Pam for Poet Laureat

From the Spring 2004 issue of Nobbut Torver


Is Pam Ayres a proper poet?

If we judge that question on her chances of succeeding Andrew Motion as Poet Laureate I think we’d have to give a resounding NO!.  When she finally pops her iambic pentameters back in the rack the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey  are unlikely to pop poor Pam (post-mortem) into Poet’s Corner.   

So, why not?  Her range of poetic structures is a little limited but then old Bill Shakespeare didn’t progress much beyond the sonnet form.  Her subject matter is a touch mundane (not much “touching the face of God” here) and she is very easy to read; hardly an obscurity to be seen.  Still, anyone who’s wandered “lonely as a cloud” through Wordsworth’s awful bloody daffodils will be well used to mundane subject matter and plain language.  Perhaps it’s because she writes comic stuff – hardly the sort of thing you’d expect from the Queen’s anointed ditty writer.  But then “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough” and we find a past Poet Laureat (John Betjeman) writing some of the funniest poetry ever to grace an anthology.

So, why not Pam Ayres?  Perfectly structured poetry, easy to read, entertaining and widely read.  The Arts Council’s report on poetry (October 2000),  Rhyme and Reason, identified Pam as being the fifth best-selling poet during the years 1998 and 1999, following Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy and Sylvia Plath.  Someone once described her as sharing “Noel Coward's metrical discipline, delivering the gag or poignant twist with the perfect unforced rhyme.”  As far as I can see the only things that let her down are the funny accent and her great popularity.   All sounds a bit snobbish to me!  Instead, we get Andrew Motion, a master of meaningless prose in short lines and the absolute proof, surely,  that there is no poetry in Motion.

They read good books, and quote, but never learn 
a language other than the scream of rocket-burn. 
Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad: 
elections, money, empire, oil and Dad.

This is Mr. Motion’s ‘Causa Belli’, his protest against the recent gulf war – well, no lack of comedy there!  The sentiment is childish, it scans badly and it is pompous drivel but it gets world wide coverage because it is written by the Poet Laureate and it has a Latin title.  What a load of tosh!  I’m sure our Pam could have done much better.

And the point of this little tirade?  Don’t be bullied by the poetry snobs.  Don’t let any fool tell you that the stuff you like is not real poetry just because it rhymes and makes sense.  Even the limerick is a perfectly legitimate poetic form and the home of some of the best poetry ever written.  We write little rhymes that make us laugh and call them ‘doggerel’ to excuse our meagre efforts and in so doing we do ourselves and the world of poetry a great injustice.  I say take it back from the self-styled elite and let’s make our own judgments.  I’ll take Ogden Nash or the lovely Pam over Andrew’s Motions any day of the week.

If it is Her Majesty’s command
You’d have your poems penned to,
Write rhymeless verse that no-one understands,
But arty types pretend to.

(with apologies for terminal prepositions)