Add to researchCarol Ann Duffy
- Glasgow, Scotland
- Poetry, Drama, Children
Poet, playwright and freelance writer Carol Ann Duffy was born on 23 December 1955 in Glasgow and read philosophy at Liverpool University.
She is a former editor of the poetry magazine Ambit and is a regular reviewer and broadcaster. She moved from London to Manchester in 1996 and began to lecture in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her papers were acquired by the Robert W. Woodruff Library of Emory University in 1999, and in October 2000 she was awarded a grant of £75,000 over a five-year period by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
Her adult poetry collections are Standing Female Nude (1985), winner of a Scottish Arts Council Award; Selling Manhattan (1987), which won a Somerset Maugham Award; The Other Country (1990); Mean Time (1993), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award and the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year); The World's Wife (1999); Feminine Gospels (2002), a celebration of the female condition; and Rapture (2005), winner of the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize. Her children's poems are collected in New & Collected Poems for Children (2009).
She also writes picture books for children, and these include Underwater Farmyard (2002); Doris the Giant (2004); Moon Zoo (2005); The Tear Thief (2007); and The Princess's Blankets (2009).
Anthologies edited by Carol Ann Duffy include Out of Fashion (2004), in which she creates a vital dialogue between classic and contemporary poets over the two arts of poetry and fashion; Answering Back (2007); and To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems (2009).
Carol Ann Duffy is also an acclaimed playwright, and has had plays performed at the Liverpool Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre in London. Her plays include Take My Husband (1982), Cavern of Dreams (1984), Little Women, Big Boys (1986) and Loss (1986), a radio play.
She received an Eric Gregory Award in 1984 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1992 from the Society of Authors, the Dylan Thomas Award from the Poetry Society in 1989 and a Lannan Literary Award from the Lannan Foundation (USA) in 1995. She was awarded an OBE in 1995, a CBE in 2001 and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.
Carol Ann Duffy lives in Manchester and is Creative Director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. She became Poet Laureate in 2009, succeeding Andrew Motion. Her most recent book of poetry is The Bees (2011), winner of the 2011 Costa Poetry Award and the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize. In 2012, to mark the Diamond Jubilee, she compiled Jubilee Lines, 60 poems from 60 poets each covering one year of the Queen's reign. In the same year, she was awarded the PEN/Pinter Prize.
Carol Ann Duffy, one of the most significant names in contemporary British poetry, has achieved that rare feat of both critical and commercial success.
Her work is read and enjoyed equally by critics, academics and lay readers, and it features regularly on both university syllabuses and school syllabuses. Some critics have accused Duffy of being too populist, but on the whole her work is highly acclaimed for being both literary and accessible, and she is regarded as one of Britain’s most well-loved and successful contemporary poets.
Duffy’s themes include language and the representation of reality; the construction of the self; gender issues; contemporary culture; and many different forms of alienation, oppression and social inequality. She writes in everyday, conversational language, making her poems appear deceptively simple. With this demotic style she creates contemporary versions of traditional poetic forms - she makes frequent use of the dramatic monologue in her exploration of different voices and different identities, and she also uses the sonnet form. Duffy is both serious and humorous, often writing in a mischievous, playful style - in particular, she plays with words as she explores the way in which meaning and reality are constructed through language. In this, her work has been linked to postmodernism and poststructuralism, but this is a thematic influence rather than a stylistic one, for her style, as discussed above, is conservative, not experimental. Many critics, such as Angelica Michelis and Antony Rowland have commented on this interesting tension between style and subject matter in Duffy’s work: ‘[Duffy] might be termed “postmodern” ideologically, but not aesthetically […] tension thus ensues between the conservative form and the politicised content. These tensions can be analysed as productive in their very contradictoriness’ (Michelis and Rowland, The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, 2003).
Deryn-Rees Jones’ brief but useful study, Carol Ann Duffy (Writers and Their Work Series, 1999), lists the many diverse influences on Duffy’s work. Her use of demotic, everyday language can be traced back to Wordsworth, while her interest in the dramatic monologue links her to Browning and Eliot. Her work also shows the influence of Philip Larkin (nostalgia and dry humour), Dylan Thomas (elements of surrealism), the Beat poets and the Liverpool poets. Rees-Jones comments on this eclectic mixture and its effect on Duffy’s work: ‘[T]here is an impulse towards realism running through Duffy’s work’, along with ‘her early interest in the Romantics and her journey through Modernist and Surrealist practices’.
Although Duffy’s status and reputation rest predominantly on her poetry, she has also written various plays, and there is a lot of overlap between her poetic and dramatic skills. When her first major poetry collections, Standing Female Nude (1985) and Selling Manhattan (1987) were published, Duffy was immediately acclaimed for her outstanding skill in characterisation, timing and dialogue, particularly in her use of the dramatic monologue. She is acutely sensitive and empathetic as she places herself into the mindset of each character and articulates the respective points of view in the idiom of the characters’ own speech. Duffy often incorporates humour with serious insights and social commentary, as in ‘Standing Female Nude’ (from the collection of the same name):
'Six hours like this for a few francs.
Belly nipple arse in the window light,
he drains the colour from me. Further to the right,
Madame. And do try to be still.
I shall be represented analytically and hung
in great museums. The bourgeoisie will coo
at such an image of a river-whore. They call it Art.'
Other poems, such as ‘Shooting Stars’ (also from Standing Female Nude) are acutely poignant and disturbing, and jolt the reader with their sharp dramatic timing. ‘Shooting Stars’ articulates the voice of a dying woman in a Nazi concentration camp:
'[…] One saw I was alive. Loosened
his belt. My bowels opened in a ragged gape of fear.
Between the gap of corpses I could see a child.
The soldiers laughed. Only a matter of days separate
this from acts of torture now. They shot her in the eye.'
Duffy’s more disturbing poems also include those such as ‘Education for Leisure’ (Standing Female Nude) and ‘Psychopath’ (Selling Manhattan) which are written in the voices of society’s dropouts, outsiders and villains. She gives us insight into such disturbed minds, and into the society that has let them down, without in any way condoning their wrongdoings: ‘Today I am going to kill something. Anything. / I have had enough of being ignored […]’ (‘Education for Leisure’).
In The Other Country (1990) and Mean Time (1993) Duffy began to explore memory and nostalgia, resulting in comparisons with Philip Larkin. These collections contain fewer dramatic monologues and more personal poems than her previous collections, but she continues to address political, social and philosophical issues. One of the most poignant of the personal poems is ‘Valentine’ (Mean Time). Duffy often writes about love, with heartfelt feeling but never with sentimentality, and she explores its complex nature, its pain as well as its bliss. The personal is also combined with the philosophical - ‘Valentine’ is one of many poems in which Duffy investigates the way in which meaning is constructed through language, as the speaker tries to move beyond clichés and find a more authentic way of expressing feeling and experience:
'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.
[…] I am trying to be truthful.'
The World’s Wife (1999) returns to the dramatic monologue with an innovative collection of poems that articulate the voices of the wives of various historical figures, both real and fictional. Titles include ‘Mrs Midas’; ‘Mrs Lazarus’; ‘Mrs Aesop’; ‘Mrs Darwin’; ‘The Kray Sisters’. Though not regarded as one of her greatest collections poetically, it has nonetheless been extremely popular and Duffy intends to write a sequel. Throughout her career, Duffy has been applauded for addressing gender issues without being one-sided or overtly political -- Deryn Rees-Jones notes that she moves beyond ‘a straightforwardly feminist poetry’ and shows ‘the difficulties that patriarchy presents to both men and women’ (Rees-Jones, ibid).
Nonetheless, Feminine Gospels (2002), as the title suggests, is a concentration on the female point of view. It is a celebration of female experience, and it has a strong sense of magic and fairytale discourse. However, as in traditional fairytales, there is sometimes a sense of darkness as well as joy. Birth, death and the cycles and stages of life feature strongly, including menstruation, motherhood and aging. Duffy’s beloved daughter Ella was born in 1995, and her experience of motherhood has deeply influenced her poetry (as well as inspiring her to write other works for children). ‘The Cord’ answers a child’s curious questions about her origins with a delightful fairytale story:
'They cut the cord she was born with
and buried it under a tree
in the heart of the Great Forest […]'
‘The Light Gatherer’, meanwhile, is a beautiful, visceral and slightly surreal celebration of the magical experience of having a child:
'Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,
and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in […]'
As these poems rejoice in new life, ‘Death and the Moon’ mourns those who have passed on: ‘[…] I cannot say where you are. Unreachable / by prayer, even if poems are prayers. Unseeable / in the air, even if souls are stars […]’.
Critic Elaine Feinstein noticed in her review of Feminine Gospels that the poems near the end of the book are those which are prayer-like and intense with feeling, whether love poems or elegies for the dead. Feinstein wonders: ‘Are these poems placed at the end of the book to signal a movement or development? We shall have to wait for the next book to know’ (The Guardian, 14 September 2002). The next collection, Rapture, would seem to confirm Feinstein’s speculations, for it is indeed intensely personal, emotional and elegiac, and markedly different from Duffy’s other works. The poems of Rapture chart a love story (thought to be based on Duffy’s relationship with Jackie Kay, which ended in 2004), from the first heady stage of falling in love (‘Falling in love / is glamorous hell’) to the end of the relationship:
'[…] What do I have
to help me, without spell or prayer,
endure this hour, endless, heartless, anonymous,
the death of love? […]'
(Extract from ‘Over’)
This is Duffy at her most serious - the poems are rich, beautiful and heart-rending in their exploration of the deepest recesses of human emotion, both joy and pain. These works are also her most formal - following in the tradition of Shakespeare and John Donne, Duffy’s contemporary love poems in this collection draw on the traditional sonnet and ballad forms. Rapture is one of Duffy’s most highly acclaimed works, and it was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2005.
Elizabeth O’Reilly, 2008
For an in-depth critical overview see Carol Ann Duffy 2nd edition by Deryn Rees-Jones (Northcote House, 2002: Writers and their Work Series).
- Jubilee Lines, Faber and Faber
- The Bees, Picador
- Love Poems, Picador
- To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poetry, editor, Picador
- The Twelve Poems of Christmas, compiler, Candlestick Press
- The Princess's Blankets, illustrated by Catherine Hyde, Templar
- New & Collected Poetry for Children, Faber and Faber
- Mrs Scrooge: A Christmas Poem, illustrated by Beth Adams, Simon & Schuster
- The Tear Thief, Barefoot Books
- The Hat, Faber and Faber
- Answering Back, editor, Picador
- The Lost Happy Endings, with Jane Ray, Penguin
- Rapture, Picador
- Moon Zoo, Macmillan
- Another Night Before Christmas, John Murray
- Overheard on a Saltmarsh: Poets' Favourite Poems, editor, Macmillan
- Out of Fashion: An Anthology of Poems, Faber and Faber
- New Selected Poems, Picador
- Doris the Giant, illustrated by Annabel Hudson, Puffin
- The Stolen Childhood, Puffin
- The Skipping-Rope Snake, illustrated by Lydia Monks, Macmillan Children's Books
- The Good Child's Guide to Rock N Roll, Faber and Faber
- Collected Grimm Tales, Faber and Faber
- Underwater Farmyard, illustrated by Joel Stewart, Macmillan Children's Books
- Queen Munch and Queen Nibble, illustrated by Lydia Monks, Macmillan Children's Books
- Feminine Gospels, Picador
- Hand in Hand, editor, Picador
- The Oldest Girl in the World, Faber and Faber
- Time's Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century, editor, Anvil Press Poetry
- The World's Wife, Anvil Press Poetry
- Meeting Midnight, Faber and Faber
- The Pamphlet, Anvil Press Poetry
- More Grimm Tales, Faber and Faber
- Stopping for Death, editor, Viking
- Salmon - Carol Ann Duffy: Selected Poems, Salmon Poetry
- Grimm Tales, Faber and Faber
- Penguin Modern Poets 2, Penguin
- Selected Poems, Penguin
- Anvil New Poets Volume 2, Penguin
- Mean Time, Anvil Press Poetry
- William and the Ex-Prime Minister, Anvil Press Poetry
- I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine, editor, Viking
- The Other Country, Anvil Press Poetry
- Selling Manhattan, Anvil Press Poetry
- Thrown Voices, Turret Books
- Standing Female Nude, Anvil Press Poetry
- Fifth Last Song, Headland
- Beauty and the Beast, with Adrian Henri, Carol Ann Duffy & Adrian Henri
- Fleshweathercock and Other Poems, Outposts
- PEN/Pinter Prize
- T. S. Eliot Prize, The Bees, shortlist
- Costa Poetry Award, The Bees
- T. S. Eliot Prize, Rapture
- Whitbread Children's Book Award, Meeting Midnight, shortlist
- Signal Poetry Award, Stopping for Death
- Lannan Literary Award (Poetry)
- Whitbread Poetry Award, Mean Time
- Scottish Arts Council Book Award, Mean Time
- Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year), Mean Time
- Cholmondeley Award
- Scottish Arts Council Book Award, The Other Country
- Dylan Thomas Award
- Somerset Maugham Award, Selling Manhattan
- Scottish Arts Council Book Award, Standing Female Nude
- Peterloo Poets 'Poems About Painting' Competition, 'The Virgin Punishing the Infant'
- Eric Gregory Award
- National Poetry Competition, 'Whoever She Was'
- C. Day Lewis Fellowship