As an ever-present on GCSE and A Level syllabuses most university students will have come across Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry in what appears to be their increasingly distant adolescence.
Now entering her third year as Poet Laureate Duffy is beginning to flex her poetic muscle and is quick to dispel the rumours that she was close to the role in 1999 when her predecessor Andrew Motion was appointed.
“At no point did I have to seriously consider the role. There was no official activity that I knew of- though there’s always the media speculation. I put a bet on at Ladbrokes on U.A. Fanthorpe to be appointed then!”
The laureateship has forced Duffy to consider her inspiration and the problems posed by being considered the nation’s poet. With new volume The Bees out in Autumn she reflects on the effect the role has had on her poetry. “I don’t think it has affected the way I write. There isn’t any official requirement to write poems so I’ve tried very hard to write the poems I would have written anyway, perhaps being more aware of timing, and certainly more intent on including new work by fellow poets whenever there seems to be a national platform. Interestingly, I think I wrote a lot more ‘public’ poems during the Thatcher years than I do now.”
At times it would appear that the laureateship would oblige her to write for public occasions as a result of public fervour. As one of the most publicly-engrossing national events of recent years the Royal Wedding was of no exception. “I wasn’t asked to write about the Royal Wedding, but I did feel that the timing was perfect to look afresh at the connection between love and poetry. It’s a delight to discover moments when poetry can add to events. It is our National art.”
The political power that has come with the laureateship could not be more central to the arts community with the recent announcement of cuts across the board by The Arts Council England (ACE). Duffy, like many, is understandably concerned and will not let the cuts pass lightly under her reign. “I’m organising POETS CUTS- a huge reading of UK Poets on Fri June 3 at The Logan Hall in London to protest the ACE cuts to the Poetry Book Society, Enitharmon, The National Association of Writers in Education, and The Lancaster LitFest among others.” Having recently appeared as a guest at The University of Sheffield’s Lyric Festival the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Professor of Contemporary Poetry is central to the promotion of university writers. “I really looked forward to reading for Simon Armitage in Sheffield. There are fantastic poets teaching in Universities throughout the UK, including Sean O’Brien, Don Paterson, Jackie Kay and Jo Shapcott. At The Writing School at MMU we to encourage an existence for our Creative Writing students both in the University and in the City, with formal teaching alongside gigs at The Royal Exchange Theatre and literary festivals.”
Given the cuts to arts funding Duffy recognises that the next crop of poetic talent is of upmost importance to the future landscape of university and public writing. “As Poet Laureate, I’m involved in a couple of large projects to enhance the presence of poetry in schools so that more 18-year olds will arrive at Uni with a confident relationship with poetry- so watch this space.”