- A third year Goldsmiths English Literature student and poet, Momina Mela was shortlisted as a Young Poet Laureate for London. Here, she writes about her extraordinary experience, meeting the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
As a finalist for the Young Poet Laureate for London project, I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace celebrating Contemporary British Poetry, hosted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. I was excited at the prospect of rubbing shoulders with some of the most celebrated British poets of our generation. The event was nothing short of extraordinary.
Poets, editors and publishers had gathered under the enormous, polished chandeliers and waited to be ushered from one room into the next – shaking hands with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh who stood in a corridor, beaming happily at all of their guests. As I stepped forward to shake the Queen’s hand, my name was said aloud, and mispronounced as usual. Believing it was my duty to correct this mispronunciation, I informed her of the error. This was met by an exaggerated scoff. I am still not sure if she was amused or just pissed off. But now I have a grand story to tell, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
Entering the large reception hall, lined with Church-like pews, I saw many faces familiar from Google and Wikipedia. Amongst them were influential and inspirational poets such as Jo Shapcott, Pascale Petite and John Agard. With Agard, I ended up having an extensive discussion on Urdu poetry and the fearless ambition of the poem he had read out: ‘An Alternative Anthem’ in which he delivers a daring line, ‘The sun may set on the Empire…long live the kettle that rules over us’, followed by a fist bump instead of a handshake as we parted ways. Others who recited poems included Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Belfast Laureate Sinead Morrissey, Welsh Laureate Gillian Clarke and Scotland’s Laureate, Elizabeth Lochhead.
Once the main reception was over, guests mingled in yet another lavishly decorated hall lined with paintings, presumably of ancestors of the British monarchy. Surprisingly, the Duke socialized quite freely with the guests, and when he approached myself and an editor I was acquainted with, I somehow felt it was my duty to introduce everybody around me. Upon introducing the editor, the Duke replied, ‘Oh so you’re all sucking up to him, eh?’ He walked away chuckling and pointing hysterically at both the guests and myself. I had not imagined him to be a funny guy.
Overall, the evening was just as exciting as I hoped it would be and I doubt that any other grand acknowledgment and celebration of Contemporary British poets could stand in comparison to it. It was a reminder of how close-knit and supportive the poetry community is. We are quick to embrace newcomers into our ever-growing circuit.