Let’s have an Australian poet laureate. Let’s have an Australian poet laureate and have them clothed in Australian Poet Laureate Ceremonial Gowns and have them wheeled out together with their gowns on important national ceremonies, as dictated by ancient tradition.
Let’s have an Australian poet laureate paid, as the English poet laureate was paid, in a butt of sack every year. They’re poets. Alcohol should have something to do with it. If they are the eccentric sort that doesn’t drink, instead of receiving a butt of sack, let them receive a sackbut – or shawm, or crumhorn, or some other type of medieval instrument.
So yes, let’s have an Australian poet laureate, let’s make it a tradition to have an Australian poet laureate. Let’s make it a tradition as old as time, a brand-new made-up tradition as old as time withal, some of the best traditions are.
Let’s make it a tradition, not because it will bring poetry to national prominence: quite the contrary. Let’s make it a tradition so we don’t have to worry about the poetry at all. We do enough of that already at school. (Any self-respecting nation should keep a few traditions around, like the attractive and comfortable socks in the back of the cupboard that we only remember to wear once every year).
Let’s make it a tradition to crown a new poet laureate at the demise of the previous one: The Poet is dead, long live The Poet. I picture the poet laureate, a cranky old dude, or a gruff old lady, sitting in their ceremonial poet laureate hat at the table in their poet laureate house, sipping tea. That’s what a poet laureate definitely should be doing. Making themselves comfortable. 
Let’s not have a poet laureate reading inaugural poems, as they do in the US. There ought to be nothing fancy about an inauguration ceremony. The new president, or Prime Minister, or First Minister, or Grand Pooh Bah, should be presented, tied in a ribbon, the ribbon should be cut, and there’s an end to it. Or they should be given a hearty handshake. Or presented with the ceremonial keys to the office.
At any rate, the one thing the inauguration ceremony should be is short. Speeches are not necessary; music is far too fancy for such an occasion. Poetry, of any sort, gives the whole thing the air of a school speech night.
And, by all means, let’s not have a poet laureate as a dull, grey-suited servant of the state, a setter of meaningless political platitudes in verse, a bureaucrat who works each year to meet KPIs and benchmarks.
Themes for poet laureate poems that may be possible:
- Odes to the budget, preferably ones that take in the rich, symbolic history of numbers.
- Odes to roads, the less important and humbler the road, the better.
- Crafted and tailor-made aphorisms and insults for ministers and senators to use in parliament and the upper house, perhaps in well-framed verse numbers (thereby raising the tone by lowering the tone).
I have not said very much about the purpose of an Australian poet laureate. That is because I very much hope that they will not have a purpose. Too many things today have a purpose, and too many of the purposes are ridiculous. I want the poet laureate to be left to their own purpose, watching blades of grass grow, writing poems about individual leaves on a tree, or, better yet, on the individual leaves of a tree, which they then let float to the ground while they lounge about on a voluminous Edwardian couch.
We are so accustomed to justifying artistic activities these days with spurious uses, hypothetical budgetary advantages, and notional benefits to the community: grant application pablum. And all of these justifications are barely believable. ‘Poetry’, as Auden pointed out, ‘makes nothing happen’, but at the very least it can make nothing happen while being written from upon a gigantic and comfortable couch.
Maybe the Australian poet laureateship I imagine is impossible. These things invariably get decided these days by politicians, and politicians hate things without purpose and hate things to not be useful. What is the purpose of a tree? What is the point of night? The political answer might be: to play its part in the national economy. To create jobs. These may well be things that the tree and the night do; the answers are partly right but wholly wrong.
Or: maybe the Australian poet laureateship is a tradition that can only come into being after we forget why we even have it in the first place. To be genuine, traditions have to be lived with. Maybe we have to live with it for a while before we get it right. Sometimes you really do have to create a tradition in the hope that, one day, it will create itself. That doesn’t make sense, I know that. That’s why I might be right: tradition generally doesn’t make sense.
Or: maybe an Australian poet laureate is already among us. To name, legalise and formalise the role would be just an after-the-fact recognition of their existence, and a poor one at that. We might even end up naming the wrong poet laureate. We might end up with competing laureates, like Pope and Anti-Pope, which would be interesting.
And maybe, one day, we will really have an Australian poet laureate. I picture it, a warm but not overhot summer morning, as the new Poet ascends the hill to read a poem….
The Government stood lined up at attention,
The Senators all wore their Sunday best.
The Minister for Roads had all the highways
Polished, ‘til they sparkled, spick and span.
The Minister for Childhood and the children
All stood with satin ribbons in their hair;
The Treasurer wore a polka-dot bow tie;
The PM bore a broad-brimmed hat of white.
The Sun itself, it seemed, had scrubbed up well,
As last, a poet laboured up the hill,
Ascending to the rusty old rotunda,
Where, taking out an A4 sheet, thrice-folded,
They chanted out a dusty rhyme or two.
The verses settled in the morning air,
And as they did, the PM lifted their hands
And uttered then the blessing, as decreed
By venerable tradition, for all incoming
Australian poet laureates:
“Yeah, you’ll do.”
 Pragmatists may object that taxpayer dollars should not be going to making random poets comfortable, but I disagree. The alternative would be taxpayer dollars going towards making random poets uncomfortable, which hardly seems civilised. Besides, I like the idea of taxpayer dollars going to make anyone comfortable: it sets an example for the rest of us.
Tim Train is a poet living in Melbourne, Australia. He has performed and featured at many events across Australia and overseas, in venues that include but are not limited to pubs, trams, cafes, restaurants, and wrestling arenas. He was one of the MCs at the weekly gig Poetry at the Dan O’Connell from 2017-2019 and has been an establishing organiser/MC for Cherry Poets at the Cherry Tree Hotel from 2020-present, and has been one of a team of MCs for the Cherry Poets Zoom gigs during lockdown. He is the winner of the 2018 Sydney Road Storytellers Prize. His book Hangover Music was published by Ginninderra Press in 2018, and he has self-published numerous zines featuring the work of himself and others.