Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pride Month Profiles: Carol Ann Duffy

“What will you do now with the gift of your left life?”

Dame Carol Ann Duffy (1955-  )
Poet Laureate of Great Britain

After 341 years of male incumbents, Carol Ann Duffy was appointed the United Kingdom's poet laureate in 2009. She immediately promised no poems commemorating the birth of royal children- a task that bedeviled many a predecessor.

Duffy is also the first Scot, and first openly gay individual, to hold the position. In America, this would have engendered prayer vigils and a yearlong congressional investigation. In Britain, the news was received as a brilliant choice.

Duffy, born poor in Glasgow, seemed a writer from the crib. At 13, after a loved teacher died, she produced these words:

You sat on your desk,
swinging your legs,
reading a poem by Yeats
to the bored girls,
except my heart stumbled and blushed
as it fell in love with the words and I saw the tree
in the scratched old desk under my hands,
heard the bird in the oak outside scribble itself on the air.
At her appointment, a correspondent for The Guardian wrote:

If poet laureateships were democratically achieved, rather than autocratically conferred, one suspects the result would have been the same. Carol Ann Duffy is the most popular poet (after Shakespeare) among teenagers applying to read English at university, and her short poem Prayer was recently voted Britain's second favourite poem, after Philip Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings (an interesting pairing, given the sense the poems share, of momentary, quotidian benediction; of a kind of secular prayer).

She was nearly appointed in 1999, to succeed Ted Hughes; this would have had a pleasing symmetry, as Hughes was a favorite of both Duffy’s and the Queen’s; they talked of him at her post-appointment audience). In the end the nod went to Andrew Motion, whose style Duffy called “ambassadorial.” She disclaimed similar skills, saying she simply intended to be a working poet and let people see what that is like.

It’s something people do like: her readings commonly draw over five hundred; her published works- collections, anthologies, songs, plays, exceed fifty.

Nor has she been above filling the laureate’s public role, just with a Duffyan twist: In her first poem as poet laureate, Duffy tackled the scandal over British MPs expenses in the format of a sonnet. Her second, "Last Post", was commissioned by the BBC to mark the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the last two British soldiers to fight in World War I. Her third, "The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009", addresses current events such as species extinction, the climate change conference in Copenhagen, the banking crisis, and the war in Afghanistan. In March 2010, she wrote "Achilles (for David Beckham)" about the Achilles tendon injury that left England Footballer David Beckham out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup; the poem was published in The Daily Mirror and treats modern celebrity culture as a kind of mythicisation. "Silver Lining", written in April 2010, acknowledges the grounding of flights caused by the ash of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. In August 2010 she premièred her poem "Vigil" for the Manchester Pride Candlelight Vigil in memory of LGBT people who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS.

In one of her best-known books, The World’s Wife, she turns the Great Men of History and Myth on their heads by viewing their exploits through the eyes of their wives:

“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.”

Duffy holds three Scottish Council Poetry Awards (1986, 1990, 1993); the Dylan Thomas Prize (1989); the Whitbread Prize (1993); the T.S. Eliot Prize (2005); the Costa Prize (2011); and the 2012 PEN/Pinter Prize. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. By day, she holds the chair in Contemporary Poetry at Manchester University.

#HenryBemisBooks  #Poetry #CarolAnnDuffy #LGBT #Charlotte

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