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The current British poet laureate is the first woman, and the first Scot, to hold the prestigious position, Carol Ann Duffy. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1955, Duffy was educated at Liverpool University and now heads the creative writing program at Manchester Metropolitan University. She was appointed poet laureate in 2009. Noted primarily for her poetry, Duffy also writes plays and children’s literature.
Duffy’s poetry uses direct, colloquial diction. In an article from the British newspaper The Telegraph, Duffy is quoted as approving of texting and social networking sites because she believes it helps young people develop their poetry skills by forcing them to be concise, condensing their ideas into fewer words, traits found in her poetry. Her poetry also uses rich, vivid imagery in the tradition of the Metaphysical poets and the modern Imagists.
Duffy’s poetry is often cited as belonging to the category of post postmodern literature. She uses traditional forms such as the sonnet and the ballad as well as free forms and makes use of traditional genre such as the dramatic monologue. Her volume The World’s Wife is a collection of dramatic monologues in which the wives of well-known historical figures are allowed to tell “their side of the story.” Her poetry has a strong feminist voice, but she speaks as well on both personal and political topics, often giving voice to the oppressed and disadvantaged.
In her position as poet laureate, Duffy created an online collection of 60 poems by 60 poets, including her own poem, “The Thames,” representing 2012, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. 60 Years in 60 Poems is a multimedia website featuring text and audio of the poems with BBC footage from key historical events and designs appropriate for each poem.
The poem “Syntax” is an example of Duffy’s writing about language. Playfully rearranging the word order of archaic words “thou” and “thee,” the speaker considers how the organization of the words affects the meaning of her expressions of love. The concluding couplet, however, recognizes the danger that language sometimes fails to convey the intentions of the heart.
In one of the first poems written in her role as poet laureate, Duffy addresses the contemporary issue of the environment. Picturing the mythological Atlas, the poem declaims the difficulty of maintaining the earth.
From her poetry collection The World’s Wife, Duffy’s poem “Anne Hathaway” is a dramatic monologue in which the wife of William Shakespeare describes their intimate moments in the well-known “second best bed.” A favorite item of Shakespeare trivia is the fact that in his will, located in the UK National Archives, Shakespeare leaves to his wife Anne Hathaway his “second best bed.” In warm, imaginative language, Anne Hathaway compares their lovemaking to Shakespeare’s writing. She also, in a humorous touch, accounts for her husband’s leaving her the second best, rather than the best, bed: the best bed was reserved for guests, whose love must have been so inferior to hers that it compares only to prose, not to the drama and romance of her experiences. In the last lines, the beauty of the images gives way to a harsh picture of the widow’s head as a casket, holding the living memories of her love.