Literary Sherry signing by Poet Laureate

7th August, 2014 by Neal Baker

The British Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has signed a replica of her ‘Butt of Sherry’ to mark the opening of the exhibition Poetry for the Palace; Poets Laureate from Dryden to Duffy in Edinburgh.

Making her mark: Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy signs her Sherry cask

Making her mark: Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy signs her Sherry cask

Poetry for the Palace: Poets Laureate from Dryden to Duffy is the first exhibition to explore the relationship between poet and monarch over 350 years, through historic documents from the Royal Library and newly commissioned works of art.

However, there is also a longstanding history between the Poet Laureate and Sherry, as the exhibition also highlights.

Traditionally, the Poet Laureate was rewarded with a small stipend and a Butt of Sherry (once called Sherry Sack), from 1630 when Ben Jonson received it for the first time, until 1790 when the Laureate of the day, Henry Pye relinquished his Butt for a payment of £27 per year.

In 1984, to mark over 600 years of the trade in Sherry between the two countries, the Sherry Producers of Spain offered to revive the custom by giving a Butt of Sherry (720 bottles) on the appointment of Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate. He travelled to Jerez in Spain, chose some Sherry and signed his cask — a traditional mark of respect for distinguished visitors.

Sir Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy also went to Jerez in their turn, on appointment as Poet Laureate, to make their choices give their signatures.

The Laureate’s Sherry is then bottled using their own exclusive labels. Ted Hughes designed and drew his own, Andrew Motion’s daughter Siddy was responsible for his, while Carol Ann Duffy’s label has been created by the textual artist Steven Raw, whose work is also featured in the Edinburgh exhibition.

Examples of their bottles are included in the exhibition, together with photographs, the head of a Sherry barrel and other items.

Carol Ann Duffy, the 20th Poet and the first female Laureate, wrote a poem ‘At Jerez’ in 2011 which is also on view and reproduced on the back label of her bottles.

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