Carol Ann Duffy is the Poet Laureate – a first for any female poet. She is a true original, then, regardless of the huge list of male poets who have come before her. Her work is like her, truly original. It is grounded, sound in every sense, while also being sinewy, unexpected, and often tenderly beautiful.
“ Poetry, above all,” says Duffy, “Is a series of intense moments - its power is not in narrative. I'm not dealing with facts, I'm dealing with emotion.” Nevertheless, she does use narrative, in, for instance her controversial series of feminist poems about the wives of various famous men. Some men who can’t see the joke still reserve a right to be dismissive. Poor things. One of the poems in this collection particularly struck me as indicative of the range and reach of Duffy’s talents and skill. Originally is a poem of universal narrative, proving that poetry can sometimes reach much further than merely aesthetics.
We came from our own country in a red room which fell through the fields, our mother singing our father’s name to the turn of the wheels. My brothers cried, one of them bawling Home, Home, as the miles rushed back to the city, the street, the house, the vacant rooms where we didn’t live any more. I stared at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.
All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow, leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue where no one you know stays. Others are sudden. Your accent wrong. Corners which seem familiar leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand. My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth in my head. I want our own country, I said.
But then you forget, or don’t recall, or change, and, seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only a skelf of shame. I remember my tongue shedding its skin like a snake, my voice in the classroom sounding just like the rest. Do I only think I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of the first space and the right place? Now, Where do you come from? strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.
This poem demonstrates both the universality of childhood experiences and the skill that Duffy has in recognising that its not just immigrants who feel like aliens – and then take on what the world demands.