Carol Ann Duffy – the compassionate and authentic Poet Laureate.
As the UK’s first female Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy has re-imagined the role on her own terms. Gone is the notion of a patriarchal remote, aloof honour and in its place the Poet Laureate has become an open, engaged, and fearless defender of not only poetry but of social justice and equality.
Her impulse to address questions of justice and equality means that Duffy does not shy away from emotive subject matters such as climate change, the banking crisis, and more recently the Orlando nightclub massacre. It is these sorts of life-events that ignite her imagination and stir her to write.
Of her writing intention and process Duffy explains, “It all comes from the same place. There’ll be what you might call a moment of inspiration – a way of seeing or feeling or remembering, an instance or a person that’s made a large impression. Like the sand and the oyster, it’s a creative irritant. In each poem, I’m trying to reveal a truth, so it can’t have a fictional beginning.”1
I particularly admire Duffy’s compassionate search for the truth, her desire to remind us of the simple humanity of things. Her uncomplicated explanation of sexuality in Pink News, for example, was not just simply wonderful but important for people to hear “…it’s fantastic that I’m an openly gay writer, and anyone…who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and be happy. It’s a lovely, ordinary, normal thing.”2
In my favourite poetry collection ‘Rapture’, Duffy invites the reader to experience the joy of new love, the ache of a lover’s absence and the heartbreak of love lost. The images of the natural world and of the changing seasons are frequently employed and personified to embody emotion, and to enlarge the landscape of the unfolding narratives. But also everyday objects, such as a mobile phone, are drawn into the drama and become the focus for action and feeling. In the poem ‘Text’ the obsessive beginnings of love is found in the words ‘I…look for your small xx feeling absurd.’3
Duffy’s poetry works so well because the reader can relate to it. It is authentic to our experience. She does not want poetry to be remote, either in subject matter or availability.
She is actively seeking out new poetry talent4 and wants poetry to be everywhere. As Jeanette Winterson observes, Duffy ‘has often spoken about poetry as an everyday event and not as a special occasion. She wants us to enjoy poetry, to have as much as we like, to be able to help ourselves to a good, fresh supply, to let poetry be as daily as talking – because poetry is talking.’5
The skill of ‘talking’, however, escaped me when I met Carol Ann Duffy. I recall standing in the queue at the Warwick Words Festival in 2009, nervously waiting for her to sign my copy of ‘Rapture’. When I reached the front I told myself ‘say something memorable to her’. I managed to mumble shyly “Thank you for your poetry reading”. I remember she looked up at me, pen in hand, the edge of her hand pressing against the open title page “Thank you for coming” she replied, holding my blushing gaze, as she signed a kiss beneath her name and across my heart.
- page 2, ‘Text’, Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy, Picador, London, 2005 (paperback 2006)
- http://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/ted-hughes-award/ and https://web.archive.org/web/20121127102519/http://www.picador.com/Blogs/2011/9/Message-from-Carol-Ann-Duffy