The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poetic licence stops at palace

Edinburgh, Aug. 10 (Reuters): Britain’s official poet, Andrew Motion, earns £5,000 ($8,000) and 500 bottles of sherry a year for the privilege of writing about the state of the nation.

Since he took the 300-year-old post in 1999, he has dutifully written about the royal family but also penned poems on everything from train crashes to trade unions.

But the outspoken poet laureate, selected by the Prime Minister and approved by the queen, rocked the establishment in April by writing a poem condemning the Iraq war just as British troops fought alongside Americans to topple Saddam Hussein.

Discussing his controversial anti-war poem, Regime Change, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Motion said the government never muzzles him. “They may not like the line I take on certain things but they never tell me about it. There is no nagging, no bullying.” Motion’s work is usually non-political.

Now that the war is officially over, he says he feels even angrier about it. Asked if his opposition had lessened, he said: “No. The opposite — like thousands, if not millions of others.... The whole thing was so hideous.”

“I still need to be persuaded that it was the right thing and was done in the right way,” he added, echoing deep divisions in Britain over whether the war was justified as no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.

But for Motion, who describes himself as a reforming royalist, one subject is out of bounds: “That is poems which mock, deride or criticise the royal family. It would be a very difficult job to do if you weren’t a royalist.” Motion is fascinated by how the royal family copes with life in a celebrity-obsessed age. He wrote of the late Princess Diana: “Your life was not your own to keep or lose.”

Of Diana’s love-hate relationship with the media, he said: “Because she had various agendas she wanted to fulfil, she needed the press. They were her hounds, she used them and in the end they tracked her down.”

Asked if Queen Elizabeth was a fan of poetry, he said: “She reads a book of poetry a year. That is a hell of a lot more than most people read. So, as far as I am concerned, that makes her a reader of poetry.”

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