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Voice as Vision: Carol Ann Duffy
by Jane Satterfield

a
poet of mass appeal whose work is included in the UK's national curriculum, Carol Ann Duffy has the uncanny distinction of being genuinely admired by the general populace as well as her peers in the art. Often acknowledged as the poet of post-postwar Britain (roughly considered as Thatcher's era and beyond), Duffy's technically sharp and confidently feminist verse is challenging, entertaining, and accessible: it ranges broadly across the literal and emotional landscapes of contemporary life. Whether she is writing about the vagaries of urban existence, childhood experiences and family life, gender stereotypes, the struggles of the disempowered, or the complex relationship between language and national identity, Duffy's poetry captures what critic Jody Allen-Randolph calls "the heroic within the populist." Her poems speak through the viewpoints of others and thereby create a vivid portrayal of contemporary British society; her work exhibits "a sharp awareness of how the social power dynamic between empowered and disempowered groups of people developed in Britain during and after the Thatcher regime" (Horner "'Small Female Skull'" 106).

Named Britain's first female Poet Laureate on May 1, 2009, a role most recently inhabited by Andrew Motion and Ted Hughes, Duffy accepted the post "as a recognition of the great women poets we have writing now" (BBC Woman's Hour, May 1, 2009).

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1955, Duffy grew up in Stafford, England, a town located in the West Midlands, at the edge of the industrial North. In "Originally," Duffy describes childhood as "an emigration":

                                         . . . Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined, pebble-dashed estates, big boys
eating worms and shouting words you don't understand.
My parents' anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
In my head. I want our own country, I said.

(Selected Poems 65)
Her parents' Scottish-Irish background and relocation to England shaped the poet's awareness of the dislocations of place and language. As Sean O'Brien observes, Duffy's family's experience is "part of that series of interior economic diasporae which led the Scots south . . . for work." Neither "uprooted or rootless, but not having taken root, Duffy can stand as an emigrant in the country of which she is technically a citizen" (O'Brien 160). This perspective, however unsettling, is clearly a poetic advantage, one that "enables her to dramatize the experience of a wide variety of other strangers, many of them born here, who find themselves abroad in contemporary England."

Duffy's popularity may arise in part from the directness and simplicity that is a hallmark of her approach to writing, as she noted in an interview: "I'm not interested in words like 'plash,' you know, Seamus Heaney words, interesting words. I don't like them. I like to use simple words but in a complicated way . . ." (MacAllister 75). "The Way My Mother Speaks" is a case in point: the poem pays tribute to her mother's Glaswegian idiom, with its idiosyncratic yet lyrical turns of phrase, such as "the day and ever" or "what like is it" (a characteristically Scottish inversion of the standard English "what is it like"). As the poet travels across the countryside by train, repeating these phrases "the way I say things when I think," the recollection and recitation of these phrases leave the poet feeling "homesick, free, in love/with the way my mother speaks." Language is shared but delineates "difference"; it captures the familiar, but in turn will defamiliarize: the feeling of nostalgia triggered by the mother's words is likened by the poet to that of a child "who stood at the end of summer/and dipped a net/in a green, erotic pond." Within the span of a brief narrative, Duffy develops a complex reflection on the nature of language: the relation between writing and memory is always complicated by the distance from a "mother tongue."

Duffy notes that her relationship to language was shaped by a working class background where "language was often perceived as embarrassing, or dangerous." Duffy's father, originally a fitter for English Electric, was an active trade unionist who became involved in local labor politics and in his spare time managed Stafford Football Club. With Carol Ann and her four younger brothers to care for, Duffy's mother appears to have been the archetypal Catholic wife and mother who kept a stable, lively household and inspired her daughter with invented fairy tales. The poet's early education was fairly conventional, one she herself described in an interview as "nothing but lists, relieved only by the Latin Mass" (Forbes, "Interview"). Given that Duffy's poems draw a good deal of syntactical energy from the catalogues of images and colloquial phrases she employs to create a naturalistic voice in the dramatic monologues that have come to be recognized as her signature form, it's clear that convent schooling learning with its attention to prayer and rote-memorization clearly shaped the poet's awareness of the word's power and mystery. Although Duffy's work does not, in the strictest sense, include direct references to faith or religious belief, it reflects the utmost compassion for humanity and a deep sensitivity for religious feeling, a quality notable in her much anthologized sonnet "Prayer": "Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer/ utters itself . . . " Explaining her attraction to the sonnet, Duffy observes "Poetry and prayer are very similar." Sonnets, she notes, share a kinship with prayers: they are "short and memorable, something you can recite" (Poetry Archive).

A committed writer from the age of fourteen, Duffy was encouraged by several inspirational teachers at the secondary level. A chance meeting with Adrian Henri (whose rock band, The Grimms, helped popularize poetry among the UK's youth) would prompt the young poet to move to Liverpool, where the influence of the city's vibrant arts scene, especially its performance poets, made a powerful impression and helped ignite an egalitarian approach to poetry. Henri became a "partner and poetic mentor"; the pair collaborated on Beauty and the Beast. Published in 1977, the pamphlet is a poetic revision of classic fairy tales and is seen as "an early example of the trend to fuse popular tales with 'high' art forms such as poetry" (Michelis 6-7). That same year, Duffy graduated from Liverpool University with a BA in Philosophy, working for television while publishing several plays and poetry pamphlets. By the early '80's, Duffy moved to London where she worked as a writer in residence at East London schools, rising to literary celebrity with a National Poetry Competition win in 1983 and an Eric Gregory Award in 1984. When Standing Female Nude, the poet's first collection, was published in 1985 by Anvil, it would earn Duffy wide acclaim. Robert Nye of The Times, for example, described the book as "the debut of a genuine and original poet."

Like many New Generation poets whose poetic aesthetic marries rich lyricism with social critique, comparisons to Larkin are inevitable. In "Going, Going," for instance, Larkin describes the erosion of the country's pastoral landscape in the face of increasing modernization and strikes what sometimes seems the prevailing note in contemporary British poetry. Written in 1972, the poem reveals a landscape of motorways and urban decay where the elements of any shared national tradition--parishes, guildhalls, and meadows--have become mere tourist trappings. Critics notice stylistic resemblances (richly textured sonic patterning, an affinity for assonance and rhyme), as well as thematic crossovers between the two poets. For instance, Duffy shares Larkin's awareness of the dislocations of modern life; similarly, she exhibits a documentarian's eye in her ability to capture the world's mutability and meanness. Nonetheless, Duffy is attuned to the comic side of existence and a witty sensibility pervades her poems. Though she works comfortably within free verse and more traditional stanzaic structures, the dramatic monologue may well be Duffy's dominant mode, one that permits her to perform/inhabit a range of voices and convey complex themes about gender, sexuality, and nationality in accessible form.

In 1999, after the death of Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, Duffy was widely considered a serious candidate for the position. Rumors circulated that government officials were fearful about the choice of a lesbian poet, given "how it might play in middle England" (Viner, "Metre Maid"). Consequently, Duffy's life as a single mother raising a daughter (Ella, born in 1995) with then-partner Jackie Kay, the Scottish poet and novelist, became headline news. Duffy's uncomfortable moment in the national spotlight, however, was soon eclipsed by a literary triumph: the publication of The World's Wife, a volume of dramatic monologues spoken entirely by women.

Written from the perspective of the wives of famous and infamous women (Mrs. Midas, Mrs. Aesop, Pilate's Wife, Mrs. Faust, Mrs. Darwin, and Queen Kong, among others), The World's Wife is, as I noted in a 2001 review "the perfect showcase for Duffy's masterful subversions of myth and history." Duffy followed this with Feminine Gospels (2002), a poetic exploration of women's experience where "tall tales" regarding beauty, identity, and the body are told with the force of "gospel truth." In 2005, Duffy was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize for Rapture, a book-length poem devoted to love, full of scorching sonnets that enact the turbulent contradictions of a heady love affair:

. . . Falling in love
is glamorous hell; the crouched, parched heart
like a tiger ready to kill; a flame's fierce licks under the skin.
Into my life, larger than life, beautiful, you strolled in.
("You")
Lyric in its episodic intensity, Rapture reads with all the dramatic force of a novel.

Although she once spoke with reluctance at the prospect of writing the sort of public poetry associated with the laureateship, Duffy has composed compelling lyrics addressing a range of subjects (among them political scandals, David Beckham's football-induced Achilles tendon injury, and the environmental results of the recent Icelandic volcano eruption); in such poems she demonstrates a flexibility and empathy that transcends the limitations of identity politics.

Populated by speakers both contemporary and historical, Duffy's poems hold up a mirror to everyday life, revealing the gritty realities of a media-driven post-industrial urban life in direct and colloquial language that is sometimes misread as slack and over simplistic, closer, perhaps, to street-talk and stand-up comedy than literature. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that Duffy's work embraces tradition while reinvigorating inherited forms. Writing about the tradition of dramatic monologue in English poetry, Glennis Bryon notes that the "tendency of dramatic monologues, no matter what their particular focus, always appears to be to question rather than to confirm" (Dramatic Monologue 100). Because the form possesses a "dynamic of self and context," it offers poets an effective means of cultural critique (100). Moreover, Duffy joins a specifically female tradition of using dramatic monologue as social critique, a means of giving voice to those marginalized by society, and to explore questions of "representation and communication" (119).

In "Translating the English, 1989," for instance, Duffy's use of dramatic monologue is particularly masterful. Here, the recreation of a stereotypical tourist exchange allows Duffy to raise questions about the relationship of language, nationality, and identity. The poem is spoken by an unnamed tour guide who cheerfully boasts of his country's attractions and, in doing so, reveals a wealth of information that creates a dark portrait of a deeply disenfranchised and largely superficial nation, one where "crack, smack and Carling Black Label" and "The Princess Di and the football hooligan" coexist with "history and buildings." Although the speaker's use of fragments and distorted syntax appears to indicate inability to completely master English grammar, the juxtaposition of high-culture references and underworld criminal activity clearly establishes that the speaker possesses an acumen that exceeds the simplistic appearance of his speech and limited "outsider's" perspective:

                                         . . . If you like
Shakespeare or even Opera we have too the Black Market.
For two hundred quids we are talking Les Miserables,
nods being as good as winks . . .
(The Other Country, 11)
From the opening of the poem, social niceties such as "the weather has been most improving,/even in February" reflect the narrator's understanding that exchanges about the weather are part of everyday English linguistic currency. These phrases are signs of the speaker's cultural assimilation: the tour guide has, in effect, "bought into" his role as a good subject (i.e., citizen). Both tourists and new arrivals to any country confront the difficult challenge of negotiating "otherness" in terms of language, landscape, and custom. Conventions of speech and custom are often tacit rather than explicit. As the speaker continues orienting tourists, guidelines for navigating cultural differences take on deeper resonance. The tour guide's comments cover a broad range, indeed; as they move from "Don't eat the eggs" (commonsense advice for avoiding salmonella) to "Ireland not on" (a warning to avoid discussion of divisive political policy) to "Much lead in petrol. Filth. Rule Britannia and child abuse" (both direct description of social and ecological problems affecting the nation and a commentary on the moral bankruptcy of the populace). By adopting a collage-like effect, Duffy dramatizes the confusion felt by a non-native speaker who himself struggles to "translate" the English to his charges and underscores the extent to which identity is inscribed by culture and language.

Throughout the poem, the fragments of various languages--political, colloquial, that of advertising's imperatives and the tour guide's polite directives, jostle against each other, reflecting the speaker's own sense of fragmentation as well as the contradictions inherent in the English nation. By adopting this particular mask, the poet demonstrates the distance between how the English wish to see themselves and how they are seen ("Fish and chips and the Official Secrets Act/second to none") as she voices concern about the ways her country has become difficult to "translate," or has become so deeply transformed that its inhabitants come to feel estranged within it. The forceful insistence of the poem's final lines "to my country /my country my country welcome welcome welcome" stand in ironic contrast to their intended meaning: the "welcome" not only sounds forced but also it takes on a deeply sinister ring. Collectively, the tour guide's vivid catalogue forms a record of life at the end of the twentieth century in Thatcherite Britain, a land of "thrill and high interest rates for own good," one with "plenty culture" that "can be arranged for cash no question" --a bitter commentary on cultural commodification that easily transcends the poem's historical setting.

In a recent interview with Jeanette Winterson, Duffy recalls that in her earlier years, male poets were "both incredibly patronizing and incredibly randy. If they weren't patting you on the head, they were patting you on the bum." Though Duffy's success indicates that attitudes toward women writers have changed dramatically over her lifetime, this brand of demeaning experience--or something like it--seems to lie at the heart of "Eurydice," a poem that illustrates Duffy's approach to inherited narratives, one that requires the poet to search "for missing or unspoken truths" and to locate "something hard and truthful in the story . . . some kind of autobiographical element . . . an emotional or intellectual truth" (Viner, "Metre Maid"). The poem opens with a familiar gesture of shared confidence: "Girls, I was dead and down/in the Underworld, a shade, a shadow of my former self, nowhen." Out of time, Hell is " a place where language stopped/, a black full stop, a black hole/where words had come to an end." It is the "one place you'd think a girl would be safe/from the kind of man/who follows her round/writing poems."

Duffy's Eurydice is a forthright and funny narrator; the poet's use of slang, internal rhyme, and the occasional rhyming couplet reveal her narrator's frustration and underscore the intensity of Eurydice's wit. Before too long, a "knock-knock-knock at Death's door" reveals,

Him.
Big O.
Larger than life.
With his lyre.
And a poem to pitch, with me as the prize.
(The World's Wife, 59)
As Eurydice recounts the tale of Orpheus' descent into the Underworld, we begin to learn more about this complicated marital relationship and Eurydice's unhappiness with the traditional role of "artist's wife" and "muse." Eurydice has grown tired of typing his poems and weathering sulks "because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns." She would rather be dead, because that would mean she could "speak for myself/than be Dearest, Beloved, Dark Lady, White Goddess,/etc., etc." Eurydice observes that "the Gods are like publishers,/usually male," a fact that has determined what listeners know of her story and also suggests that she may have had literary ambitions of her own, a circumstance that leads her to consider her fate with tremendous reluctance:
Like it or not,
I must follow him back to our life--
Eurydice, Orpheus' wife--
to be trapped in his images, metaphors, similies,
octaves, sextets, quatrains and couplets,
elegies, limericks, villanelles,
histories, myths . . .
(The World's Wife, 60)
On the "uphill schlep/from death to life," Eurydice does "everything in my power/to make him look back," trying to convince Orpheus, "we were through." While "thinking of filching the poem/out of his cloak," she finds that inspiration finally strikes and states in a purposely tremulous voice, "Orpheus, your poem's a masterpiece./I'd love to hear it again . . ." This prompts the fatal look that separates the former lovers. In that moment, the stereotypically female gesture of flirting becomes a vehicle of liberation. Now free to be a subject in her own right, Eurydice speaks with pride, offering immortal wisdom of her own: "The dead are so talented./The living walk by the edge of a vast lake/near the wise, drowned silence of the dead."

Ultimately, Carol Ann Duffy's mastery of personae allows for fluid movement across the centuries and creates a powerful chorus with a voice and vision for the coming ones.

Works Cited

Allen-Randolph, Jody. "Remembering Life before Thatcher." Rev. of Selected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy. The Women's Review of Books, 12.8 (1995): 12.

Byron, Glennis. Dramatic Monologue. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Duffy, Carol Ann. Feminine Gospels. London, England: Picador, 2002. Print.

---The Other Country. London, England: Anvil Press Poetry, 1990. Print.

---Selected Poems. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1994. Print.

---Rapture. London, England: Picador, 2005. Print.

---The World's Wife. London, England: Faber & Faber, 2000. Print.

Duffy, Carol Ann. Interview with Andrew MacAllister. BÍte Noire 6 (1988): 75- 76.

Duffy, Carol Ann. Interview with Jeannette Winterson." Jeanette Winterson. n.d. Web.

"Carol Ann Duffy." The Poetry Archive, n.d. Web.

"Carol Ann Duffy." The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web.

Forbes, Peter. "Winning Lines." The Guardian. 31 Aug. 2002. Web.

Horner, April. "'Small Female Skull': patriarchy and philosophy in the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy." The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: 'Choosing Tough Words.' Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003. 99-120. Print.

Levy, Glen. "Carol Ann Duffy." Time. 1 May 2009. Web.

Michelis, Angelica and Anthony Rowland, eds. The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: 'Choosing Tough Words.' Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003. Print.

O'Brien, Sean. The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British and Irish Poetry. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Bloodaxe, 1988. Print.

Satterfield, Jane. "The World's Wife." Rev. of The World's Wife. Antioch Review 59.1 (2001): 123-24. Print.

Viner, Katharine. "Meter Maid." The Guardian. 25 Sept. 1999. Web.

Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Standing Female Nude. London, England: Anvil Press Poetry, 1985. Print.

The Other Country. London, England: Anvil Press Poetry, 1990. Print.

William and the Ex-Prime Minister. London, England: Anvil Press Poetry, 1990. Print.

Mean Time. London, England: Anvil Press Poetry, 1993. Print.

Selected Poems. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1994. Print.

Selling Manhattan. London, England: Anvil Poetry Press, 1997. Print.

The World's Wife. London, England: Faber & Faber, 2000. Print.

Feminine Gospels. London, England: Picador, 2002. Print.

New Selected Poems 1984-2004. London, England: Picador, 2004. Print.

Rapture. London, England: Picador, 2005. Print.

Selected Poems. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006. Print.

For Children

(Adaptor) Grimm Tales. London, England: Faber and Faber, 1996. Print.

Stopping for Death: Poems of Death and Loss. Ed. Carol Ann Duffy. New York, New York: Holt, 1996. Print.

[illustrated by Trisha Rafferty] Meeting Midnight. London, England: Faber and Faber, 1999. Print.

The Oldest Girl in the World. London, England: Faber and Faber, 2000. Print.

Queen Munch and Queen Nibble. London, England: Macmillan Children's Books, 2002. Print.

The Good Child's Guide to Rock 'n' Roll. London, England: Faber and Faber, 2003. Print.

The Skipping-Rope Snake. London, England: Macmillan Children's Books, 2004. Print.

The Hat. London, England: Faber and Faber, 2005. Print.

New and Collected Poems for Children. London, England: Faber and Faber, 2009. Print.

As Editor

Home and Away. Thamesdown, England: Southern Arts, 1988. Print.

I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine: Poems for Young Feminists. New York, NY: Holt, 1993. Print.

Time's Tidings: Greeting the Twenty-first Century. London, England: Anvil Press Poetry, 1999. Print.

Hand in Hand. An Anthology of Love Poems. London, England: Picador, 2001. Print.

Overheard on a Saltmarsh. London, England: Macmillan, 2004. Print.

Out of Fashion: An Anthology of Poems. London, England: Faber and Faber, 2005. Print.

Answering Back: Living Poets Reply to the Poetry of the Past. London, England: Picador, 2007. Print.

To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems. London, England: Picador, 2009. Print.

CD

Beethoven, Ludwig van. The 9 Symphonies. Perf. NBC Symphony Orchestra. Cond. Arturo Toscanini. RCA, 2003. CD.

The Manchester Carols. Word/music CD with Sasha Johnson Manning. Perf. The Manchester Carollers and Northern Chamber Orchestra. Cond. Richard Tanner. Naxos, December 14, 2007.

Awards

1984 Eric Gregory Award

1986 Scottish Arts Council Award Standing Female Nude

1987 Somerset Maugham Award Selling Manhattan

1989 Dylan Thomas Award, Poetry Society UK

1992 Cholmondeley Award

1993 Whitbread Poetry Award Mean Time

1993 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) Mean Time

1995 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry

1995 OBE (Order of the British Empire)

1997 Signal Poetry Award for Children's Verse Stopping for Death

1999 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

2000 Whitbread Children's Book Award (shortlist) Meeting Midnight

2000 National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts Fellowship

2001 CBE (Commander of the British Empire)

2005 T. S. Eliot Prize Rapture

2009 Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland

Translating the English, 1989

. . . and much of the poetry, alas, is lost in translation. . .

Welcome to my country! We have hear Edwina Currie
and The Sun newspaper. Much excitement.
Also the weather has been most improving
even in Feburary. Daffodils. (Wordsworth. Up North.) If you like
Shakespeare or even Opera we have too the Black Market.
For two hundred quids we are talking Les Miserables,
nods being good as winks. Don't eat the eggs.
Wheel-clamp. Dogs. Vagrants. A tour of our wonderful
Capital city is not be be missed. The Fergie,
The Princess Di and the football hooligan, truly you will
like it here, Squire. Also we can be talking crack, smack
and Carling Black Label if we are so inclined. Don't
drink the H2O. All very proud we now have
a green Prime Minister. What colour yours? Binbags.
You will be knowing of Charles Dickens and Terry Wogan
And Scotland. All this can be arranged for cash no questions.
Ireland not on. Fish and chips and the Official Secrets Act
second to none. Here we go. We are liking
a smashing good time like estate agents and Neighbours,
also Brookside for we are allowed four Channels.
How many you have? Last night of Proms. Andrew
Lloyd-Webber. Jeffrey Archer. Plenty culture you will be agreeing.
Also history and buildings. The Houses of Lords. Docklands.
Mnay thrills and high interest rates for own good. Muggers.
Much lead in petrol. Filth. Rule Britannia and child abuse.
Electronic tagging, Boss, ten pints and plenty rape. Queen Mum.
Channel Tunnel. You get here fast no problem to my country
my country my country welcome welcome welcome.

Eurydice

Girls, I was dead and down
in the Underworld, a shade,
a shadow of my former slef, nowhen.
It was a place where language stopped,
a black full stop, a black hole
where words had to come to an end.
And end they did there,
Last words,
famous or not.
It suited me down to the ground.

So imagine me there,
unavailable,
out of this world,
Then picture my face in that place
of Eternal Repose,
in the one place you'd think a girl would be safe
from the kind of a man
who follows her round
writing poems,
hovers about while she read them,
calls her His Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns.
Just picture my face
When I heard--
Ye Gods--
a familiar knock-knock-knock at Death's door.

Him.
Big O.
Larger than Life.
With his lyre
and a poem to pitch, with me as the prize.

Things were different back then.
For the men, verse-wise,
Big O was the body. Legendary.
The blurb on the back of his books claimed
That animals,
Aardvark to zebra,
flocked to his side when he sang,
fish leapt in their shoals
at the sound of his voice,
even the mute, sullen stones at his feet
wept wee, silver tears.

Bollocks. (I'd done all the typing myself,
I should know.)
And given my time all ovder again,
rest assured that I'd rather speak for myself
than be Dearest, Beloved, Dark Lady, White Goddess,
etc., etc.

In fact, girls, I'd rather be dead.

But the Gods are like publishers,
usually male,
and what you doubtless know of my tale
is the deal.

Orpheus strutted his stuff.

The bloodless ghosts were in tears.
Sisyphus sat on his rock for the first time in years.
Tantalus was permitted a couple of beers.

The women in question could scarcely believe her ears.

Like it or not,
I must follow him back to our life--
Eurydice, Orpheus' wife--
to be trapped in his images, metaphors, similies,
octaves and sextets, quatrains and couplets,
elegies, limericks, villanelles,
histories, myths . . .

He'd been told that he musn't look back
or turn around,
but walk steadily upwards,
myself right behind him,
out of the Underworld
into the upper air that for me was the past.
He'd been warned
that one look would lose me
for ever and ever.

So we walked, we walked.
Nobody talked.
Girls, forget what you've read.
It happened like this--
I did everything in my power
to make him look back.
What did I have to do, I said,

to make him see we were through? I was dead. Deceased.
I was Resting in Peace. Passť. Late.
Past my sell-by date . . .
I stretched out my hand
to touch him once
on the back of his neck.
Please let me stay.
But already the light had saddened from purple to gray.

It was an uphill schlep
from death to life
and with every step
I willed him to turn.
I was thinking of filching the poem
out of his cloak,
when inspiration finally struck.
I stopped, thrilled.
He was a yard in front.
My voice shook when I spoke--
Orpheus, your poem's a masterpiece.
I'd love to hear it again . . .


He was smiling modestly
when he turned,
when he turned and he looked at me.

What else?
I noticed he hadn't shaved.
I waved once and was gone.

The dead are so talented.
The living walk by the edge of a vast lake.
near the wise, drowned silence of the dead.
Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
Her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sungs by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer--
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

































POET DATA
Carol Ann Duffy
Years: 1955-
Birthplace: Scotland
Language(s): English
Forms: Rhyme, Sonnet, Couplets, Dramatic Monologue, free-verse, childrenís literature, plays for theatre and radio
Subjects: childhood, nationality, politics, social criticism, love, education, female archetypes in fairy tale, mythology, and popular culture
Firsts: Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, May 1, 2009 (first woman and first openly lesbian poet to hold the position)
Entry By: Jane Satterfield
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