Well I was going to let the weekend go without mentioning the laureateship , but now I find I don’t want to do that. The reason is Carol Ann Duffy, she and I go back a long way. Granted, she is very probably not aware of my existence, but that hasn’t stopped us having a relationship. I remember coming across a poem of hers in the newspaper before her name became well known, tearing it out and putting it in the drawer of my bedside locker, memorising it without trying to. I bought every book of hers, lifted out poems to take to the classes I was teaching so that I could prove to the poetry-shy that poems could be both accessible and good, that you could write out of strong emotion, that poetry didn’t have to be clever. I think that Mean Time is my favourite collection, but all of her is good. I found Rapture, which won the T.S. Eliot prize, full of imperfection (many of the poems would have been picked to pieces by the kind of poetry workshops I was attending), but glorious – and perfection in poetry has never interested me. I thought it was something of a triumph that it won the prize because if she could do this then so could the rest of us – write imperfectly, from the heart and with that kind of lyrical intensity that is so often (or used to be) put down as being just “confessional” women’s writing. Yes, times have changed.
On Newsnight Review last night she spoke powerfully and looked like a high priestess. Poetry, she said, comes out of silence as much as anything else – this in response to Andrew Motion having apparently gone dry during his period as poet laureate, because of the pressure and lack of privacy. Andrew would write again, out of the silence, and all manner of things would be well.
The sonnet, she said, was like a prayer. I had thought of the sonnet as a song, an utterance, a raindrop that reflects the whole garden, but never a prayer. The poem that I tore from the paper and learned by heart was a sonnet she called Prayer, and it goes like this:
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre