Hot 100 2009 - Carol Ann Duffy profile
After 300 years of waiting Britain finally has its first female poet laureate. Kirstin Innes explains how Carol Ann Duffy has already made the post her own
In one year as Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy has made more of an impression than Andrew Motion managed in a decade in the job. Her appointment in itself was pretty iconoclastic, and we all dutifully reeled off the reasons why it was a historic event: first woman Poet Laureate, first out LGBT Poet Laureate, first Scottish (half-Scottish, technically) Poet Laureate, and lo, across the land there was much rejoicing. However, it’s not just that she’s a convenient card-carrying member of quite so many marginalised groups that makes Duffy’s appointment so important. She’s also a pretty radical nonconformist with no intention of shutting her mouth in deference to the history of the role, and she’s just been handed a great big mouthpiece. Before accepting the job, she had made it perfectly clear that she had utterly no intention of sticking to traditional Laureately activities like penning a sonnet on Princess Michael of Kent’s new hat (or indeed, performing a toe-curlingly cringey ‘rap’ for Prince William’s birthday. Thanks, Mr Motion). ‘I will not write a poem for Edward and Sophie,’ she announced when previously turned down for the job in 1999. ‘No poet should have to do that.’
And she’s been true to her word. Instead, Duffy has interpreted her role as poet to the whole country. Her two official poems as Laureate so far have been hard-hitting, political, and spoken out angrily about war, about the banks, about urgent situations that affect the people of this country. The gobsmackingly beautiful The Last Post, written in tribute to Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the two surviving British soldiers to have taken part in WW1, both of whom died this year, is a fine example of the power of poetry to unite people. Right at the other end of the scale, her recently published rewrite of The Twelve Days of Christmas, which points angry fingers at the continued occupation of Afghanistan and those bankers responsible for the economic crisis, with each of the eight maids a milking turned into MPs making fraudulent expenses claims, has divided the public: most people love it but it’s certainly ruffling feathers in certain reactionary corners of the right-wing press (primarily, it seems, because ‘it’s not very Christmassy’ and ‘it doesn’t rhyme’).
Good for Carol Ann, for refusing to churn out bland crowd-pleasers. Good for Carol Ann, for sticking to her guns and making her first public act once she’d been named Laureate to put on a small-scale kids show at the Scottish Storytelling Centre during the Fringe. Good for Carol Ann for continuing to make sure that poetry stays accessible, relevant, and part of people’s lives.