Friday, 26 November 2010

Review: The World's Wife

I have a love/hate relationship with Carol Ann Duffy. As a queer, Northern poet myself, I should love her. She should be a standard bearer for me and what I want to write. But quite often she isn't. Don't get me wrong, she's not a bad poet. Far from it. But she's not the *best* poet, despite being lauded as the poetic voice of modern Britain. Her talent is overshadowed by many other great poets, some of whom are also women and/or also queer, such as Dorothea Smartt, Rommi Smith, James Nash, and her own ex, Jackie Kay.

Carol Ann Duffy's popularity no doubt lies in her accessibility. Hers are often 'easy' poems, and their statements are not as bold or as brilliant as they think they are.

But in The World's Wife, Carol Ann Duffy manages to transcend the purely conversational, and achieves something that occasionally turns the accessible into the lyrically beautiful, with a real sense of playfulness. There are mirthful poems with some heart, such as Mrs Midas' tale, and darker, more challenging poems, which question the nature of evil and how it is socially constructed ('The Devil's Wife', which deals with the wife of a serial killer).

One common complaint against this collection 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'. Their is a central gimmick, but it works for the poet in allowing her to explore a number of different themems from lesbianism, feminism, beauty and morality.

Duffy's not quite Angela Carter, but her reimagining of fairytale, myth and celebrity is a charming, fun, energetic read. I could have been a bit more generous with this, but I'm giving it 3 1/2, because it's not quite a 4.

Yes, I'm being mean. But I'm sure the poet laureate can handle it.

Rating: 3 1/2

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