First published in the Western Mail column The Insider, Saturday 18 June
Fiona Bruce caused a minor stir in our household the other night. First we spotted her at Aberystwyth station en route to the Antique Roads Show. Then she turns up interviewing the Duke of Edinburgh for the BBC interview, which was mildly interesting, actually. Prince P’s childhood exile both from home and family appear to have divorced him from the ability to self-reflect. No wonder his own kids’ marriages took a nose-dive; nor that The Firm’s spin doctors are maxing out on a royal wedding and PP’s ninetieth birthday to redeem the HM brand.
Our own National Poet Gillian Clarke’s invitation from fellow Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to participate in celebrating Will and Kate’s nuptials must have been a hard one to call. Duffy was warned by poet Wendy Cope to desist from writing to the occasion. And at the time of Andrew Motion’s appointment as Laureate, Glaswegian lesbian Duffy herself fumed she’d never kiss the royal ring. But Duffy’s chance to laud an unorthodox range of love vows, including civil partnerships, was too sweet to resist. And she is obviously a spindoctor in her own right, dodging opposition to her own royal wedding poem, ‘Rings’ by creating a veritable epithalamium-fest. She commissioned twenty plus poets to write on ‘vows’, among them rival Wendy Cope, Gillian Clarke, Scotland’s ‘Makar’ Liz Lochhead and northern Ireland’s Michael Longley.
Gillian Clarke, delivering the British Council lecture at Hay this month, was full of praise for Duffy’s inclusivity, sharing commissions, dinners, websites creation and soap box perches with her fellow female national poets. Clarke’s has been a similar, arguably feminine style: publishing Welsh translations by Menna Elfyn alongside her own ‘state’ poems. The lecture, broadcast around the world with live questions, was also pluralist by nature. Despite being, up to now, a poet for adults, Clarke has a fierce following among teenagers, not least those studying her ‘Field Mouse’ at GCSE. Via her website, she responds to students seeking cribs on those of her poems on the UK and international curriculum. As the exam season starts to crush our kids, I can only ask: may Clarke be our Adolescent Mental Health Laureate, while she’s at it?
Clarke, a political peace activist, is no establishment figure. But should she have joked, as a plane grumbled over the Hayfields, that it must be The Telegraph’s complaint at her earlier pro-Guardian comments? The former replaced the latter as this year’s sponsors: Peter Florence stayed pokerfaced. After all, Clarke did accept the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry at Christmas and membership to the Gorsedd of Bards last week. We all need our patrons, and literature more than most.