Sunday, May 03, 2009


Some belated thoughts on the new Laureate appointment. Carol Ann (a.k.a. "Carry On") Duffy is a curious figure, at least for me. She's always lurked in the background as someone 'famous', without my knowing exactly why. Then again, the adjective 'famous' doesn't have quite the same meaning when applied to a poet as to anyone else. I never studied her, at GCSE or A-Level, and hadn't come into contact with her work until I encountered Bloodaxe's Staying Alive anthology a couple of years ago. I had to kind of be told that she was 'famous', and accept it as more-or-less truth. Admittedly, the large number of books written and edited by her that my local (chain) bookstores sold (I say 'large', but these things are very relative where poetry is involved) gave some indication that she had a popular audience, but she still felt private, to me at least, a piece of personal knowledge. She's also one of those poets whose entire style looms large in contemporary poetry, whether we really know it or not. Thinking the other day about the kind of poets who had an influence on the work I've been writing, Duffy was nowhere to be seen - I hadn't read a lot of her work, she wasn't someone whose books I'd hoarded. And yet, re-reading 'Prayer', I recognised exactly my own cadence, the same tense formality. I had, for all that time, thought that 'Prayer', which always creates a tingle when I read it, was something that belonged to me, in a certain sense; it turns out to be "her most famous poem", apparently. And there is the paradox: a poet of decidedly private concerns, connecting with a large (and popular) audience. I know, of course, that's there's a certain lack of street-cred in liking Duffy - her identification with the apparent reaction against experimental poetics in the 80s and 90s (the 'new formalism', and 'new generation', whose work is not, as far as I'm concerned, to be spat on a priori), and sometimes 'traditional' concerns (human relationships, domestic life, death, spirituality - but also, lest we forget, press manipulation, sociopathic conditions, the oppressive grip of patriarchy), don't exactly imbue her with 'edginess'. But, then, I couldn't especially give a fuck. I like her work, and if any y'all motherfuckers have a problem with that, you can... go do something very unpleasant. It shouldn't, either, be forgotten that she is the first female Laureate in a post often associated with the most stuffily conformist macho types (Hughes, Tennyson, Day-Lewis), and, furthermore, the first openly gay Laureate. Oh, and she's from Glasgow, which is another point for her in my book. What she will do for poetry in this country is another question - even the Poet Laureate can't reasonably change the reading habits of an entire country's population. But if positive shifts are going to occur, I imagine it is Duffy, if anyone, will make them happen.


Blogger steve said...

Good post. The 'Prayer' is, well, a bit radio 4 but who am I to diss. I haven't read enough but intend to, once I can find some free poems on the net. I know, I know cheapskate, but there's a depression on.......

May 22, 2009 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Most public libraries tend to have relatively good poetry selections as a rule. Where do you think I learned the trade?

May 30, 2009 at 4:00 PM  

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