World: Poetic Breadwinner

Apart from their rank in the royal household (just above St. James's Palace caretaker) and their pay ($232.80 a year), the most modest thing about Britain's poets laureate has been their state poetry. In the age of the Hollow Man, task-basket verse celebrating a monarch's birthday or the puberty of a prince sounds at best archaic, at worst ludicrous. When, after 37 years as poet laureate, John Masefield died last May, many Britons thought that the job should be abolished. Even London's Times, which occasionally prints official poems, only halfheartedly urged that the post be filled because "it does no harm...

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