Last night at the Brighton Festival, Carol Ann Duffy read poetry old and new to a packed auditorium. Both funny and moving, her words were well-received whether they were already learnt by heart or not yet known. The Poet Laureate began her hour-long set with a selection of poems from the The World’s Wife (the collection which got me hooked), then she read from Rapture and ended with her latest collection, The Bees, due to be published this autumn. This was the first time I’d heard Duffy read in person and it was entirely gripping.
To begin, we heard from Mrs Midas, Mrs Faust, Mrs Darwin and Mrs Tiresias, each word and line expertly delivered with the slightest of gestures to give the performance even more effect. The next selection came from Duffy’s dissection of the lifespan of a relationship, following love’s journey through Text, Tea, Syntax and The Love Poem, in which Duffy takes other love poets by the hand, as she explained, and we witness a tapestry of phrases borne through the centuries.
The final group came from Duffy’s forthcoming collection, and included those about the eponymous insects, such as Virgil’s Bees and The Human Bee, as well as other diverse topics. The Counties is Duffy’s response to Royal Mail’s direction to delete counties from addresses, while Mrs Schofield’s GCSE is Duffy’s response to her poem being removed from the GCSE curriculum. The Shirt was inspired by the World Cup, and John Barleycorn celebrates British pub names. The two most moving poems of the evening, including Cold, were a response to the death of the poet’s mother. With a sense of the breadth and emotion of these new poems, I left looking forward to reading the whole collection this autumn.