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Poet Laureate

Pauline McLean | 15:55 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009

So the worst kept secret in literature is out.

Carol Ann Duffy is to take over as the new Poet Laureate (Andrew Motion's ten year tenure officially over as of midnight last night).

All this week, we've endured the poetic equivalent of football transfer speculation.

Simon Armitage is the favourite, Roger McGough already has the popularity vote but Duffy who was pipped at the post last time around, surely had to be in with a chance.

This morning, Downing Street confirmed that Glasgow born Duffy has the job - the first woman and the first Scot since the post was first created in 1668.

Already there's been much discussion about whether the delay in appointing Duffy was Tony Blair's nerves about appointing an openly lesbian laureate. Who, apart from the tabolid headline writers really cares about Ms Duffy's private life?

Much more relevant to her poetry seems to be the fact she's a woman and a mum (her poem A Child's Sleep one of the most tender of its kind).

And while she was once quoted as saying no self-respecting poet should have to write a poem for the wedding of the queen's youngest son, she's clearly got over her concerns.

Speaking on Women's Hour on Radio 4 this morning she said, "A poem will occur if there's a genuine beginning which comes from memory or imagination or a public event so if I felt in the event of a royal wedding inspired to write about people coming together in marriage or civil partnership, I'd be grateful to have an idea for the poem and if I didn't, I'd ignore it."

Duffy is already one of the best read poets in the UK today, largely thanks to her entertaining and accessible style and to the fact her work is on the school curriculum.

Her Scots roots are solid enough to guarantee her a place in any Homecoming celebrations (although if the First Minister is to be believed, a holiday in Saltcoats is enough to qualify) but she left here when she was four and has lived in Manchester for the past decade.

But her first official visit here as Poet Laureate is bound to create a buzz.

And according to the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, that looks like being at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Princess' Blankets, based on her picture book of the same title is a folk tale about a princess who's always cold.

It'll be performed from August 15-26 by Carol Ann Duffy herself, and musician John Sampson, with a preview performance at the British Library on 2 May.

And while the literary world toasts her success, sad news about two losses from the Scottish literary world.

Tom McGrath - who has died from cancer at the age of 68 - was influenced both by the beat poets and by Scottish music hall. He had an amazingly colourful life - and knew everyone from Billy Connolly to Jimmy Boyle to Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, who he persuaded to come to Glasgow while inaugural director of the Third Eye Centre.

He helped found the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, wrote work for the Traverse and Lyceum in Edinburgh and countless screenplays for television. His final work was My Old Man in 2005, which he completed despite having suffered from a stroke two years earlier.

Meanwhile, the broadcaster, writer and poet Maurice Lindsay has also died. He was 90. As well as publishing his own poetry, he edited the 1946 anthology of Modern Scottish Poetry.

He forged the way in arts broadcasting too, fronting BBC Scotland's first arts programme - Counterpoint.

I'm told the first edition had Benno Schotz modelling Hugh MacDiarmid live on air - the resulting bust stood in the entrance hall of BBC Scotland's headquarters in Queen Margaret Drive.

As they went live, one of the cameras malfunctioned and Dr Lindsay simply led the remaining camera across the studio to the sculptor and his model.

His ability to find a poem appropriate to any situation remains. He's even left a poem for his own funeral - first published in 1995 - called Directions for a Funeral.
Don't hire some vacant priest to send him off
in 'sure and certain hope' of resurrection;
at such uncertain certainties he'd scoff,
so at the end would have no forced connection
with creeded superstitions, or the ways
some use to rite their muffled passage through
the last experience, dulled by age's haze
when little that they feel or say rings true.
Rather, let music sound, if chance arise -
Bach, Boccherini, Haydn, Mozart; men
whose thoughts have raised him far beyond the skies
where heaven slipped its moorings; if not, then
read out some protest in the caring rhymes
he fashioned from the scuff of fractured times.



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