British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy caused a stir this past week when she declined interest in writing a poem for the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The hubbub started when Duffy's agent told The Sunday Telegraph, "She doesn't want to do it and I don't think she will. I don't think she'll do the engagement or wedding as a royal poem. When she took on the role, the deal was that writing for royal events was not a necessity."
Since taking on the laureateship last year, Duffy has penned two occasional poems: one to commemorate the death of the last two surviving British veterans of World War I, and another to commemorate an injury to David Beckham.
So why would she consider turning down Britain's lovable, young royal couple? It's widely agreed among poets that writing poems for public occasions is exceedingly difficult. Occasional poetry is born out of necessity, not inspiration, so occasional poems often read as a little hollow or contrived. The poet Wendy Cope meant to praise Duffy's predecessor, Andrew Motion, when she said, "he managed to write all the royal poems without making a fool of himself." And Motion himself said that the requirements of the Poet Laureate post were "very, very damaging" to his work.
Still -- though it could just be a case of misery loves company -- Motion told the Telegraph that he thinks Duffy should suck it up and write the poem:
"How Carol chooses to interpret the role is entirely up to her. However, writing such poems for the royal family is a way of placing poetry in the middle of the national conversation, and I think it is a nationally important event, whether we like it or not.
In 2005, Motion penned a poem for the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles entitled "Spring Wedding" that had some unfortunate moments:
The heart which slips and sidles like a stream
...Breaks loose to revel in its proper course.
And former laureate John Betjeman wrote a poem for Charles and Diana's wedding day that had some rough spots:
Blackbirds in city churchyards hail the dawn
Charles and Diana on your wedding morn
Perhaps due to the public pressure, Duffy changed her tune after the weekend, issuing a statement Monday that she would celebrate the royal wedding "in poetry." I for one am glad, for the reasons Motion mentioned and because so far Duffy's occasional poems have actually been quite good.
It would be poignant for her to give a nod to the poem that the late Ted Hughes wrote for Princess Diana's funeral, entitled simply "6 September 1997" (you can read the entire poem here), that captured the mood of the nation with the lines:
Holy tragedy and loss
Make the many One.
Only this time it will be young love that brings the country together.