The list of those who have served as Britain’s poet laureate contains many distinguished names. So does the list of those who have refused the job. Both are now a little longer.
The 21st poet laureate of the United Kingdom — officially appointed by Queen Elizabeth II and named Friday evening in a news release from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — is Simon Armitage, 55, a critically lauded and popular poet from West Yorkshire, in the north of England, whose work is taught in many British schools.
His appointment came two weeks after a report in The Sunday Times of London that the position would go to another acclaimed poet, Imtiaz Dharker, who would have been Britain’s second female laureate and its first to be a person of colour. Dharker, who was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and spent her childhood in Glasgow, publicly took herself out of consideration Friday.
Armitage told the BBC that he believed there had been “a lot of discussion behind the scenes” about whether it was right for the job to go again to a white man, and that he wanted to use it to amplify the voices of those from “diverse and disadvantaged” backgrounds.
The British laureateship is one of the most famous honours in literature, with a history of more than 350 years. It might also be among the most mocked. The laureateship was formerly a lifetime appointment. But since the death of Ted Hughes, who held the post from 1984 until 1998, it has come with a 10-year term, no specific duties and a salary traditionally paid partly in sherry.
The departing laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, used the cash element of her pay to establish an annual Ted Hughes prize for new poetry worth 5,000 pounds, about $6,500.
Those reported to have been offered and refused the role over its long history include Walter Scott and Philip Larkin.
As for Dharker, she was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “I had to weigh the privacy I need to write poems against the demands of a public role. The poems won.”
She added, “It was a huge honour to be considered for the role of poet laureate and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of support and encouragement from all over the world.”