Carol Ann Duffy becomes first female poet laureate of Britain


QUEEN ELIZABETH has appointed Carol Ann Duffy as Britain’s new poet laureate – the first woman, and the first Scot, to hold the post since its creation 341 years ago.

Duffy (53) was regarded as runner-up to Andrew Motion 10 years ago but ruled out, according to some accounts, because Tony Blair feared her sexuality might not play well with “Middle England”. Yesterday, however, she said she had thought “long and hard” about accepting her appointment before embracing it “as a recognition of the great woman poets we have writing now”.

Since 1790 poets laureate have been appointed by the monarch acting on the advice of the prime minister, and Gordon Brown hailed yesterday’s announcement, describing Duffy as “a truly brilliant modern poet” who had stretched imaginations “by putting the whole range of human experiences into lines that capture the emotions perfectly”.

Although free to make of the job what she will, an essential part of the new poet laureate’s responsibility will be to produce works commemorating major royal events – a task her predecessor once described as “thankless” and cause on occasion of his writer’s block.

After Motion’s appointment in 1999, Duffy reportedly commented that “no self-respecting poet” should have to write a poem for Prince Edward and his wife Sophie. Yesterday, however, she said the monarchy, like poetry itself, had the capacity to make magic: “Poetry is all about looking at the ordinary and transforming it – the Midas touch. And the monarchy has that too. The presence of the Queen can help heal, transform and make things magic.”

Duffy told the BBC’s Woman’s Hour that she hoped to contribute to people’s understanding of what poetry could do and where it could be found. “Poetry is all around us, all of the time, whether in song or in speech or on the page, and we turn to it when events, personal or public, matter most.”

Duffy, who was born in the Gorbals district of Glasgow but raised in Stafford with her four younger siblings, has described her upbringing as “left-wing, Catholic, working class”. Her mother May was Irish-born and her maternal grandparents came from Carlow and Hacketstown.

The first holder of her post was the Catholic John Dryden. Appointed by King Charles II in 1668, Dryden was also the only poet laureate sacked, after his refusal to swear the oath of allegiance to Protestant king William III.