In a typically idiosyncratic twist Carol-Ann Duffy is collaborating with her ‘favourite’ court musician John Sampson for a reading of work from across her gargantuan oeuvre.
She commands attention by not seeking it, in an understated performance where the wisdom of her words prevail.
Sampson introduces us to a range of beautifully crafted historical and modern instruments including a crumhorn that sounds like a cross between a harpsichord and a horn, with a hint of kazoo. Each has a delightful, unique sound but are sadly underused as Duffy mostly recites unaccompanied. This has the effect of a slightly disjointed evening with soothingly resonant musical interludes interspersing the poetry, but with little or no connection made between the two.
She is marvellous. A literary icon and poetry’s feminist poster girl. It’s a little bit like an audience with the Queen as Duffy has an impossibly regal air reading her poems in her signature ‘poetic’ drawl and dropping in the odd sardonic joke. Unlike some famous poets, her readings enhance the assonance of her verse, her tongue wrapping round phrases that she has constructed and knows exactly how she wants to them to be delivered.
She reads several poems that take famous myths and reimagines them with a female protagonist. She updates the myth of ancient Greek hero Tyresius who is punished by Hera by being turned into a woman for seven years. The poem teasingly exposes patriarchal ignorance of the daily complexities and challenges of being a woman.
The triumph of Duffy’s verse is its simplicity: often phrases seem almost too obvious to be moving – ‘I miss most his hands, his touch on my skin’ – but like music it is their lilting cadence which holds the emotion. She is a witty social commentator as well. At one point she describes how ‘my poem was arrested’ and taken out of the GCSE syllabus for allegedly inciting knife crime. She responds scathingly by writing a poem which demands that all Shakespeare’s poems with knives in are also removed.
Duffy has an indefinable quality of greatness about her. Her poems make everyday tales of love, life and loss aesthetic while never losing their accessibility. She commands attention by not seeking it, in an understated performance where the wisdom of her words prevail.