Umm, the Ted Hughes Award? Really?

So today I have been relatively free. This means the inevitable lie-in till 11 followed by everything else I would normally do but just very slowly. Consequently I've been pawing over various blogs and websites for a good couple of hours now and have stumbled across an article on the Guardian website that has made me wonder.

Basically, Carol Ann Duffy in her recent role as Poet Laureate has been endorsing a newish prize for poetry called The Ted Hughes Award For New Work in Poetry which comes from those crazy poetic kids at The Poetry Society. I'm not being funny, but what's the deal with Ted Hughes?? He was himself a former Poet Laureate but what's the deal with that? To read his poems is almost comparable with falling into a thick marsh on the Yorkshire Moors, your arms and legs getting caked in mud that weighs you down while violent adjectives swim past like sexually aggressive pike fish. You then drown of boredom, not having yourself a great emotional affiliation with the afore mentioned moors. Having said this, I do very much like his reading voice.

The winner of the award was announced yesterday. It's Alice Oswald for her collection of nature poetry (illustrated with etchings by Jessica Greenman) called Weeds and Wildflowers, in which she imagines the characters behind the evocative names of common plants and flowers. According to Duffy the collection is 'very much in the tradition' of Hughes. Which perhaps explains it's position at numero uno.

I would like to imagine that I am not at all biased when it comes to poetic style, but, what is going on here? This prize which is endorsed by the Poet Laureate and includes congratulatory words from the Queen as well as a great deal more press about poetry than any other poetic denomination currently in society should surely be a bit more radical and engaging, should it not? Especially as it is a prize for 'New Work in Poetry'.

While Oswald's collection is described as both 'unusual' by Duffy and that it
crosses 'artistic boundaries and age boundaries and is unsettling and unsettled in every good way' by Poet and judge Jo Shapcott it is hardly going to affect people in a way that I believe poetry can. The subject is undeniably unfashionable. And while 'trend' should never be a factor in determining what inspires or drives an artist's work, does the Poetry Society want poetry to be kept exclusively to the middle classes, the middle aged and the literary snob, or do they want a more diverse range of newer readers and listeners to come to poetry?

Carol Ann Duffy has long been a radical force in poetry, partly due to her no-nonsense writing style and severe public image (and lets not forget how sexuality in our culture still maintains shock value if you aren't married with 2.4 children). These are weapons she can use to turn the Laureate-ship into something that is less irrelevant and archaic to most people and more engaging and socially diverse.

Do not take this to mean that I think there should be a quota of 'slam poetry' or 'lesbian poetry' that needs to be filled and anything without a radical content or author should be scrapped as old fashioned nonsense. I just think that poetry is such an immediate and passionate art form that it needs a bigger place in our culture and to some degree, it is those with the power and the publicity who have the responsibility to make people aware of this. And is a prize with Ted Hughe's somewhat blood-splattered, obscurely metaphored name the best to do this with? Probably not. Maybe Duffy should start her own award under her name, then even I might hedge my bets and enter.

With this in mind, heres a great poet who I discovered recently. Her name's Michaela The Poet, I basically think she's great. Here she is with her poem 'Sorry, I'm a Christian.'

This is her Myspace page http://www.myspace.com/michaelathepoet

You can read a poem from Weeds and Wild Flowers here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/31/thrift-alice-oswald

Quotes taken from 'Alice Oswald Wins Inaugural Ted Hughes Award' article by Alison Flood

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