Carol Ann Duffy Book Festival

Dame Carol Ann Duffy to be precise, but our Poet Laureate is not a stereotypical pillar of the establishment – she continues to be a campaigner and champion of causes and her poems still have the power to make you think as well as make you smile. This evening she is joined by talented Scottish musician John Sampson who provides a musical introduction, interludes and accompaniment to the poems on his selection of wind instruments. They have a lovely warm rapport and the collaboration works well in enhancing the poems rather than the drier interview format of some reading events.

We begin with a few poems from The Worlds Wife – Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresias and Mrs Faust. Duffy has reimagined the stories of famous male characters from the perspectives of their long suffering wives and they are deliciously, wickedly funny and poignant all at the same time. Midas has foolishly wished for everything he touches to turn to gold but hasn’t thought through what that actually means in practice – “Look we all have wishes; granted. But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold? It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable. It slakes no thirst.” Mrs Midas banishes her husband to a caravan in the woods where he can do least harm while she sells the golden artefacts he has created and lives the rest of her days in material but solitary comfort.

There are poems from Rapture, a collection of 52 love sonnets, a poetry form she describes as “the little black dress of poetry” and describing the journey of a love affair from its beginning to its end. “Water” is a heart rending poem recalling caring for her mother in a hospice and the memories that evokes.

Then there are poems which highlight important causes for her, from big environmental issues such as in The Bees to the seemingly smaller issue of the Post Office’s decision to drop the use of counties in the addressing of mail in favour of the soulless postcode. Duffy wants to write to “a Shropshire Lad” not a number. And there is the poem written for Mrs Schofield, the hapless exam invigilator who managed to get one of Duffy’s poems banned from the syllabus because it mentioned a knife and might therefore incite teen violence. Duffy cleverly references famous literary knives which haven’t been banned – Macbeth’s dagger, Julius Caesar’s murder to name but a few.

All in all, this was a very entertaining hour and has certainly encouraged me to go back and revisit Carol Ann Duffy’s work as well as look at her new stuff. A national treasure indeed.

Irene Brownlee