Guest Author - Asha Sahni
Glasgow born Carol Ann Duffy is a highly respected poet, playwright and performer. Her influences include observations of life, literature, fairy tales, fellow poets and experience. Her poems are on GCSE and A-Level English syllabi. She won the T S Elliot prize for her poetry collection Rapture - a cycle of poems about love – in 2005. Carol Ann Duffy became the first female Poet Laureate in 2009, joining an exclusive club of Laureate poets including John Betjeman, Ted Hughes, Alfred Tennyson and William Wordsworth.
Although born in Scotland Carol Ann Duffy spent much of her childhood in England. Her father was Scottish, her mother Irish, both parents coming from traditions that celebrate story and the power of the spoken word. She was the oldest child, only girl in a family of five children. Duffy always knew she wanted to write, and was encouraged by teachers who recognised and husbanded the spark of genius in their young pupil.
Duffy first met the Mersey poet Adrian Henri, with whom she had a relationship for over a decade, when she was sixteen – he was more than twenty years her senior. She studied Philosophy at the University of Liverpool, thus facilitating her relationship with Henri. Despite her subject of study her focus remained on writing – she was a published poet in her late teens. Winning the National Poetry Prize in 1983, she published her first poetry collection - Standing Female Nude - in 1985. Her career continued to flourish – her published works include poetry, plays and books for children. Subject matter is vast, from literary influenced poems such as Havisham and Anne Hathaway (these two alone are as different as night to day) - to deeply personal poems sparked by the death of the poet’s mother.
Duffy has never stood by convention; she pushes the boundaries of words, ideas, images, what people consider acceptable – these are their judgements, not hers. She puts together simple words in forms that promote reflection, rereading, checking of understanding; she creates poems that sit in memory. Controversy surrounding a GCSE poem – complaints about the content being inappropriate for study at this level - led to removal of Education for Leisure from the AQA syllabus. Yet the poem has modern historical context, written in the Thatcher era, informed by Duffy’s tenure as a visiting school poet in London’s East End.
Poetry speaks, and poetry spoken takes on qualities that cannot be appreciated through the written word alone. Carol Ann Duffy has a wonderful stage presence – direct, accessible, moving seamlessly between humour and pathos, telling of life – hers and others – of inspiration, of the process of creation. She speaks to her audience, whether they be schoolchildren, adults or journalists. Should you ever get the chance to see her perform take it – you will not be disappointed.
Carol Ann Duffy’s poems are not strewn across the internet, but there are some spoken voice recordings; John Barleycorn romps through English pub names whilst holding the core of older traditions such as the green man. Pick up a slim volume of poetry and you may not be able to put it down. Read a poem, or two, or three – and go back to review and assimilate impact – emotional, intellectual, personal - days, weeks, months or years later.