Posts Tagged ‘Carol Ann Duffy’

the worlds wife

This is the second poetry collection that I have reviewed this year, The World’s Wife was chosen by one of my two book groups as our May book. I already knew that I really liked Carol Ann Duffy’s work, although I hadn’t really read that much before – and never an entire collection in one go. This collection, first published in 1999 was Carol Ann Duffy’s first themed collection. In these wonderful poems Carol Ann Duffy takes traditional stories, tales of historical figures and myths which traditionally focus on a male character or perspective. Turning these stories on their head then, we see them from the perspective of the invisible women behind those men.

“Teach me, he said –
we were lying in bed –
how to care.
I nibbled the purse of his ear.
What do you mean? Tell me more.
He sat up and reached for his beer”
(from Delilah)

Duffy plays around a little with these stories with clever little twists and turns. Some of the poems tell a recognisable story from history that we think we know already, but from the perspective of the woman in that man’s life – as in the poems Mrs Quasimodo and Mrs Aesop. While other poems turn the male characters and their stories into stories of women as in the poem Mrs Krays. In the opening poem – and one of my favourites, Duffy changes the message of the original story of Little Riding Hood in her poem Little Red Cap. Here the woods represent the transition out of childhood, as Little Red Cap falls in love with the wolf, later taking revenge and using her experience of him as guidance for the rest of her life. I have read that the poem is also viewed as an autobiographical account of Carol Ann Duffy’s relationship with the poet Adrian Henri. I particularly loved the imagery in this poem, the streets of childhood, factories and allotments giving way to the unknown woods of an unexplored adult world.

“At childhood’s end, the houses petered out
into playing fields, the factory, allotments
kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men,
the silent railway line, the hermit’s caravan,
till you came at last to the edge of the woods.
It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf.

He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud
in his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw,
red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears
he had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!
In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me,
sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink,”
(From Little Red Cap)

These poems written very much from a feminist perspective cover such themes as birth, bereavement, sexism and equality. In this collection female characters are able to speak out for themselves no longer silenced by male dominance. A number of the poems remain set in their original historical period, while others are given an updated modern setting. Duffy also shows flashes of brilliant humour such as in Mrs Icarus.

“I’m not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock,
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.”
(Mrs Icarus)

In her poem Anne Hathaway Duffy was apparently inspired by the passage in William Shakespeare’s will which refers to his second best bed – this according to Duffy would have been the couple’s marriage bed – the bed not reserved for guests. The poem, a sonnet is a celebration of their love. This is a gently flowing poem, the language and imagery perfect and in a way a little Shakespearean, reminding us of Hamlet, The Tempest and other great works.

“The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
A page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, our best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.
(Anne Hathaway)

There is in fact so much to explore in this collection, so much to think about there are some quite complex and even controversial ideas in these superb poems, some of which I suppose are more accessible than others, though I found them all very readable and could have easily quoted far more than I have.

carol ann duffy2

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Poets Corner


Recently a couple of blog posts have popped up in my reader about poetry of one kind or another, unfortunately I can’t remember who posted them, but they really got me thinking. When I was much younger; in my late teens and early twenties I loved poetry, I can’t say I read it obsessively, but I did read it, and, I blush to admit, wrote it for a while. As time has gone on I have very much neglected poetry, and now find I own hardly any, most of the few collections I had having been callously culled from my overcrowded shelves. So when I consider the kind of beautiful poetic prose that I so admire in the fiction I read, I have to ask myself why on earth I am reading so very little poetry. One of my favourite writers as many of you will know is Thomas Hardy a man who dedicated the latter years of his life to his great love for poetry, yet I could quote only a couple of lines of Hardy poetry, my fear is I won’t like it as much as his novels and stories. This will change, poetry is coming back into my life – I even went out and bought some the other day.

20141220_200856I bought – Ariel by Sylvia Plath, a classic and maybe an odd choice in some ways – but I have been meaning to re-read The Bell Jar and I remember being impressed by Lady Lazarus when I was young and angst ridden, (I may have owned this collection before – certainly read some of it before) Lady Lazarus is included in the collection, those first few lines still give me goose bumps for some reason.



“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it –
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade”

(From Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath)

I can’t say I find Sylvia Plath an easy poet or novelist to read, yet there is something about her that makes me want to read her still.

My second poetic purchase was something very different, something absolutely gorgeous. Picador have brought out some absolutely beautiful little stocking filler sized books by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy; they are small square books, beautifully illustrated they would make a wonderful gift, so I bought one, for myself. Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday, illustrated by Tom Duxbury is a little gem.  20141220_200551



“First frost at midnight –
Moon, Venus and Jupiter
named in their places

Ice, like a cold key,
turning its lock on the lake;
nervous stars trapped there.

Darkness, a hand poised
over the chord of the hills;
the strange word moveless

The landscape muted;
soft apprehension of snow,
a holding of breath

(From Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday by Carol Ann Duffy)

christmastruceOne of the Carol Ann Duffy books on the table in Waterstones was a larger picture/poetry book, also more expensive, tempted though I was I didn’t buy it – it is called The Christmas Truce – a poem about the famous truce of WW1 – I later left the shop with a small book shaped regret in my heart – I may yet go back and buy it. Later that day, I was tweeting about Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday, and Picador alerted me to a link; a way of getting a poem sent to my email inbox – I signed up. The Christmas Truce poem arrived in my inbox complete with a few lovely little illustrations. It rather made my day.

Christmas Eve in the trenches of France,
the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man’s Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,
sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother’s eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

In a copse of trees behind the lines,
a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin
holding his winter ground –
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

(From A Christmas Truce – Carol Ann Duffy)

So then, one of my reading resolutions for next year will be to read more poetry. I don’t feel very knowledgeable about poetry, I certainly don’t feel very confident about talking about it, but I just (apologies – shudderingly awful phrase coming up) know what I like. As far as what I like – well I think I like a variety of different things – I think I rather like Robert Frost – well what little of his poetry I have read, and I want to read more Hardy poetry, I like many of the war poets, and John Clare. However there is a lot of poetry that still leaves me rather cold, and I’m still not sure what it is that makes me like what I like, and not like other things so much, that I suppose, is what I need to explore. You can assume that I will write occasionally about the poetry I have been reading, and no doubt will acquire more, so if you have recommendations for me I’d love to have them.

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