed a poet laureate.
Peter Rose says it’s a great opportunity to present poetry to the public in a way that can demystify it to the public.Credit: Justin McManus
“Other literary cultures have had it for centuries,” he says. “We see all the advantages in those positions. But they must have considerable freedom and budget. It’s a great opportunity to present poetry to the public in a way that can demystify it to the public.”
Rose said the appointment will be decisive, but does not know the criteria will be for selection.
“I don’t think it should be a lifetime achievement award. It has to be a real communicator, someone who can convey poetry to non-readers. It is important that it goes to people with a real record and commitment to public education. Someone with a real hunger to counter the feeling that poetry is too difficult, or the most elite form of literature, someone with considerable charm and eloquence.”
So who should it be? Holland-Batt said it had to be a distinguished person, someone who had obviously published poetry but also written about poetry and was involved with the poetry of others. And notably, someone who can respond to public events. “It’s really hard to write poetry,” she said.
Ada Limon delivers one lecture in her capacity as American Poet Laureate.Credit: AP
Lyn McCredden, emeritus professor of creative writing and literature at Deakin University, said she hoped whoever was chosen was someone who could talk to people, celebrate and be positive. “I don’t want someone who is crooked and full of misery,” she says.
She said there are many indigenous poets and younger poets who use language in a lively and contemporary way. “It has to be someone who has breadth and a sense for the diversity of the Australian people and a sense for the country. It’s about making us proud and also correcting our blindness and speaking to new possibilities.”
Poets who may be considered in a selection process yet to be determined include David Malouf, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Evelyn Araluen, Judith Beveridge, John Kinsella, Lachlan Brown, Adam Aitken, as well as other prize winners or prolific poets.
The title of poet laureate dates back to classical Greece and Rome when poets were presented with a crown of laurel leaves in honor of Apollo, the god of poetry. In Britain, the post was created in 1668 with John Dryden being the first royal appointment. Alfred, Lord Tennyson held office for more than 40 years in the 19th century, but now poets serve a 10-year fixed term. Carol-Ann Duffy was the first woman in the post, with Armitage succeeding her in 2019.
The USA created the office in 1936 and since 1986 the laureate has also been the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. The current laureate, Ada Limon, is required to give one lecture and read her work at the library, but is free to work on her own writing. But many American states and cities also have poet laureates, as do Canadian provinces. In Canada, the laureate is required to write in French and English; the current holder is Louise Bernice Halfe.
The New Zealand position was first established in 1997 by a winery, but 10 years later the national library took over management. Chris Tse is the current prize winner.
When Andrew Motion attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May 1999, news leaked that he was to be Britain’s new Poet Laureate. But what surprised Motion most was not being selected – he knew his name was up for consideration – but the interest in Australia. Now that interest can turn to our own poet laureate.
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