The Woman Who Changed the Face of Poetry: In Celebration of Carol-Ann Duffy

By Morgan Rodway-Wing

Dame Carol Ann Duffy is undoubtedly one of the most important poets of the late 20th/early 21st century and, as 2019 marks her resignation as Poet Laureate and her visit to Canterbury, it is imperative to explore the impact she has had on poetry and literature.

Duffy’s appointment as Poet Laureate in 2009 was progressive given that she was the first woman, openly LGBTQ+ and Scottish-born poet to hold the position. During her time as Poet Laureate she wrote about all manners of society, from the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the moment David Beckham’s ankle injury saw him left out of the England World Cup squad. Despite being succeeded by Simon Armitage in May this year, Duffy’s poetry during her time as Poet Laureate cemented her position as one of the most diverse poets in the United Kingdom.

Being the first woman to hold the position of Poet Laureate placed a significance on Duffy’s poetry because it was seen to be almost revolutionary, especially in regards to Feminism. In doing so, she established herself as a front runner for the fight for the recognition and celebration of women poets. There are clear feminist motifs that run throughout her poetry, most notably in her collection of poems ‘The World’s Wife’. This collection of poems follows the lives of the wives/partners of well-known men throughout history; appearances from the spouses of Charles Darwin, Aesop and King Kong are particular highlights of the collection. It becomes clear, when reading Duffy’s work, that she refuses to be a by-stander in society and very much intends on using her voice and presence within the poetry community to highlight important contemporary issues.

As part of her trip to Canterbury, she performed a reading of a selection of poems from ‘The World’s Wife’. Before beginning, she spoke about how she views poetry as ‘the music of being human’, a statement that highlights the delicacy of poetry. There was a realness and sincerity to Duffy’s reading and she made every single word believable and relatable.

This realness continued when she spoke about her child going to University, stating that it is a ‘sadness that you have to learn to live alongside’. Her vulnerability and openness were astounding, paving the way for her to continue to talk about other contemporary issues. From Empty Nest Syndrome to Brexit,

Duffy covered it all within her 1 hour reading session. She did not hold back when it came to the current political climate, making several jokes about Donald Trump. The audience were even reduced to tears of laughter when she shared an anecdote about her disdain for the recent suggestion that counties should be left out of addresses. However, her conversation afterwards about the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 returned the audience to a pensive state.

Having spoken about countless issues within the 21st century, Duffy moved on to talk about her experience in Canterbury. She admitted that she was ‘stunned and overwhelmed’ when she visited Canterbury Cathedral because of its beauty and historical significance. She also added that she had ‘met so many wonderful people’ during her time in Canterbury, which thrilled the audience to hear!

Duffy ended the evening with a reading of her most recent poem ‘Frost Fair’. Her reading created a particularly cosy and festive atmosphere, aided by the Christmas lights visible from the window behind her.

As 2019 closes a significant chapter in Duffy’s life, it is imperative that we continue to celebrate her poetry because she has used her power and influence as Poet Laureate to draw attention to countless societal issues.

Images Courtesy of and Morgan Rodway-Wing