Carol Ann Duffy

During the 10th-23rd October the Manchester Literature festival showcases and celebrates authors, playwrights and poets all of whom hail from Manchester. It is of great use for all students not just for interest but inspiration to aspiring writers. One poet who is of great inspiration to many MMU students is the Creative Director of the Writing School and Poet Laureate since 2009, Carol Ann Duffy.

Duffy’s poems reflect on troubles of the modern day world including oppression, gender and violence but are written in accessible, modern language which makes her poems and other works possible to be read by all ages; in fact many of her poems are used in schools for examination pieces.

It is clear through her poems that she uses first her own experiences and encounters for direction and inspiration. Carol Ann Duffy was born and started her early life in the Gorbals, a poor and run down part of Glasgow. Her family later moved to Stafford when her father obtained a new job with English Electric. Duffy states that she was happy about the change from the inner city estate to the relative anonymity of Stafford ‘I stopped being a Glasgow girl’.

Duffy’s poetry appeals so strongly to the public because she does not want to preach to her audience, instead she converses and narrates her ideas and feelings, ‘I don’t like poets to be like Priests, as though you are hearing a mass… I like to use simple words but in a complicated way’. She writes in everyday conversational language, making her poems appear deceptively simple. Therefore her role of poet laureate is perfectly suited as she must emphasise, interpret and reflect the countries feeling’s and interpretation after an event.

One of the features of Duffy’s work which makes her brilliant is her ventriloquism. She is extremely sensitive to her characters feelings and seems to place herself into their mindset and as Elizabeth O’Reilly states ‘articulates the respective point of view in the idiom of the characters’ own speech’.

There are certain poems, however, which Duffy states are autobiographical including her 1993 work, ‘Before you were mine’. She addresses this poem, which is full of emotion and innocence, to her mother after imagining her when she was younger before Duffy was even an idea, ‘I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on’. Here Carol Ann Duffy’s simple language is truly effective because she can put across this young girls voice.

The poet obviously cannot use her own memory for this account and instead focuses on pictures as her stimulant to see her mothers freedom before she was born. Duffy herself states ‘that the poem is about a child’s almost possessive love for her mother and about the freedom a woman loses when she has a child. There is a sadness in the poem because a child can never know her mother when she is truly free.’ The title adds to the possessive side of the poem highlighting that it is not the child who belongs to the mother instead the mother has devoted herself to her child and is no longer a free person.

Duffy continuously tries to associate herself with her young mother as to not become isolated, ‘you’d teach me the steps on the way home from mass’. The poem becomes a collage of sorts, sticking together photograph images, anecdotes and fond objects to form an idea of her young mother. It is clear that Duffy shows great affection for her mother however, the poem can have a sad tone at times because she feels guilty that now her mother cannot be the same and enjoy life ‘where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine’. The repetition of the ‘and’ shows that soo many things have disappeared from her mother now that she is around.

From looking at Duffy’s work it is clear to see that she wants to interact with her audience and not shrink away from pressing issues, however, she does this in a clever way because by using colloquial and informal language and structure, her poems come across as deceptively simple. Instead of using complicated words she tries to show the complicated ways and forms of life by using ideas which everyone can relate to. It is simple to see why Carol Ann Duffy is the poet laureate because she is not only a writer but a person with clear ideas and realistic views.

Written by: Sophie-Rose Glover



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