I drive through the most photographed front yard in the world, beneath the arches, into the safest courtyard in England. 5.40pm. Buckingham Palace. “No need to lock your car sir” says the policeman. He might not have said “sir” but I like to think he did. He didn’t. I step out and a lone driver parks next to me – Joanna Lumley. I smile, grip my invite, walk across the courtyard and join the others making their way. Tonight we’re attending a reception entitled “Contemporary British Poets. I take what today has been defined as a Selfie. “No photographs ‘sir’” says an usher holding out her hand. She takes my self phone with one hand and passes a name badge with the other. Yes. Champagne and apple juice circulate. After fifteen minutes or so we are ushered with firm politeness through the picture gallery and into the open lake of ballroom for what is the largest collection of British Contemporary Poets I’ve ever seen in one place in my life on this earth. This is special.
In the front row the queen, the duke of Edinburgh, Princess anne and their friends. The poets on stage are Sinéad Morrissey, Liz Lochead, Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, John Agard and the master of ceremony, Ian Mcmillan. We all know this is not the best place to hear a poem – bad acoustics – but it is the only place we see each other. We are celebrating each other and there’s a kindness in that. The poets on stage exemplify this spirit. A poem is an intimate affair of public note. And intimacy in crowds is who we are. It’s what poems are. It’s what this is.
Across the room sits Moira Dooley, a fine poet and kind woman. Thirty years ago Moira invited me to Sothebys. It was an auction for The Ted Hughes Arvon Centre. That’s when I first met Ted Hughes. There’s Michael Horovitz who booked Ted Hughes at The Royal Albert Hall in 1965. Michael swirls into the hall like a waft of winter wood smoke. He reminds of a grey sea horse. Alert with poise. Kind eyes. “You look happier than I’ve ever seen you Lemn” he says. William Sieghart introduces me to Charles Saatchi. Broadcaster and musician and artist Cerys Mathews with her red trilby hat tilted like the moon is at home amongst poets as we are amongst her. Carol Ann Duffy has done something special here. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. There’s a history of poets here
They lay down their arms and open them instead