So Carol Ann Duffy is our new Poet Laureate. The press reaction has been predictable – first women, first Scot etc. Nothing is interesting to the press unless they can present it as some kind of landmark, the difference this time being that a woman poet laureate really is an important symbol.
Some press reports have mentioned her work and have called it (with a degree of approval) “simple” and “direct.” Well, some of it is, but most of CAD’s work isn’t that simple or direct. Her best poems are as nuanced and irreducible to prose as poetry should be. Her most famous poem, Prayer, from Mean Time (1993), is a subtle, moving and provocative reflection on finding meaning in a secular society, and Havisham, from the same collection, which begins memorably, “Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then/ I haven’t wished him dead.” (probably not one of those included on the school exam list!), contains even more memorable lines in the closing stanza:
…a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
What might she achieve as poet laureate? Well, I doubt we’ll see any royal poems from her and I hope she gets rid of those nonsensical trappings from what the job used to involve. I hope she uses her time to convince the powers-that-be that 10 years is too long a period for laureateship. I feel a 3-years would be much better. I’d like to see her stand up for pluralism in poetry as opposed to populism, to give support and publicity to the work of independent poetry presses (she was published by Anvil for many years and will know how hard it can be), and to work imaginatively in getting children and schools interested in poetry (she is well qualified for that task).
All the best to her.