Sunday, May 03, 2009

Poet Laureate: Carol Ann Duffy

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.

2 comments:

Background Artist said...

This comment is pure speculative discourse, and the narrator is not *I*, but an experimental voice deployed for the purpose of conducting an intellectually creative dialogue-with-self, which will hopefully bring to a wider audience the work..

"..i am involved in as a bore with strong opinions on this topic>"

"Oh aye, and why's that then div?"

"Well, i feel that all the talk about laureateship is a hugely successful bit of smoke and mirrors, which (unconsciously perhaps) diverts attention from the more pertinent political implications of this post."

"Yeah, but who cares? The working class got sold out when Deggsie Hatton sent the taxis round with the redundancy notices and they proved themself just as bad as the toffs. Stick to the point, politics aside, what will the poetry be like?"

"I dunno, maybe Duffy is one of those working class champions who turn toffie as time goes by. Her poems are in the mode of Larkin who seems to be the template."

"In what sense dickhead?"

"Well Larkin was the first to make *fucking* a legitimate poetic word, and now you can't turn sideways with the fuckers fuckin this and fuck me that, as though Barabra Cartland were to start writing hard core porn as romance."

"I dunno you fick, there's arguments all ways, but what's wrong wioth *fucking?*"

"I dunno, but maybe her poetry will turn into celebrating the millionairwe who gives the 5 grand scrap, Duffy the radical becomes Duffy the cheerleader of tory values?"

"Who knows?"

"Not me. Maybe if she still has the socialist flame, she will be brave in the real sense and not the sense literature critics use this much debased word."

"Hows that then?"

"Brave as in, tell it like it is, actually highlight the inequality of having Their Majesties called Your Highness and herself plain aul Ms."

"Yeah, dream on dickhead.."

Alison said...

Yes, entirely agree with Rob that the Poet Laureate's tenure should be shorter. What about the USA's system of a year? That would open a few doors, and give the reading public a much wider experience of poetry.

As I understand it, the USA's laureate can choose how much public work they do, which also opens the door to writers of differing temperaments and circumstances; recluses not excluded!