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Poetry in slow motion

A Betjeman fan challenges the current laureate

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Stob Thanks to the Beeb's correctly extensive celebrations of Sir John Betjeman's centenary, Betjmania is once more abroad and has conquered everywhere. (Everywhere? Well, as they say in the Asterix books, everywhere except one tiny village...)

In recent days, hooded teenagers have abandoned their accustomed role as shopping arcade pests to take a healthy interest in nineteenth century architecture: bussing out to obscure suburbs to look at early Voysey villas with interesting detailing, and entering their local parish church for the first time and noticing the original chancel that would be recognisable to Jane Austen. Such is the benign influence of the great man.

Best known for his melancholy nostalgia, it is often overlooked that Betj was also a top techie. I, for one, was hugely disappointed that neither of the recent biographies mentioned that during the 1970s he kept a pet PDP-11 in a shed outside his Cornish cottage, on which he used to compose algorithmic ditties in rhyming K&R C.

And there is also the question of the following abandoned fragment, dedicated to a she-geek who, in unenlightened times, is obliged to work as a "paper monkey" in order to be allowed near a computer. Did Betj meet her during his career as a spy? Is this a first draft of a very well known poem about a double-barrelled daughter of a famous army town?

Miss Ann-Marie Fox, Miss Ann-Marie Fox
Watches shyly and slyly through dark, tousled locks,
As I peevishly punch in my poor Autocode.
Oh do come and help me to get it to load!

With nimble white digits and mercurial delay
You refill the printer with paper so gay.
The green-and-white fanfold cascades from its box.
Will you run my batch job, Miss Ann-Marie Fox?

All this brought me round to thinking of the matter of the current incumbent of the laureateship, Mr Andrew "Slow" Motion. Hands up anybody who can name one of his poems, or recite one of his lines. Well, exactly. He just isn't IT friendly. He is yet another part of the arts mafia that controls all such positions in public life.

Inspired by the example of Betjeman, I have decided to mount a geek challenge for the laureateship. Not that I crave the ancient privileges that this post attracts (nine pints of royal sherry per annum, and rights to swan-upping and duck-harassing between Kingston and Windsor). I know my limitations. I see myself as a stalking horse, able to breach Motion's defences without arousing his suspicion.

The plan is that, once I have got Motion on the run, we persuade a proper poet to stand, such as Carol Ann Duffy, or Wendy Cope, or Pam Ayres or - ok, I'd better put in a token male - Roger McGough. I have chosen these as poets who have shown themselves tech-aware, or at least having a perceptible sense of humour - which qualities Mr Motion, whenever I have heard him on the radio, either lacks or conceals brilliantly.

(By the way, anybody chortling at my nomination of Ms Ayres can stay behind afterwards and write a 2,000 word essay on the subject "When I can write something one eighth as workmanlike as Oh, I Wish I'd Looked After My Teeth then I will be entitled to an opinion". You may also like to consider how well she captured the mood of the nation with her Dejected Thoughts on the Royal Wedding - scroll down the linked page a bit to find it - which situation caused many lesser poets to flounder.)

Enough prelim. I'm sure you all know the rules for a Laureate challenge, but a quick reminder: four poems must be submitted: one topical, one proper rhyming, one bizarre and one parody. Wish me luck. Here we go.

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