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on 19 November 2002
I first discovered Carol Ann Duffy when presented with a copy of her selected works during my A Level English Literature and haven't looked back. She's a sly, intelligent yet not over dramatic poet, rather like Sylvia Plath with the British sense of humour.
The World's Wife is her most accessible collection to date - a collection of delightful parody tales from the world's most important (and least recognised) women. Before you get too enthralled by the humour, take a look at her style - she's precise, accurate and at times, stunning. If this floats your boat, try the Selected Works for a more rounded view of her poetry (much of which is less light hearted and lyrical than this offering).
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on 28 July 2011
This is a collection of poems all on the same theme of overturning male-centred history, literature and myth, and looking at familiar stories from the neglected wife's perspective. So, for example, we have Mrs Aesop tiring of her husband's constant boring fables, and Delilah explaining why she cut off Samson's hair (he'd complained to her that he didn't know what it was to be gentle, and so she'd done it to help him change, to take away the pressure of always having to be strong). There are also more modern characters, like Frau Freud, the Kray sisters, and Elvis's twin sister.

There's a playful, humorous tone to the poems, and I enjoyed reading them on a quiet afternoon recently in a sun-drenched beer garden. A lot of them had the same basic premise, of a wife wryly mocking her husband's posturing and self-aggrandisement, and this got a bit repetitive after a while. My favourite poems were those that truly brought a new twist to a familiar story, imputing new and more interesting motives to the characters, as in the Delilah example already mentioned, or my favourite of all, Queen Herod. In this poem, we learn that it wasn't the King who ordered the killing of all first-born male children after all, but the Queen, who does it to protect her own newborn daughter: "No man, I swore, will make her shed one tear." I found it a powerful and poignant reworking, and loved the last few lines:

We do our best,
we Queens, we mothers,
mothers of Queens.

We wade through blood
for our sleeping girls.
We have daggers for eyes.

Behind our lullabies,
the hooves of terrible horses
thunder and drum.
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on 15 November 2000
Duffy here exploits to the full her extroadinary understanding of the English language to provide an amazingly humorous collection of poetry. She profiles numerous well known male figures, such as Aesop, King Midas and even King Kong from the viewpoint of their wives. The intimacy and detail such a relationship would provide is well portrayed, pointing out the fallibility of even the most legendary figure and providing laughs for females around the world! Although some of the selection do add to Duffy's already well established reputation of an anti male attitude, they are on the whole subtle enough to be innoffensive. If you enjoy humour of a satirical brand with lashings of irony and Duffy's individual twist, you cannot fail to be impressed with this compilation. If on the other hand you are a newcomer to Duffy's work, this would be the perfect piece to give you a gentle introduction.
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on 24 December 2009
This was an excellent book group book for the Christmas period! The poems varied in length from just a few lines to several pages = perfect for dipping in and out of! The poems were written by the wives of famous men from history - some funny, others more serious, but all excellently written and very clever. I'm not usually a poetry fan but loved this!
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on 29 June 2001
The way Carol Ann Duffy brings myths, fairy tales & history right up to date with brilliant wit is fantastic. I love the rhymes, particularly in Mrs Faust, which are perfectly timed. The poems are very intelligent linguisticly & give original slants to old stories yet they are also highly accessible. The individuality of each the women's voices featured really shines through their poems to create a great range of different women's perspectives. I find Mrs Tiresias & Mrs Aesop particularly dry & funny.
With a group called Midas Productions from Cambridge University, we have dramatised the poems and are taking our production to the Bedlam theatre during the Edinburgh Festival in August. We have had very positive feedback so far, including from Germaine Greer who saw the show recently and enjoyed it a lot...
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on 3 February 2003
I have just finished studying this collection as part of my degree. Although I probably wouldn't have bought this if I had not had to, now that I have read all of the poems, I have to admit that I enjoyed this collection immensely. This is definitely a collection of poems which encourage the reader to think about the issues discussed.
Each of Duffy's poems is a version of history, myth or legend, but from the female perspective (hence the title). So, for example, instead of Shakespeare being the figure of attention, Ann Hathaway becomes the voice for one of the poems. This results in a lot of the humour coming from poking fun at male figures singularly and collectively (I think all women would be able to imagine men they know in quite a few of the poems). Because of this, I felt that the humour was very dark, in places the humour seemed morbid, as you find yourself laughing at things which are actually quite disturbing if you think more about it, ('The Kray Sisters' is one example). This dark humour, I think, is probably due to Duffy dealing with serious issues such as violence and murder, and these occurrences are all the more shocking when they come from a woman.
The only small problem I had with the collection as a whole, was that I felt after a while the poems just seemed more and more anti-men. Don't get me wrong, I understand why Duffy has written them the way she has, but it does make you wonder how a collection by a male poet may be received, if the poems took the same tone towards women.
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on 15 November 2012
Women will surely relate to these wonderful poems. If you understand the historical and mythical allusions, they are great. My husband did not find them as funny I did (I was laughing out loud late at night and insisted on reading them to him first thing in the morning!) I guess some of them could be interpreted as anti-men, but I think Ms Duffy is simply redressing the balance here and pointing out a in a good-natured way that behind every famous man, there was often an unsung heroine.
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on 21 February 2015
Behind most of the important men in the history of literature there must have been great women. There's Queen Herod, Pilate's Wife, Mrs Darwin, Queen Kong, etc. All of these women have their own story to tell.

Carol Ann Duffy has written such beautiful poems about the women behind famous men. I loved the way she plays with words. She can mold them, so they express exactly what she wants to say and I think that's a rare gift. She has a beautiful style. The poems are strong, powerful and impressive. I loved all of them, but Mrs Faust is my favorite. It's such a recognizable story told in short sentences that made the couple come to life so well. It's funny and crude and there's a brutal honesty in it, that makes it absolutely amazing.

The idea behind all of the poems is such a good one. I love how original it is. Sometimes the language is raw, but it's always with a purpose, not just to shock. I enjoyed reading this book and will definitely open it over and over again. The poems are little treasures and I think they deserve to be admired.
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on 20 May 2001
I heard Carol Ann Duffy read at the recent PEN Writers Day Festival in London. I'm embarrassed to say I'd never even heard of this amazingly gifted poet before then.
Duffy chose to read four poems from The World's Wife collection. From the very first line of the very first poem Duffy read --- a tale from the perspective of Mrs. Midas, wife of the man with the golden touch (true, it was Midas, not the Goldfinger that Shirley Bassey belted it out about...) --- I was hooked. Bought the book immediately.
This collection is thought-provoking and funny, but also thought-provoking and remarkably touching. Duffy uses language beautifully. Her poetry is accessible.
I've already given this to a dear friend as a gift, and am thinking of about seven other people who will ADORE this collection.
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on 2 July 2009
This was one of the options for the book group and was a very pleasing contrast to the main text. We all enjoyed it. The first poem reminded me of Angela Carter's "Company of Wolves". While the idea of re-telling familiar stories from another person's perspective is not original (see Keith Waterhouse's re-telling of "Diary of a Nobody" (G & W Grossmith) from the perspective of Mr Pooter's wife Carrie), there are many original elements in this collection. Think "poet laureate" and you think "too clever for me", but you'd be wrong. Made me feel very clever when I "got" the allusions to other works (I'm sure I missed plenty). Very witty, very sensitive, very sensual.
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