Ode to a mistress
How to tackle the tricky job of writing a royal poem for Charles and Camilla.
Shall poet laureate Andrew Motion compare Camilla Parker Bowles to a summer’s day? Well, a typical British summer is overcast, grey and miserable…so why not? But as the poet laureate works hard for his paltry salary of £500, and seeks a word that rhymes with Camilla in the bottom of his stipend of 500 bottles of sherry, we feel for him.
And I’m not alone. Republican punk poet Attila the Stockbroker has recognised Motion’s unenviable task in penning Ode To A Mistress, and come up with a poem entitled ‘In Sympathy with the Poet Laureate’. ‘It really doesn’t matter who is sitting on the throne / They are all as dull as dishwater and should be left alone’, writes he.
Arguably the UK’s most famous poet, Pam Ayres, has her own views on the matter and offers: ‘My mother said “Say nothing if you can’t say something nice” / So from my poem you can see I’m taking her advice.’
It’s pretty clear that if Motion, who describes himself as a reforming royalist, was ever going to pen a decent line, let alone an entire stanza of the blankest verse, he’d need to draw on all his talent. And he can’t just join in the general chorus and take the piss. Motion has said that one subject will always be 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.’
So he put pen to paper. And in the spirit of brotherhood, I did the same. Motion will not be Poet Laureate forever, and with 500 bottles of sherry up for grabs, it has to be worth giving the poetry game a shot. But before I began, some research was necessary, so I turned to ‘Epithalamium’, Motion’s first work as Laureate, written for the wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones.
If Motion could make The Weed In Tweed, his frumpy fiance and their dull romance into a poem, then surely Camilla, with her equine looks and cheating heart, would be a doddle. Or not. Described as ‘safe’ and ‘traditional’ in the Independent, novelist JG Ballard told The Times how the poem ‘proves that it’s time to discontinue the office of Poet Laureate in the hope that the royal family will follow soon after’.
But it hasn’t yet happened, and until the revolution, Motion, like us, is forced to struggle on in the unpromising face of, well, Camilla’s unpromising face. How can we turn this ambulatory roll of waxed jacket and jodhpur wrapped in the whiff of dead fox into a poem that will touch the essence of what she is and trigger within us all a sense of Camilla being a kindred spirit?
Should we focus on her looks? Perhaps best not to. Or should we go deeper and imagine what it is Charles sees in her? Since there is nothing obviously tempting in her physical appearance, we can only suppose that the lure is sexual. Remember the Camillagate tapes? Perhaps we could have: ‘I want to be your tampon / Sat upon the throne.’
Charles, you will remember, is a man who likes to have his toothpaste squeezed good and hard of a morning while the late Diana claimed the heir to the throne had an ‘unhealthy relationship’ with top aide Michael Fawcett. But we can’t have Motion penning X-rated filth. An over-18s certificate on a book of poetry would never do. For one thing it would corrupt minors; for another, Motion is no middle-class Eminem in specs.
The poem must be chaste and regal. It must tell the story of Camilla and Charles’ romance, their lives past and lives to be without stooping to smut or sensation. Things are getting tougher, but the brief is tightening up.
It’s a different world to that when former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman wrote his royal wedding poem to Charles and Di. Back then: ‘Blackbirds in the City churchyards hail the dawn / Charles and Diana, on your wedding morn.’ Remember when ‘The land is drowned in one melodious roar’? But forget that. Camilla will never inspire such rejoicing. She’s no Diana – who, like Betjeman, is dead.
Indeed, the only question left to answer is the format. It should reflect the pair’s personality. For Eddie and Soph there was that short, uninteresting piece that described the room.
For Prince William’s twenty-first, Motion produced a ‘kind of rap’. Think of Richard Madeley’s excruciating impersonation of Ali G and subside your head to: ‘Better stand back / Here’s an age attack / But the second in line / Is dealing with it fine.’
And then there was ‘Remember This: An Elegy on the Death of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’. Like the vision in lavender and wood herself, the poem went on and on and on and on for eight verses.
And for added longevity, Motion inserts a literary solar panel under the Queen Mum’s hat and tells us that the work should be read together with ‘Picture This: A Celebration On The One Hundredth Birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’.
Get through that lot and you too will be as old as the woman who, coincidentally, marks the third anniversary of her funeral on the very day Chas and Milla say their ‘I dos’.
But enough, I feel the embers stirring. It is time to dip my quill in green ink and write something fitting. How about a Haiku, so fitting for Charles, a man interested in the ways of the Far East: ‘You spurned me long ago / So I married another / You returned to mum.’ Or the schoolboyish: ‘Roses are red / Violets are blue / Shergar is missing / So you’ll have to do.’
But, hold on a moment, I’ve got it. And, what’s more, I’ve found a word that rhymes with Camilla.
‘Camilla / Polyfilla?’
Paul Sorene is the Anorak.