Sunday, January 31, 2010
Twenty poets were already gathered onstage at Westminster Hall, when the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy entered, along with Sarah Brown and Gordon Brown. It was a great stroke of theatre, the unannounced presence and support of the Prime Minister at a Poetry Live fundraiser for Haiti. I was struck by the wave of warmth I felt toward him - a sense seemingly shared by much of the large audience.
He spoke of the need to support Haiti ... and the practical step Britain has just made of buying up the nation's supplies of corrugated iron to ship to the island, so shelters can be built before the oncoming hurricane season. He also spoke most eloquently about the role of poetry - I'm pleased to have a prime minister who can state 'the mark of the true poet is the extraordinary extent of your empathy.'
In my new role at the Larkin Centre I keep prodding the notion of poetry addressing a social agenda. It's surprisingly contentious as poets fight for the write of the lyric poet to look inward if she / he wants to. So it was fine to see so many of our illustrious ones take to the stage - Gordon Brown handing over to Dannie Abse first of all.
They did their bit - and at other Live Aid events, of course, musicians strut their stuff without writing new songs. I must say I had hoped that poets might have forged some poetry as the expression of their reaction to the crisis. This wasn't the mode taken - Andrew Motion, for example, read about denting the lid of an Aga by sitting on it as a child while his mother ground best steak into mince (one of the more curious choices perhaps). But money was raised, people rallied. And if it took the prime minister to come up with the finest piece of writing specific to the occasion. so be it.