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Many readers have a complex relationship to Carol Ann Duffy’s corpus – borne, no doubt, from years of studying her in high school and college (if they get that far without giving up). She is, of course, also the Poet Laureate now, and so writes from a privileged position she – as a queer Scottish woman – previously did not. But it can’t be denied that she has made an indelible mark on the UK poetry scene and has her imitators at open mics and poetry slams across the country.
When I was younger and more precocious (incidentally, also the title of an early poetry chapbook of mine), I was rather scathing of Duffy. And yes, this was due to having studied her all through my school years – and into university as well. Now that I no longer have her work forced upon me, however, the need to rebel against her work has subsided, and I can finally enjoy it on its own merits.
In The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy writes with monologic ease, but manages to transcend the purely conversational. At its best, this collection achieves something that turns the accessible into the lyrical, with a real sense of playfulness. There are mirthful poems with heart, such as Mrs Midas’ tale; and darker, more challenging poems, which question the nature of evil and how it is socially constructed (e.g., ‘The Devil’s Wife’, which deals with the wife of a serial killer).
One common complaint against this collection (as found on Amazon, of course) is ‘The problem with “The World’s Wife” is that, having found one good joke, Duffy just tells it over and over again’. In a sense that’s true, but the nuance between poems is what’s important. ‘Mrs Beast’ tells a very different story, and paints a very different female perspective, to ‘Little Red Cap’, and ‘Mrs Aesop’ is very different to ‘Queen Herod’. There is a central gimmick, but it works for the poet in allowing her to explore a number of different themes from the perspective of a woman – ranging from lesbianism to feminism, beauty to morality.
Duffy’s not quite Angela Carter, with the often haunting and visceral edge the latter possessed, but her reimagining of fairytale, myth and celebrity is a charming, fun, energetic read – and one that still manages to be subversive. For that, it’s clear to see why Carol Ann Duffy is still on the syllabus – and why she should remain there.
Pick up the book online.