Carol Ann Duffy

// 3 May 2009


Of course it’s not news anymore, but this post is just to recognise that Carol Ann Duffy is the new poet laureate. She’s the first woman and (erm, obviously) the first lesbian to hold the role. The Guardian put it like this:

Four hundred years of male domination came to an end today with the election of Carol Ann Duffy as poet laureate.

Duffy said on Woman’s Hour (as reported by the Guardian) that she agreed to take the job “purely because they hadn’t had a woman”.

She declared herself ready to tackle the official verse which the laureateship requires, but only if the occasion inspired her. “If not, then I’d ignore it,” she said.

She plans to donate her yearly stipend of £5,750 to the Poetry Society to fund a new poetry prize for the best annual collection. “I didn’t want to take on what basically is an honour on behalf of other poets and complicate it with money,” she explained. “I thought it was better to give it back to poetry.”

She has, however, asked that her “butt of sack” – the 600 bottles of sherry traditionally given to the laureate – should be delivered up front, after learning that Motion is yet to receive his allocation.

I’m one of (tens of thousands?) of people who were actually introduced to Carol Ann Duffy at school, in A Level English class. A lot of her poetry is of feminist interest, but the most obvious collection to look at is The World’s Wife, which gives voice to the wives, girlfriends and sisters of various historical and mythical famous men throughout history, including Mrs Midas, Queen Kong and Frau Freud.

Comments From You

Kirsty // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:53 pm

The World’s Wife is my favourite collection of poems ever. Anyone who hasn’t read it should beg, borrow or steal a copy – it’s incredible.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 4 May 2009 at 1:01 am

And the first Scot poet laureate.

sianmarie // Posted 4 May 2009 at 12:19 pm

pleased as punch over this! duffy definitely deserves the recognition being laureate brings, and after 341 years of only male laureates it is especially exciting that a poet who writes about the female experience has got it!

in light of tony blair’s comments when she was passed over in favour of andrew motion it is a real success and indicator of a shift in attitudes.

well done!

Simon // Posted 5 May 2009 at 11:41 am

Beyond the fact that it is excellent that a woman has finally been appointed to the post can we celebrate the fact that a really good poet has been appointed to this post. Duffy’s rejection last time around always seemed to me to be the opposite of affirmative action – choosing someone because of what they weren’t. Although Carol Ann says she has taken the post because of the message that it sends I believe that she is doing herself a disservice – she is the best person for the job. Beyond being an entertaining, provocative and accessible poet she also is probably the best known modern poet to the wider population – because of the frequency with which her work is used in GCSE and A Level syllabuses. This should mean that she will be able to do what all Poet Lauretes should do – be a face to make poetry more popular. In conclusion this appointment wins on every level.

aimee // Posted 5 May 2009 at 4:08 pm

I absolutely adore ‘The World’s Wife’. It’s so fantastic, I get really emotional when I read it. I think it’s actually a shame that Carol Ann Duffy is used in GCSE anthologies because it turns so many young people off her poetry, just ‘cos it’s such a staple and they resent having tp ‘study’ it.

Jess McCabe // Posted 5 May 2009 at 4:28 pm

@aimee Well, the flip side of that is that teenage kids get exposed to her work. I think the fact she’s on the syllubus is actually more significant than the fact she’s becoming poet laureate.

I’m not sure how much people generally search out poetry without prompting, and although studying an author/poet at school will spoil their work for some kids, others will be interested and engaged and love it (especially if they’ve got a good English teacher). Personally, school English classes only managed to put me off Shakespeare, the rest I thought was fantastic.

Lindsey // Posted 5 May 2009 at 4:34 pm

I think I must have been on the alternative syllabus – I never studied her work but all the press and hype has prompted me to buy The World’s Wife so this will be my first exposure :)

Anne Onne // Posted 5 May 2009 at 5:12 pm

Really, really pleased. I didn’t think she really wanted to be the Poet Laureate, and I thought her comment on how no respectable poet should have to write poems about Royal weddings if they didn’t want to was spot on.

However, I’m glad

I think it’s actually a shame that Carol Ann Duffy is used in GCSE anthologies because it turns so many young people off her poetry, just ‘cos it’s such a staple and they resent having tp ‘study’ it.

I don’t think it’s necessarily having to study it, rather sometimes the poems picked. I think even my GCSE self at the height of ‘ugh, not anotehr duffy poem!’ would have liked The World’s Wife so much more than the rather bland, safe poems we studied (didn’t even do Salome!). We had to do a whole paper on her poetry alone, so I can see why some people might feel saturated. Sometimes the format is just wrong.

Then there’s the fact that some things grow on you when you’re a bit older. The themes in some of her works hit you more when you’re older, and I can imagine that a lot of youngsters maybe aren’t ready for some themes. Not that they are ‘too young’ to cope, but rather that these themes do not interest them at that time point, or the relative merits of that literary style is not something they have patience for. Of course, they still need to be stretched and shown new things, regardless of whether they will always appreciate it!

Though there is always that forced study ruining enjoyment element. Don’t most people seem to say that they prefer literature once they don’t HAVE to study it in class? Ironic. I’m not arguing we don’t teach literature or Duffy in schools, but pointing out that whatever the reasons people don’t like her poetry at a certain time point in their lives doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t engage with it later, or outside of the classroom.

I’d still advocate teaching literature, since I agree that pupils should be exposed to different things, though obviously the more inspirational the teaching, the better.

I hope her time as Poet Laureate is successful, fun, and gives everyone food for thought. Well done, Ms. Duffy. :)

Now I gotta go and order ‘ The World’s Wife’.

Becky // Posted 5 May 2009 at 9:18 pm

Haven’t read any of Carol Ann Duffy’s work in a long while and after hearing this news was prompted to have a quick browse for some to read. On a page with Valentine on (that poem has stuck in my head more than any other since I read it at about 14) were some of those ads that go on what’s on the page. The biggest one: “Inside A Boyfriends Mind –

Simple Tips Any Girl Can Use To Keep Your Boyfriend In To You!” …. Looks like computers just don’t quite ‘get’ poetry!

Lauren A // Posted 7 May 2009 at 12:47 am

I personally think Carol Ann Duffy ia a huge inspiration.

I studied her for my advanced higher english paper and I actually rethought my outlooks on life after reading her works.

I also studied Jackie Kay for my dissertation but brought several Duffy and Liz Lochead poems in.

I just think she represents feminism in the most modern and unconventional way; she totally deserved this award

Nicola Monaghan // Posted 19 July 2009 at 12:39 pm

I understand what previous commenters mean about how, sometimes, having to study something can put you off it. I do get that, but at the same time I feel for teachers trying to motivate students. They need to be able to use the best, most interesting, most racey stuff to get the best results…

I love, love, love CAD. I was lucky enough to find myself at her first reading as poet laureate, in Southwell. She was brilliant. Very engaging, and her readings reminded me what I loved about her poetry, especially The World’s Wife.

elizabeth // Posted 9 December 2009 at 9:50 pm

Can someone tell me which CAD poem has the line: “It’s not about you, kid.” in it? She read it on Womans Hour …

Katie // Posted 15 December 2009 at 11:09 am

As much as I appreciate and enjoy Carol Ann Duffy’s works, I sometimes find it a bit offending, especially poems in WW, some poems made women seem irrational and over emotional, the stereotypical view which are trying to leave at just that stereotypical views. Mrs Midas, she has no idea whether her husband is cheating on her and yet she spends time stewing and obsessing over it to the point she inflicts ugliness on herself. It does just in my opinion if you’re trying to represent the female view of dominant males in history at least make them cleverer than the men before them. In my view Queen Herod was just as foolish as King Herod.

Laboratory by Robert Browning is one of my favorite poems.

Katie // Posted 15 December 2009 at 11:29 am

*Sorry it was Medusa not Mrs Midas.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 December 2009 at 11:35 am

@Katie It’s hard for me to remember the specifics, because I’ve not read that poem since my A Levels (!!) but I’m not sure – I mean, wouldn’t it be a bit much if every female character in her poems was really a fantastic human being with no flaws?

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