Currently reigning as Britain’s first female Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy is also queen of the dramatic monologue. Duffy’s poetry gives voice to society’s alienated and ignored in an unstuffy but compelling manner, wrestling with ideas about language and identity. As Duffy says herself: “I like to use simple words but in a complicated way.”
Born in Glasgow in 1955, Duffy was brought up in Staffordshire and studied philosophy at the University of Liverpool, where she was active in the city’s underground poetry scene in the 1970s. Her first full-length collection Standing Female Nude in 1985 was something of a landmark, forging an anti-establishment voice with a colloquial lyricism. Duffy reached a wider audience with The World’s Wife (1999), a series of witty dramatic monologues spoken by women from fairy tales and myths, and the women usually air-brushed from history, such as Mrs Midas and Mrs Darwin. Her output has also included a formidable amount of writing for children.
Her former relationship with the poet Jackie Kay has informed some of her best-known work. Her most recent adult collection, Rapture, a first person account of a love affair, won the TS Eliot Prize in 2005. Duffy’s poem Education for Leisure, about a violent teenager, was controversially removed from an examination board’s GCSE syllabus in 2008. In a move typical of the poet, Duffy responded with a sardonic new poem about knives in Shakespeare.