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Carol Ann Duffy

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English Literature

Carol Ann Duffy, more formally Dame Carol Ann Duffy, is a Scottish poet and playwright. She is most famous for her poetry, becoming England’s first female, first Scottish, and first LGBTQ Poet Laureate between 2009 and 2019.

Duffy says that as a poet, she does not like complex words. She prefers simple words that express complexity.

Carol Ann Duffy's Biography

Born in Glasgow on December 23, 1955, Carol Ann Duffy moved to Stafford, England at age six. Her father, Frank Duffy, was an electrical fitter who also ran unsuccessfully as a Labour parliamentary candidate and successfully managed the Stafford FC football club. Her mother, Mary, is the subject of a few of her poems, most notably the eulogy Before You Were Mine (1993).

She attended various convent schools, where teachers encouraged her creative writing ability. She began publishing her poetry in magazines and pamphlets at age 15 when her teacher sent her poetry to publisher Bernard Stone.

At 16, she met and moved in with poet Adrian Henri. Although she says that he was not exactly faithful, she also mentions that he gave her confidence in her poetry. She lived with him until they separated in 1982.

Following school, she began a Philosophy degree at Liverpool University, which she completed in 1977. While at university she composed two plays, which were performed at the Liverpool Playhouse, and published a pamphlet, Fifth Last Song (1977).

After leaving university, Duffy worked at The Guardian and Ambit, a poetry magazine. In 1983, she won The National Poetry Competition and began to publish collections of poetry starting with her breakthrough work, Standing Female Nude (1985). She has also written several plays and many works of literature for children and adults.

Other than spending a decade as England’s Poet Laureate, Duffy has won the Scottish Art Council Award, The Costa Award, and the T.S Eliot award. In 1999, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Outside of numerous literary and poetry awards, she was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British (OBE) in 1995, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002, and was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 2015.

She holds multiple honorary degrees from the University of Hull, University of Dundee, the University of St Andrews, and the University of Warwick. As if this were not impressive enough, Duffy is also an Honorary Fellow at Homerton College, Cambridge.

Currently Duffy lives in Manchester where she is the Creative Director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. Duffy is in a long-term relationship with Scottish poet Jackie Kay, with whom she has a daughter, Ella Benson (1995).

Carol Ann Duffy’s Poems

Best known as a poet, Duffy's poems are both accessible and literary. Her overarching themes include the use of language, the nature of reality, gender inequality, alienation, love, and contemporary culture. Political, social, and philosophical themes run through her work.

Similar to Literary Realist novelists, she uses everyday vernacular that can be deceptively simple. This type of day-to-day language in literature is called demotic language. Elements of surrealism, dry humor, and nostalgia are also a part of her distinctive style.

By addressing contemporary themes in contemporary language, Duffy creates modern poetry, updating traditional poetic forms like the internal monologue or the sonnet. Her use of demotic language has led some critics to link her to classical poets like Wordsworth, while her use of the dramatic monologue has been compared to Browning and Eliot.1

Does using the same literary device immediately mean that the later poet is necessarily influenced by or similar to earlier works?

'Mean Time' (1993)

'Mean Time' is a four-stanza poem from an anthology of the same name, published in 1993. It was awarded the Forward Prize.

The title is deliberately separated into two words as opposed to one, meantime. This immediately creates multiple meanings and interpretations of Mean Time. It is now, it is while something else happens, it is an interval of time. It is also mean, as in not pleasant or even cruel. This sets the scene for the main analogy of the darkness that comes with daylight savings and the loss of love.

The clocks slid back an hourand stole light from my lifeas I walked through the wrong part of town,mourning our love."

Structure

The poem consists of four four-line stanzas that do not conform to a rhyme scheme except for the last stanza, where lines 1 and 4 rhyme. In addition, various meters are used including anapaestic, iambic, and trochaic meters. These serve to create structural complexity and variation in what is a simple poem on the surface.

Anapaestic Meter is characterised by two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. Examples could be 'understand' or 'contradict'.

Trochaic Meter is characterised by an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable. Examples could be 'highway', 'garden', or 'luncheon'.

Devices

Duffy makes use of both assonance and consonance in Mean Time. Assonance can be spotted in the use of the long ‘e' sounds in ‘bleak’ and ‘street’ or short ‘i’ sounds in ‘light’ and ‘life’. The latter is also an example of consonance, as is the use of ‘felt’ and ‘heart’. These two devices are particularly useful for creating rhythm in a poem.

Do you think that the words linked by these devices were specifically chosen by Duffy? Why?

'Valentine' (1993)

'Valentine' was published in the Mean Time collection in 1993. This poem subverts the commercially accepted Valentine gift or expression of love by using an onion as a symbol of love, instead of heart-shaped candy or something similarly cliched.

Carol Ann Duffy Valentine StudySmarter

Valentine's onion, pixabay.com

Form

The poem is written as a first-person dramatic monologue with no rhyme scheme. These create a sense of intimacy with the reader as well as introduce the concept of irregularity or a lack of perfection. This sense of the irregular or off-balance is used to convey the ups and downs of love in a variety of structural ways. These also include the use of long and short stanzas and irregular sentence lengths. It is a Duffy trademark to use the form of a poem to emphasise her point.

Devices

The poem is an extended metaphor where love and an onion are so closely compared that they become almost inseparable by the final stanza.

Is she talking about love or an onion in the last stanza?

Alliteration is used to convey the predictability and perceived perfection of traditional Valentine's gifts such as ‘cute cards’ or ‘red roses’. Duffy’s use of the onion metaphor makes the point that love is not balanced or twee or perfect. Her use of alliteration for the juxtaposed and more one-sided Valentine's gifts uses both form and meaning for emphasis.

Not a cute card or a kissogram."

The second stanza makes use of enjambment to create both pace and a sense of tension or unease.

‘It will blind you with tears

like a lover."

Enjambment is when lines of a poem run onto the next line without a punctuation break.

Why is Carol Ann Duffy important?

Other than being critically acclaimed and award-winning in the literary world, people who may not read much poetry otherwise also read Duffy’s work. This is an unusual combination and serves to promote the widespread appreciation of poetry within popular culture.

As a woman and particularly as an LGBTQ woman, Duffy brings a different perspective to poetry, which is a genre that is often dominated by famous men. Her work is contemporary and accessible without being simplistic. She writes about things like love and even David Beckham. These are everyday subjects relevant to everyday people, delivered in everyday language. This approach helps to make her work more relatable to more people.

Her use of humour and colloquial language does not detract from the more serious political, societal, and philosophical issues her poems raise. This makes her relevant on many readership levels from the lay reader to the literary world and academia.

Carol Ann Duffy - Key takeaways

  • Carol Ann Duffy is a British multi-award-winning poet and playwright, originally from Scotland.
  • Her work is deceptively simple but covers contemporary themes of politics, society, and philosophy.
  • She was made the first female Scottish and LGBTQ Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 2009.
  • Her regular themes include the nature of reality, gender inequality, alienation, love, and contemporary culture.
  • Duffy uses structure, devices, and words to emphasise meaning.

1. Deryn Rees-Jones, Carol Ann Duffy, Northcote House, Writers and Their Work Series. 1999.

Carol Ann Duffy

Prayer, a Shakespearean sonnet is Carol Ann Duffy's most famous poem.

Carol Ann Duffy is most famous for her poetry. She is also well known for becoming England’s first female, first Scottish, and first LGBTQ Poet Laureate between 2009 and 2019.

Carol Ann Duffy's poetry has a strong feminist angle.

This is referred to as juxtaposition.

Carol Ann Duffy uses a four line stanza structure, devices such as extended metaphor and alliteration, and colloquial language to help convey the meaning of an unconventional love poem. 

Final Carol Ann Duffy Quiz

Question

Who wrote, ‘Valentine’ (1993)?  

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Answer

Carol Ann Duffy

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Question

Who wrote, ‘Valentine’ (1993)?  

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Answer

Carol Ann Duffy

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Why was the poem initially written?  


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The poem was initially written after a radio producer asked Duffy to write an original piece of Valentine’s Day.

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When was the poem first published?


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The poem was first published in 1993 in the collection Mean Time

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True or false: the poem is a sonnet.


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Answer

False! This poem is written in free verse. A sonnet is a single stanza of 14 lines. 

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True or false: ‘Valentine’ is a dramatic monologue.


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True! ‘Valentine' is a dramatic monologue 

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What is a dramatic monologue?

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A dramatic monologue is a poem written in the form of a speech of one character who reveals their emotions

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What is the main tone is the poem written in? 

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direct

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Name two themes which the poet discusses

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Romantic love, heartache, and materialism are all themes which the poet discusses.

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What rhyme scheme is the poem written in? 

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The poem is written in free-verse, it does not have a rhyme scheme. 

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Which of these is a structural feature which the poem does not have?


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caesura

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True or false: the poem is written rhyming couplets. 

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False! While rhyming couplets are common in romantic poetry, 'Valentine' does not have a rhyme scheme, or stanzas of two lines.

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Question

What device is used in the line, 'it is a moon wrapped in brown paper'? 

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The device used in the quote  'it is a moon wrapped in brown paper', is a metaphor.

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What type of sentence is 'take it'? 


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imperative

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Name two types of imagery present in the poem

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the onion 

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True or false: the poem is directly addressed to the reader.

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True! The poem uses both first person pronouns such as 'i' or 'we' and directly addresses the reader with second person: 'I give you an onion'.

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How many stanzas are in the poem? 


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There are 7 stanzas in the poem

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Who wrote 'The Love Poem'?

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Carol Ann Duffy

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What collection is the poem part of?

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Rapture (2005)

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True or False? The poem is written in free-verse

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True! The poem is written in free-verse with irregular rhyme.

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True or False? 'The Love Poem' is a dramatic monologue

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False! The poem is written in free-verse and is about a narrator trying to construct their own love poem.

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Which poem is the line 'how do I love thee?' taken from?

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Answer

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnet 43' (1609)

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What is the main tone the poem is written in?

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Direct

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Name two themes which the poet discusses

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Love, nature and immortalisation are all themes discussed by the poet

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What rhyme scheme is the poem written in?

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The poem has an irregular rhyme scheme

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What device is used in the lines;

come live

with me -

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Enjambment 

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How many stanzas are in the poem?

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Three, twelve line stanzas

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True or false? The poem is written in rhyming couplets.

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False! While rhyming couplets are common in romantic poetry, 'The Love Poem' does not have a rhyme scheme, or stanzas of two lines.

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What is Romanticism? 

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A literary movement focusing on the natural world, the individual and the idolisation of women.

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Which of these structural features does the poem not have?

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End-stopped lines

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Name two types of imagery present in the poem?

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Nature and love

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Which technique is used in the line;

Till love exhausts itself

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Personification 

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Which poetry collection is 'Hour' part of?

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Rapture (2005)

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What story does Rapture (2005) present?

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Rapture (2005) presents the story of a love affair through a number of poems written in different styles 

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What is a sonnet sequence?

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A group of sonnets written by one poet with a unifying theme or story. 

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What is the poem's rhyme scheme?

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ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

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Which of these themes is not found in the poem?

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Romantic love

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When did Carol Ann Duffy win the National Poetry Competition?

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In 2009

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True or False? Rapture is wholly biographical?

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True! In a 2013 Guardian Article, Duffy highlighted how all of the poems in her collection Rapture were wholly biographical.

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What is the form of 'Hour'?

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Sonnet 

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True or False? 'Hour' uses iambic pentameter 

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False! Although iambic pentameter is common in sonnets, 'Hour' has no set meter.

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Which literary movement does 'Hour' have similarities to?

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Modernism

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What does the title of the poem have clear connotation of?

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Time and the passing of time

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What poetic devise is used here;

For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair 

like treasure on the ground; the Midas light

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Answer

Enjambment 

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What poetic devise is used here;

than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor

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Answer

Caesura 

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Which of these techniques does Duffy not use?

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Answer

Personal pronouns

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What is the tone of 'Hour'?

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Answer

Romantic

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What language is used to build on the poem's theme of romantic love?

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Language associated with unity; 'together' and 'we kiss'

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When was 'Mean Time' published?

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Answer

1993

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Question

Which poetry anthology is Mean Time part of?

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Answer

Mean Time (1993)

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