By Carol Ann Duffy
Fifteen years minimum, banged up inside
for what took thirty seconds to complete.
She turned away. I stabbed. I felt this heat
burn through my skull until reason died.
I’d slogged my guts out for her, but she lied
when I knew different. She used to meet
some prick after work. She stank of deceit.
I loved her. When I accused her, she cried
and denied it. Straight up, she tore me apart.
On the Monday, I found the other bloke
had bought her a chain with a silver heart.
When I think about her now, I near choke
with grief. My baby. She wasn’t a tart
or nothing. I wouldn’t harm a fly, no joke.
Duffy is a Scottish poet, born in 1955. She is the first woman, first Scot and first openly LGBT person to become Poet Laureate in the United Kingdom.
She is very popular and her poetry is widely used in high school and university courses in the UK.
“ Standing Female Nude “ is her first poetry collection, published in 1985.
She writes in many voices, as a war photographer:
“In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut, Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass”
from ‘War Photographer’
as a nude model:
“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.
…The bourgeoisie will coo
at such an image of a river-whore. They call it Art.
Maybe. He is concerned with volume, space.
I with the next meal.”
from ‘Standing Female Nude’
and as in ‘Human Interest’ (above), as a man who sees his woman as a chattel and violence and murder as his entitlement.
Duffy’s work touches on issues of feminism, gender, violence and politics in very contemporary accessible language. Duffy was brought up in a Catholic household, and while no longer religious, she learned from it a sense of the ritual of language. She has said “ Poetry and prayer are very similar. I write a lot of sonnets and I think of them almost as prayers: short and memorable, something you can recite.”
Much of her work has a disturbing edge to it. In another poem “Education for Leisure” she gives voice to an alienated teenager:
Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God.
She has said that she likes to use “simple words, but in a complicated way”.
I find her poetry very powerful and striking. You can see why it’s used in education syllabuses. I think young people would be attracted by it. I read this collection in March and can definitely recommend it, specially to people that don’t read much poetry.
I love discovering new poets. Let me know in comments who your favourites are.