Books Poetry

World Cup poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy

A new poem by the poet laureate in response to England’s dismal Fifa World Cup run.

The Shirt by Carol Ann Duffy

Afterwards, I found him alone at the bar and asked him what went wrong. It’s the shirt, he said. When I pull it on it hangs on my back like a shroud, or a poisoned jerkin from Grimm seeping its curse on to my skin, the worst tattoo.

I shower and shave before I shrug on the shirt, smell like a dream; but the shirt sours my scent with the sweat and stink of fear. It’s got my number.

I poured him another shot. Speak on, my son. He did.

I’ve wanted to sport the shirt since I was a kid, but now when I do it makes me sick, weak, paranoid.

All night above the team hotel, the moon is the ball in a penalty kick. Tens of thousands of fierce stars are booing me. A screech owl is the referee.

The wind’s a crowd, forty years long, bawling a filthy song about my Wag. It’s the bloody shirt! He started to blub like a big girl’s blouse and I felt a fleeting pity.

Don’t cry, I said, at the end of the day you’ll be back on 100K a week and playing for City.

Books Poetry

The Twelve Days Of Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has written a new Twelve Days Of Christmas for Radio Times. It’s all about current affairs, touching on Afghanistan, the drought in sub-Saharan Africa, the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, the British MPs’ expenses scandal, and the Copenhagen climate summit. This is how the poem goes:

a buzzard on a branch.
In Afghanistan,
no partridge, pear tree;
but my true love sent to me
a card from home.
I sat alone,
crouched in yellow dust,
and traced the grins of my kids
with my thumb.
Somewhere down the line,
for another father, husband,
brother, son, a bullet
with his name on.

that Shakespeare loved –
turr turr, turr turr
endangered now
by herbicide,
the chopping down
of where they hide –
turr turr, turr turr
hawthorn thickets,
hedgerows, woodland.
Summer’s music
fainter, farther…
the spreading drought
of the Sahara.

Books Poetry

BBC poetry site polling for Britain’s favourite poet

Carol Ann Duffy is the poet laureate, but who is Britain’s favourite poet? The BBC poetry site is running an online poll which closes on September 1.

Voters can choose from a shortlist of 30 poets selected by a panel of judges. One can vote for

TS Eliot, WB Yeats, Dylan Thomas, WH Auden, John Donne,  Milton, Blake, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Christina Rossetti, Kipling, Hardy, Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, Betjeman, Larkin,Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith

as well as contemporary poets such as

Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough, Simon Armitage, Wendy Cope and Benjamin Zephaniah.

It’s interesting Shelley didn’t make the shortlist, nor did Matthew Arnold, while Christina Rossetti did.

The winner will be announced on October 8, Britain’s National Poetry Day.

Best of all, one can read more than 100 poems on the website, representing all the contenders.

I loved three poems I had never read before:  You’re Beautiful, by Simon Armitage; Valentine, by Carol Ann Duffy; and Bloody Men, by Wendy Cope (left).

Bloody Men is bloody funny, so I will take the liberty of posting it here:

Bloody men are like bloody buses –
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destinations,
You haven’t much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Poets have this wonderful gift of making the ordinary memorable with a phrase or an image. Consider this short poem by John Betjeman:

Books Poetry

Carol Ann Duffy: The first woman poet laureate

Carol Ann Duffy became the first woman poet laureate today. She was considered a frontrunner for the post in 1999 following Ted Hughes’ death in October 1998. But she lost out to Andrew Motion then amid speculation that Tony Blair had decided that Middle England was not yet ready for a lesbian laureate, says the Times.

She was reluctant herself at the time to take up the role given her status as a mother in a lesbian relationship with the Scottish poet Jackie Kay, says the Guardian. Now that relationship is over, her daughter is a teenager and she is “really thrilled” to get the job. She succeeds Andrew Motion who is stepping down after a 10-year term unlike previous laureates, who served for life.

“I look on it as a recognition of the great woman poets we have writing now,” Duffy told Radio 4’s Women’s Hour in her first interview after becoming the poet laureate. “I’ve decided to accept it for that reason.” Hear her Women’s Hour interview, where she reads her poems, or watch her speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

She told the writer Jeanette Winterson in an earlier interview: “I’m not a lesbian poet, whatever that is. If I am a lesbian icon and a role model, that’s great, but if it is a word that is used to reduce me, then you have to ask why someone would want to reduce me? I never think about it. I don’t care about it. I define myself as a poet and as a mother – that’s all.”

Gordon Brown was quick to congratulate the new poet laureate. She was born in Glasgow like him but raised in England. Duffy, who is four years younger than Brown, will be 54 on December 23.

She plans to donate her yearly stipend of £5,750 to the Poetry Society to fund a new poetry prize for the best annual collection.

The Guardian says:

The first woman to be considered for the laureateship was Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1850, when William Wordsworth died, but Tennyson was chosen in her stead. Forty-two years later, Christina Rossetti was overlooked on Tennyson’s death, when rather than appoint a woman the position was left vacant until Alfred Austin – viewed today as one of the worst ever laureates – was appointed.

Unlike Andrew Motion, who was involved with the Poetry Archive, and his predecessor Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy has quite a number of poems on the internet. The most popular are the ones taught at school apparently – Havisham, Elvis’s Twin Sister, Anne Hathaway, We Remember Your Childhood Well, Before You Were Mine (all here).

I especially like this poem I found on the Guardian. It’s from her collection, Rapture. This is exactly how I feel about my wife.

The Name
By Carol Ann Duffy

When did your name
change from a proper noun
to a charm?

Its three vowels
like jewels
on the thread of my breath.

Its consonants
brushing my mouth
like a kiss.

I love your name.
I say it again and again
in this summer rain.

I see it,
discreet in the alphabet,
like a wish.

I pray it
into the night
till its letters are light.

I hear your name
rhyming, rhyming,
rhyming with everything.