Sincerity – Noun. The absence of pretence, deceit, or hypocrisy.
The Guardian hosted Carol Ann Duffy at Islington Assembly Hall to discuss and read from her latest poetry collection Sincerity. This will be her last collection before stepping down as Poet Laureate next May. Appointed May 2009, she is the first female Poet Laureate in 350 years and has written poems for the 2012 Olympics, Armistice day and the Royal Weddings for both Prince William and Prince Harry. Her most notable works are The World’s Wife, Feminine Gospels and the 2011 Costa Prize Winning The Bees.
The word Sincerity is described as being truthful with no tricks and no concealment. The theme certainly runs right through to the heart of the collection and perhaps to the lack of sincerity we currently face in the world. The collection see-saws from the topical to the personal, from Bitcoins to parents, and finally interweaving both. Through poetry, Duffy takes a breath to examine the current state of her life and the world around her. Politics, she commented, has become inseparable with the personal. Sincerity is full of grief from the loss values she thought to be concrete in Britain. Empathy, community and compassion. We are living in a fascinating time where the public are more conscious of politics now than ever. Her clever command of sound opens fire towards unreliable politicians and the turbulent times that inevitably follow, with nods towards Brexit’s chaos and the deceit that brought it to fruition.
With the nation examined it narrows back to her personal life. The semantics of mother and daughter run strong throughout many of the poet’s works and the cycle continues with new angles to examine. There is a strong presence of sadness for her daughter leaving home for University, coinciding with bereavement for her mother’s passing. Included is the beautiful poem ‘Empty Nest’ articulating her severe case of empty nest syndrome whilst living in a childless house. Pulling the heartstrings of parents when describing her house as a home only when her daughter returns to it. From politics to the domestic space, it’s clear that Duffy grieves the absence of former stability and comfort as many of us do.
Duffy defines poetry as ‘the music of being human’. The collection tackles heavy topics but doesn’t sway from the spectrum of emotions that make a human grief possible. From the hilarious ‘In which I laugh at my Father’s confirmation name’ and ‘Gorilla’ to the harrowing ‘Britannia’ an impressive scope of topics is tackled. It’s fair to say the collection has been a beacon during this desperate lack of humility. With the rise of minimalists or Instagram poets, poetry as a form has undeniably become ‘cool’ again. It begs the question if the sudden commercial popularity is due to current state of affairs. Are people beginning to turn to poetry for the world to make sense again? Has art and culture replaced religion as a source of guidance and comfort? Perhaps, however Duffy doesn’t approach grief as a puzzle to be solved but rather an entity to be addressed and explored.
Once again, Duffy proves her wit, supreme command of language and hold on the poetic form as the nation’s beloved poet. The collection achieves the sincerity and vulnerability we desperately search for within art.
Readers can look forward to a new Christmas book by Duffy scheduled to be released next year during the festive season. Sincerity is published by Pan Macmillan and the hardback is available now.