Saturday, May 02, 2009

Britain names first female poet laureate

England has named its first ever female poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. She is also the first openly gay poet laureate for England.

Here is a charming example of her down-to-earth poetry style,
Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
While there are lots of business-like announcements of the fact, my favorite story about Carol Ann Duffy is here, in the Mirror, dated February 5, 2009. Reporter Daisy Goodwin opens her story:
The first time I met Carol Ann Duffy she made me cry. I was meant to be interviewing her but within minutes of meeting her I had told her everything about my broken heart.

I could tell her because I knew she understood about love and loss, passion and pain.

She gets it, and that's what makes her the best poet of her generation and an inspired choice as the next Poet Laureate.

Anyone who has ever known love or heartbreak will find a home in her work. Not that there is anything soppy about Carol Ann Duffy.

She can look quite serious until you say something that she likes and her face cracks open and she laughs her wonderfully dirty laugh.
Duffy's family was blue-collar. Her father was a trade-unionist, like his father before him. Her mother left school at 14, though she regretted it and encouraged her children to get the most out of school they could. Born in Glasgow of a Scottish father and an Irish mother, Duffy's family moved to Staffordshire when she was four. I especially love the fact, mentioned in all the stories about Duffy, that she left the final decision about accepting the laureate up to her 13 year old daughter, Ella.
Carol Ann is single now but lives with the greatest love in her life, her 13-year old daughter Ella, by the novelist Peter Benson. "I let her decide whether I should accept the Laureateship or not.

She was all for it, she said, 'Mum. it's time a woman did it'."

Carol Ann says: "I always wanted a child. Being a mother is the central thing in my life. Having a child takes you back to all those parts of your own childhood that you had hidden away."

May, Carol Ann's mother entranced her daughter with her stories and rhymes. Carol Ann does the same for Ella but she publishes hers. "Since I had Ella, I have written more for children than for adults. I read everything to Ella first."

Ella herself is more interested in music than poetry although her mother says she does "cruelly accurate imitations of me reading my poems". Ten years ago, Carol Ann was quoted as saying she didn't want the Laureateship because "no poet should have to write poems about Edward and Sophie's wedding".

But age and motherhood have tempered that view. "I am a poet of the family, and the symbol of the Royal Family is entwined with the history of Britain. I don't see why that can't make a good poem. On the other hand, no one would thank me for writing bad poems to order." Family is at the heart of Carol Ann's life and work.
This is a pretty cool piece of news. I had to look and see whether the United States had had a woman poet laureate yet. We have. In 1945 - 1946, Louise Bogan, born in Maine, and living in Boston, was the poet laureate. Another woman, Leonie Adams, served in 1948-49, from Brooklyn, NY., and Elizabeth Bishop, 1949 - 1950 (born in Worcester, Massachusetts, but living in Brazil, I think, and fairly close to being openly gay). Josephine Jacobsen, 1971-73, from Baltimore, was another woman laureate (I don't know why 2 years), and Maxine Kumin, in 1981-82, Gwendolyn Brooks, served in 1985-86. Mona Van Duyn was poet laureate in 1992-93 and Rita Dove in 1993-94. Then there was a special deal with "bicentennial consultants" in 1999-2000, with three people named to that title, including Rita Dove again, and Louise Gluck along with a man, W.S. Merwin. Louise Gluck served as laureate in 2003-04. So, the U.S., with a one year laureate term, has had a lot of women laureates, actually. The Brits originally had the laureates serve for life, but the last laureate before Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion, made an agreement with the government that the post should only be filled for 10 years. So, perhaps, they will start running through their poets a bit faster now. Congratulations Carol Ann Duffy and to Britain for an exciting selection!

Photograph is from the Mirror story dated 2/5/09.


Post a Comment

<< Home