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Despite its critics, light verse is booming – that’s poetic justice | Claire Armitstead


A new poem commissioned by the Children’s Society will win the hearts of a new generation of readers

In a recent column for the Guardian, the Booker-shortlisted writer Robin Robertson declared himself “vaguely appalled” by the poetry world, of which (though a newcomer to the novel) he has long been a feted member. It was, he wrote, small and polarised, and often either simplistic or incomprehensible. “I’m allergic to light verse because it seems a betrayal of the purpose of poetry. Equally, poetry that sets out to be deliberately opaque is betraying the purpose of language.”

One can only assume that a poem launched today by the Children’s Society will bring him out in hives, with its sentimental five-stanza invocation of starlight and candles, and its insistence that “No child should reach out their hand and find nothing/ No child should ever be left in the snow”. Light a Candle was commissioned from the poet Clare Shaw, and will be sung by choirs across the UK, in a setting by the Royal Academy of Music PhD student Louise Drewett, with an outing on BBC One’s Songs of Praise in early December. Shaw, the Yorkshire-based author of three collections, whose work has been hailed as “startling, searing, scorching”, says this secular, 21st-century descendant of Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter is one of the most taxing things she has ever tried to write.

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