BBC poetry site polling for Britain’s favourite poet

Carol Ann Duffy is the poet laureate, but who is Britain’s favourite poet? The BBC poetry site is running an online poll which closes on September 1.

Voters can choose from a shortlist of 30 poets selected by a panel of judges. One can vote for

TS Eliot, WB Yeats, Dylan Thomas, WH Auden, John Donne,  Milton, Blake, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Christina Rossetti, Kipling, Hardy, Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, Betjeman, Larkin,Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith

as well as contemporary poets such as

Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough, Simon Armitage, Wendy Cope and Benjamin Zephaniah.

It’s interesting Shelley didn’t make the shortlist, nor did Matthew Arnold, while Christina Rossetti did.

The winner will be announced on October 8, Britain’s National Poetry Day.

Best of all, one can read more than 100 poems on the website, representing all the contenders.

I loved three poems I had never read before:  You’re Beautiful, by Simon Armitage; Valentine, by Carol Ann Duffy; and Bloody Men, by Wendy Cope (left).

Bloody Men is bloody funny, so I will take the liberty of posting it here:

Bloody men are like bloody buses –
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destinations,
You haven’t much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.


Poets have this wonderful gift of making the ordinary memorable with a phrase or an image. Consider this short poem by John Betjeman:

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Poetry reading web site

Anyone in the mood to hear poetry readings should explore Poetry Archive. It contains recordings of poets reading their own poems. It’s a virtual who’s who of modern English and American poetry, ranging from Allen Ginsberg to Roger McGough. I even heard a scratchy recording of Tennyson reading The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Immigrants anywhere might appreciate Margaret Atwood’s The Immigrants. As an Indian, and a Hindu, I could easily relate to Sujata Bhatta reading her poem, A Different History:

Great Pan is not dead;
he simply emigrated
to India.
Here, the gods roam freely,
disguised as snakes or monkeys;
every tree is sacred
and it is a sin
to be rude to a book.
It is a sin to shove a book aside
with your foot,
a sin to slam books down
hard on a table,
a sin to toss one carelessly
across a room.
You must learn how to turn the pages gently
without disturbing Sarasvati,
without offending the tree
from whose wood the paper was made.

The poem ends with the Indians’ love for the English language.

There are also poems anyone could enjoy. For example, John Betjeman reading A Subaltern’s Love Song. He reads it with relish in his beautiful voice with a posh accent, and both he and his audience enjoy the humorous love poem. He jokes before the reading and there is laughter at the end. It begins:

Miss J.Hunter Dunn, Miss J.Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me.

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn

The young man gracefully loses the tennis match and they drive to dance at the golf club. The dance has already begun when they reach the club, but instead of hurrying inside, they sit in the car and love takes its course.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. 

I love this poem, it is one of my favourites. It reminds me of my wife and our wedding though it was a traditional Hindu ceremony preceded by no sitting in the car — still, it was, as we call it, a love marriage. We were classmates who went to the library and the movies. Oh well, those were the days.