Tribes and Carol Ann Duffy

The World's Wife

The World's Wife

Recently I purchased myself a nice new copy of The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy. Even though her rather militant photographs did not endear her to me, I reasoned that, as an aspiring poet, it was neccessary to investigate the work of our current poet laureate. I suppose there are a multitude of arguments for and against Duffy’s work. Indeed, many reviewers at Amazon criticise this book, pointing out that if a similar volume aimed at taking women down a peg or two were to be published, there’d be outrage. Perhaps they have a point, but when I really thought about that, I reasoned that most likely there have been loads of derogatory books about women published over the years.

For myself, I could admire Duffy’s poetic skill, her creativity, and her imagination. Perhaps the somewhat childish man-bashing does grow a bit tiresome after a while – really, Duffy is a much more successful poet when she’s not resorting to playground-style language and grouping all males together as one big bastard homogeneous mass. Two quotes did strike me as slightly odd though, the first from The Times:

Duffy takes a cheeky, subversive, no-nonsense swipe … at the famous men of history and myth. They don’t have a chance in hell of dodging her quick-witted wallop …     

… no, I wouldn’t have thought so, seeing as all these men are either dead or fictional. You can’t really fight back when you’re in the ground ha! Secondly, this quote from Metro London:

The voices might have different tales to tell but such is the daring acumen of Duffy’s revisionism that their modern (female) audience will be hanging on every word.

It’s the bracketed female that jarred with me. For one, it limits Duffy’s work and boxes it in, suggesting it is for one audience only, but also it paints this black and white idea of “us and them”. Women aren’t the only ones to have gripes with men, and vice versa. There may very well be some men who’d read this book and find themselves nodding along to Duffy’s words, men who’ve been disappointed or enraged by other men. In fact I think it’s always a bigger shock when a member of your own gender betrays you or lets you down. We have this idea of “tribes” in society, this idea of sticking together, but that doesn’t really allow for the fact that there will be wolves in your own back garden. It’s just another example of how gender presents a bounndary when it comes to marketing poetry or asking “who is it for?” I’ve rarely heard the work of a male poet compared to that of another, female poet, for example. As such, all male writers have echoes of previous male writers, and the same goes for women, without any blurring of the two seeming possible to your average review writer.

Read any great poetry books recently? Want to share your views on this article or anything else? Feel free to leave a comment!



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