Records from the National Archive reveal the cut-throat world of British poetry, and the politics behind selecting candidates

Sir John Betjeman was dismissed as a “songster of tennis lawns and cathedral cloisters” evoking an “aroma of lavender and faint musk” five years before he was finally appointed to the prestigious post of poet laureate, newly released government documents reveal.

WH Auden, meanwhile, was regarded by some as the best candidate but was once ruled out because he had taken US citizenship and because of a pornographic poem that had appeared under his name in an underground magazine. The work, titled The Gobble Poem, was said to be “of so filthy a character that his appointment would bring disgrace upon the office”.

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