Carol Ann Duffy

Dame Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy in June 2009
Born (1955-12-23) 23 December 1955
Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation Poet, playwright
Language English
Nationality British
Education B.A. (Hons) Philosophy
Alma mater University of Liverpool
Notable awards OBE 1995
CBE 2002
Poet Laureate 2009
DBE 2015
Spouse Peter Benson
Children Ella (born 1995)
Relatives Mary Black (mother) died 2005
Frank Duffy (father)

Dame Carol Ann Duffy DBE FRSL (born 23 December 1955) is a Scottish poet and playwright. She is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and was appointed Britain's Poet Laureate in May 2009.[1] She is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly LGBT person to hold the position.[2]

Her collections include Standing Female Nude (1985), winner of a Scottish Arts Council Award; Selling Manhattan (1987), which won a Somerset Maugham Award; Mean Time (1993), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award; and Rapture (2005), winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize. Her poems address issues such as oppression, gender, and violence in an accessible language that has made them popular in schools.[3]

Early life

Carol Ann Duffy was born to a Roman Catholic family in the Gorbals,[4] a poor part of Glasgow. She was the first child of Frank Duffy, an electrical fitter, and Mary Black.[5] The couple went on to have another four children, all boys. The family moved to Stafford, England, when Duffy was six years old. Her father worked for English Electric. He was a trade unionist, and stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in 1983; he also managed Stafford Rangers football club in his spare time.[5]

Duffy was educated in Stafford at Saint Austin's RC Primary School (1962–1967), St. Joseph's Convent School (1967–1970), and Stafford Girls' High School (1970–1974), her literary talent encouraged by two English teachers, June Scriven at St Joseph's, and Jim Walker at Stafford Girls' High.[5] She was a passionate reader from an early age, and always wanted to be a writer, producing poems from the age of 11. When one of her English teachers died, she wrote:

You sat on your desk,
swinging your legs,
reading a poem by Yeats
to the bored girls,
except my heart stumbled and blushed
as it fell in love with the words and I saw the tree
in the scratched old desk under my hands,
heard the bird in the oak outside scribble itself on the air.[1]

  1. ^ Edemariam, Aida. "Carol Ann Duffy: I don't have Ambassadorial Talents", The Guardian, 26 May 2009.


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.

From "Prayer",
Mean Time, Anvil, 1994[6]

When Duffy was 15, June Scriven sent her poems to Outposts, a publisher of pamphlets, where it was read by the bookseller Bernard Stone, who published some of them. When she was 16, she met Adrian Henri, one of the Liverpool poets, and decided she wanted to be with him, and then lived with him until 1982. "He gave me confidence," she said, "he was great. It was all poetry, very heady, and he was never faithful. He thought poets had a duty to be unfaithful."[7] She applied to the University of Liverpool to be near him, and began a philosophy degree there in 1974. She had two plays performed at the Liverpool Playhouse, wrote a pamphlet, Fifth Last Song, and received an honours degree in philosophy in 1977.[5] She worked as poetry critic for The Guardian from 1988–1989, and was editor of the poetry magazine, Ambit. In 1996, she was appointed as a lecturer in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and later became creative director of its Writing School.[3]

Duffy was almost appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1999 after the death of Ted Hughes, but lost out on the position to Andrew Motion. Duffy said she would not have accepted the position at that time anyway, because she was in a relationship with Scottish poet Jackie Kay, had a young daughter, and would not have welcomed the public attention.[8] In the same year, she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

She was appointed as Poet Laureate on 1 May 2009,[9] when Motion's 10-year term was over. Duffy was featured on the South Bank Show with Melvyn Bragg in December 2009[10] and on 7 December she presented the Turner Prize to artist Richard Wright.[11]

Duffy received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2009.[12]

Poet laureate

In her first poem as poet laureate, Duffy tackled the scandal over British MPs expenses in the format of a sonnet.[13] Her second, "Last Post", was commissioned by the BBC to mark the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the last two British soldiers to fight in World War I.[14] Her third, "The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009", addresses current events such as species extinction, the climate change conference in Copenhagen, the banking crisis, and the war in Afghanistan.[15] In March 2010, she wrote "Achilles (for David Beckham)" about the Achilles tendon injury that left David Beckham out of the English football team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup;[16] the poem was published in The Daily Mirror and treats modern celebrity culture as a kind of mythicisation.[17] "Silver Lining", written in April 2010, acknowledges the grounding of flights caused by the ash of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull.[18] On 30 August 2010 she premièred her poem "Vigil" for the Manchester Pride Candlelight Vigil in memory of LGBT people who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS.[19]

Duffy wrote a 46 line poem Rings for the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The poem celebrates the rings found in nature and does not specifically mention the couple's names. It begins for both to say and continues "I might have raised your hand to the sky / to give you the ring surrounding the moon / or looked to twin the rings of your eyes / with mine / or added a ring to the rings of a tree / by forming a handheld circle with you, thee, / ...". She wrote the verse with Stephen Raw, a textual artist, and a signed print of the work was sent to the couple as a wedding gift.[20][21] Duffy also wrote the poem The Throne, which she composed for the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.[22] For the reinternment of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015, she wrote a 14 line poem, "Richard". The poem was read aloud during the service by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who had portrayed the king in Shakespeare's play and is believed to be Richard's distant relative.[23]

In a Stylist magazine,[24] Duffy said of becoming poet laureate, "There’s no requirement. I do get asked to do things and so far I’ve been happy to do them." She also spoke about being appointed to the role by Queen Elizabeth II, saying, "She’s lovely! I met her before I became poet laureate but when I was appointed I had an ‘audience’ with her which meant we were alone, at the palace, for the first time. We chatted about poetry. Her mother was friends with Ted Hughes whose poetry I admire a lot. We spoke about his influence on me."[24]



Duffy's work explores both everyday experience and the rich fantasy life of herself and others. In dramatising scenes from childhood, adolescence, and adult life, she discovers moments of consolation through love, memory, and language. Charlotte Mendelson writes in The Observer:

Part of Duffy's talent – besides her ear for ordinary eloquence, her gorgeous, powerful, throwaway lines, her subtlety – is her ventriloquism. Like the best of her novelist peers ... she slides in and out of her characters' lives on a stream of possessions, aspirations, idioms and turns of phrase. However, she is also a time-traveller and a shape-shifter, gliding from Troy to Hollywood, galaxies to intestines, sloughed-off skin to department stores while other poets make heavy weather of one kiss, one kick, one letter ... from verbal nuances to mind-expanding imaginative leaps, her words seem freshly plucked from the minds of non-poets – that is, she makes it look easy.[25]

Of her own writing, Duffy has said, "I'm not interested, as a poet, in words like 'plash'—Seamus Heaney words, interesting words. I like to use simple words, but in a complicated way."[5] She told The Observer: "Like the sand and the oyster, it's a creative irritant. In each poem, I'm trying to reveal a truth, so it can't have a fictional beginning."[26]

Duffy rose to greater prominence in UK poetry circles after her poem "Whoever She Was" won the Poetry Society National Poetry Competition in 1983.[27] In her first collection, Standing Female Nude (1985), she uses the voices of outsiders, for example in the poems 'Education for Leisure' and 'Dear Norman'. Her next collection Feminine Gospels (2002) continues this vein, showing an increased interest in long narrative poems, accessible in style and often surreal in their imagery. Her 2005 publication, Rapture (2005), is a series of intimate poems charting the course of a love affair, for which she won the £10,000 T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2007, she published The Hat, a collection of poems for children. Online copies of her poems are rare, but her poem dedicated to U A Fanthorpe, Premonitions, is available through The Guardian,[28] and several others via The Daily Mirror.[29][30]

In schools

Her poems are studied in British schools at GCSE, National 5, A-level, and Higher levels.[31][32] In August 2008, her Education for Leisure, a poem about violence, was removed from the AQA examination board's GCSE poetry anthology, following a complaint about its references to knife crime and a goldfish being flushed down a toilet. The poem begins, "Today I am going to kill something. Anything./I have had enough of being ignored and today/I am going to play God." The protagonist kills a fly, then a goldfish. The budgie panics and the cat hides. It ends with him, or her, leaving the house with a knife. "The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm."[33]

According to The Guardian, schools were urged to destroy copies of the unedited anthology,[33] though this was later denied by AQA.[34] Duffy called the decision ridiculous. "It's an anti-violence poem," she said. "It is a plea for education rather than violence." She responded with Mrs Schofield's GCSE, a poem about violence in other fiction, and the point of it. "Explain how poetry/pursues the human like the smitten moon/above the weeping, laughing earth ..."[35] The Mrs. Schofield of the title refers to Pat Schofield, an external examiner at Lutterworth College, Leicestershire, who complained about Education for Leisure, calling it "absolutely horrendous".[36]

For the new National Qualifications Higher English Course in Scotland, Duffy's publishers, RCW Literacy Agency, refused permission for her poem, "Originally", to be published in the paper.[37]

Anthologise Annual Competition for Schools

In 2011 Duffy spearheaded a new poetry competition for schools, named Anthologise. The competition is administered by the Poetry Book Society and was launched by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in September 2011. School students aged 11–18 from around the UK were invited to create and submit their own anthologies of published poetry. The 2011 Anthologise judges were Duffy; Gillian Clarke (National Poet for Wales); John Agard; Grace Nichols and Cambridge Professor of Children’s Poetry, Morag Styles. The first ever winners of Anthologise were the sixth form pupils of Monkton Combe School, Bath, with their anthology titled The Poetry of Earth is Never Dead, which was described by Duffy as 'assured and accomplished as any anthology currently on the bookshelves'.[38]

Plays and songs

Duffy is also a playwright, and has had plays performed at the Liverpool Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre in London. Her plays include Take My Husband (1982), Cavern of Dreams (1984), Little Women, Big Boys (1986) Loss (1986), Casanova (2007). Her radio credits include an adaptation of Rapture.[39] Her children's collections include Meeting Midnight (1999) and The Oldest Girl in the World (2000). She also collaborated with the Manchester composer, Sasha Johnson Manning, on The Manchester Carols, a series of Christmas songs that premiered in Manchester Cathedral in 2007.

She also participated in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty Six Books, for which she wrote a piece based upon a book of the King James Bible[40]

A modernized adaptation of Everyman by Carol Ann Duffy, with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role, was performed at the National Theatre from April to July 2015.

Honours and awards

She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Dundee, the University of Hull, the University of St Andrews, and the University of Warwick, as well as an Honorary Fellowship at Homerton College, Cambridge.[1][41]

She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1995, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002, and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to poetry.[44][45]

Works – poetry collections, books for children and plays

  • 1974: Fleshweathercock and Other Poems. Outposts ltd.[46]
  • 1977: (with Adrian Henri) Beauty and the Beast (poetry)
  • 1982: Fifth Last Song. Headland (poetry)
  • 1982: Take My Husband (play)[46]
  • 1984: Cavern of Dreams (play)
  • 1985: Standing Female Nude. Anvil Press Poetry (poetry)
  • 1986: Little Women, Big Boys (play)
  • 1986: Loss (radio play)
  • 1986: Thrown Voices. Turret Books, pamphlet (poetry)[47]
  • 1987: Selling Manhattan. Anvil Press Poetry (poetry)
  • 1990: The Other Country. Anvil Press Poetry (poetry)
  • 1992: I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine (ed.) Viking (poetry anthology)[48]
  • 1992: William and the Ex-Prime Minister. Anvil Press Poetry, pamphlet, (poetry).
  • 1993: Mean Time Anvil Press Poetry (poetry)
  • 1994: Anvil New Poets Volume 2. (Ed.) Penguin (poetry anthology)[49]
  • 1994: Selected Poems. Penguin (poems)
  • 1995: Penguin Modern Poets 2 with Vicki Feaver and Eavan Boland. Penguin. (Poetry)
  • 1996: Grimm Tales. Faber and Faber. (Play)
  • 1996: Salmon – Carol Ann Duffy: Selected Poems. Salmon Poetry. (Poetry)
  • 1996: Stopping for Death. Viking (poetry anthology)
  • 1997: More Grimm Tales. Faber and Faber (children's play)
  • 1998: The Pamphlet. Anvil Press Poetry (poetry)
  • 1999: Meeting Midnight. Faber and Faber (children's poetry)
  • 1999: The World's Wife Anvil Press Poetry (poetry)
  • 1999: Time's Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century. (Ed.) Anvil Press Poetry (poetry anthology)
  • 2000: The Oldest Girl in the World. Faber and Faber (children's poetry)
  • 2001: Hand in Hand: An Anthology of Love Poems. (Ed.) Picador (poetry anthology)
  • 2002: Feminine Gospels. Picador
  • 2002: Queen Munch and Queen Nibble., Macmillan Children's Books.
  • 2002: Underwater Farmyard. Macmillan Children's Books. (Children's book)
  • 2003: The Good Child's Guide to Rock N Roll. Faber and Faber. (Children's poetry)
  • 2003: Collected Grimm Tales (with Tim Supple). Faber and Faber. (Children's book)
  • 2004: Doris the Giant. (Children's literature, picture book)
  • 2004: New Selected Poems. Picador
  • 2004: Out of Fashion: An Anthology of Poems. (Ed.) Faber and Faber (poetry anthology)
  • 2004: Overheard on a Saltmarsh: Poets' Favourite Poems (Ed.) Macmillan
  • 2005: Another Night Before Christmas with John Murray. (Children's poetry)
  • 2005: Moon Zoo. Macmillan (children's literature, picture book)
  • 2005: Rapture Picador (poetry)
  • 2006: The Lost Happy Endings (illustrated by Jane Ray). Penguin. (Children's book)
  • 2007: Answering Back. (Ed.) Picador. (Poetry anthology)
  • 2007: The Hat. Faber and Faber. (Children's poetry)
  • 2007: The Tear Thief. Barefoot Books. (Children's book)
  • 2009: Mrs Scrooge: A Christmas Poem (illustrated by Beth Adams). Simon & Schuster
  • 2009: New & Collected Poetry for Children. Faber and Faber. (Poetry)
  • 2009: The Princess's Blankets (illustrated by Catherine Hyde). Templar. (Children's book)
  • 2009: The Twelve Poems of Christmas. (Ed.) Candlestick Press. (Poetry)
  • 2009: To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poetry. (Editor) Picador. (Poetry)
  • 2009: Love Poems. Picador. (Poetry, selected).
  • 2011: The Bees. Picador. (Poetry, selected).
  • 2011: The Christmas Truce. (illustrated by David Roberts) Picador.
  • 2012: Wenceslas: A Christmas Poem. (illustrated by Stuart Kolakovic) Picador.
  • 2014: Dorothy Wordsworth's Christmas Birthday. (illustrated by Tom Duxbury) Picador.


  1. 1 2 "Prof Carol Ann Duffy". Manchester Metropolitan University. Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 2 November 2009.
  2. "Entertainment | Duffy reacts to new Laureate post". BBC News. 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  3. 1 2 "Carol Ann Duffy | British poet". Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  4. "Carol Ann Duffy (b. 1955)". Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Forbes, Peter. "Winning Lines" Archived 13 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 31 August 2002.
  6. William Crawley. "Will & Testament: Carol Ann Duffy's prayer". BBC. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  7. Winterson, Jeanette. "Carol Ann Duffy" Archived 31 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.,, accessed 18 December 2009.
  8. Flood, Alison. "Betting closed on next poet laureate amid speculation that Carol Ann Duffy has been chosen" Archived 30 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 27 April 2009.
  9. Lyall, Sarah (2 May 2009). "After 341 Years, British Poet Laureate Is a Woman". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  10. Press Release, South Bank Show Archived 5 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine., 6 December 2009.
  11. Higgins, Charlotte. "Artist Richard Wright strikes gold as winner of this year's Turner prize" Archived 23 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 7 December 2009.
  12. "Honorary Graduates 2009" (PDF). Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  13. Politics by Carol Ann Duffy, Archived 16 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian, 13 June 2009
  14. "Carol Ann Duffy, Poem for the last of WWI" Archived 27 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 30 July 2009.
  15. Duffy, Carol Ann. "The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009", Radio Times, 6 December 2009.
  16. "The bizzaro history of the poet laureate" Archived 5 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Toronto Star, July 7, 2016. Bruce Demara.
  17. "Achilles (David Beckham)" Archived 7 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 16 March 2010, accessed 16 March 2010.
  18. Duffy, Carol Ann. “Silver Lining | Carol Ann Duffy” Archived 27 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 20 April 2010.
  19. Kinser, Jeremy (2010-08-30). "Thousands Attend Manchester HIV Vigil". Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  20. Harrison, David (23 April 2011). "Royal wedding: Poet laureate writes verse for big day". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  21. "Poems for a wedding". The Guardian. 23 April 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  22. Rayner, Gordon (4 June 2013). "Queen's coronation anniversary: Crown to leave Tower for first time since 1953 for Westminster Abbey service". Telegraph. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  23. Williams, Amanda (26 March 2015). "Benedict Cumberbatch leads tributes to Richard III as remains of last English king to die in battle are finally given a royal burial in Leicester Cathedral". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  24. 1 2 "Interview: Carol Ann Duffy". Stylist. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  25. Mendelson, Charlotte. The gospel truth Archived 30 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine., The Observer, 13 October 2002.
  26. Anderson, Hephzibah. Christmas Carol Archived 3 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine., The Observer, 4 December 2005.
  27. "The Poetry Society". The Poetry Society. 2016-07-01. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  28. Premonitions Archived 7 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian, 2 May 2009, accessed 16 March 2010.
  29. Duffy's poems for children Archived 16 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Daily Mirror, 4 May 2009 accessed 16 March 2010.
  30. A previously unpublished poem on the nature of her work Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Daily Mirror, 2 May 2009, accessed 16 March 2010.
  31. Martin, Ben. "Carol Ann Duffy: Profile of the new Poet Laureate" Archived 7 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine., The Daily Telegraph, 1 May 2009.
  32. "Scottish Texts for New National 5 and Higher English Courses" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  33. 1 2 Curtis, Polly. "Top exam board asks schools to destroy book containing knife poem" Archived 18 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 4 September 2008.
  34. Addley, Esther. "Poet's rhyming riposte leaves Mrs Schofield 'gobsmacked'" Archived 19 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 6 September 2008.
  35. Duffy, Carol Ann. Mrs Schofield's GCSE Archived 7 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 6 September 2009.
  36. Addley, Esther. "Poet's rhyming riposte leaves Mrs Schofield 'gobsmacked'" Archived 19 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 6 September 2008.
  37. "SQ14/H/02 : English Critical Reading" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  38. Radio play Rapture, performed by Fiona Shaw, with Eliana Tomkins, on BBC Radio Four on 24 July 2007.
  39. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 July 2011. Retrieved 2014-10-12.
  40. "College Notices – Cambridge University Reporter 6160". 7 October 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  41. "Close-up on the Costa winners". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  42. "BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour - The Power List 2013". BBC. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  43. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61092. p. N8. 31 December 2014.
  44. "2015 New Year Honours List" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  45. 1 2 O’Reilly, Elizabeth. "Carol Ann Duffy" Archived 8 May 2009 at WebCite, Contemporary Poets website, retrieved 4 May 2009.
  46. Micelis, Angelica and Rowland, Anthony. The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: Choosing Tough Roads Archived 12 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine..
  47. Griffin, Gabriele. "Duffy, Carol Ann" Archived 29 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Who's Who in Lesbian and Gay Writing, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 978-0-415-15984-5.
  48. Forbes, Peter, "Winning Lines" Archived 13 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine., The Guardian, 31 August 2002.

Further reading

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Cultural offices
Preceded by
Andrew Motion
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
2009 – present
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