Get Your Premium Membership

Carol Ann Duffy Biography | Poet

Photo of Carol Ann Duffy

As the first female Poet Laureate to ever be graced with the title, it is fair to assume that Dame Carol Ann Duffy is a rather special figure within British literary circles. The Scottish poet and playwright was born in Glasgow, in 1955. Today, she continues to produce exciting new pieces which both challenge and delight poetry fans. She is also Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The poetry collections for which Carol Ann Duffy is most celebrated are Standing Female Nude, Mean Time, and Selling Manhattan. The anthology Rapture was awarded the T.S Eliot Prize for literature. Her work is characterised by its uncompromising explorations of gender, oppression, violence, and sexuality. Whilst these are all very serious themes, her work is regularly used for study in secondary schools.

After six years spent in Glasgow, whilst Carol was a child, the Duffy family upped and moved to England. There, she went to the Saint Austin RC Primary School and, later, the Stafford High School for Girls (both deeply religious institutions). Whilst she was growing up, Duffy did little else but read and write poems and her work was admired, by her teachers, from a very early age – at age 15, a teacher sent her poems to a publisher.

This was to present a great opportunity for the aspiring poet, because the pieces were immediately published. However, a whirlwind romance with fellow poet Adrian Henri soon took precedence and she moved to Liverpool to be with him. In fact, she even enrolled at the University of Liverpool so that they could remain close. Throughout this period, she penned a couple of plays and a pamphlet called Fifth Last Song. She also received a philosophy degree.

In 1983, Duffy published the poem Whoever She Was, which won her national acclaim and first prize at the National Poetry Competition. In 2009, she was offered the prestigious title of Poet Laureate and for a woman like Carol Anne Duffy (not only a woman, but a Scot, and an open lesbian too), the appointment must have meant a great deal. Today, she stands as the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly gay individual to take the title.

It has since been revealed that Duffy only narrowly missed out on being named Poet Laureate in 1999, after holder Ted Hughes passed away. She was considered for the role, but it was later passed on to Andrew Motion. In interviews, Duffy has expressed relief that the honour did not come to her at that time – she had a very young child and was involved in a serious same sex relationship with fellow poet Jackie Kay.

During her appointment as Poet Laureate, Duffy has covered an extraordinary amount of contemporary ground, marrying conventional form with modern subject matters. For example, her piece Silver Lining (written in 2010), describes the grounding of hundreds of flights as a result of the ash eruption from Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. The 2010 poem Achilles (for David Beckham) tackles the injury which took the footballer out of the World Cup.

In 2011, she penned the poem Rings on behalf of Prince William and Kate – it was later framed and sent to them as a wedding gift. To date, Duffy is celebrated for her prolific output, which includes renowned pieces like Little Women, Big Boys, Casanova, Take My Husband, and Cavern of Dreams. She is the holder of many awards, such as the Costa Poetry Award, the Dylan Thomas Award, the Eric Gregory Award, and the C.D Lewis Fellowship. 

Poet Laureate controversy

Carol Ann Duffy was almost appointed the British Poet Laureate in 1999 (after the death of previous Laureate Ted Hughes), but lost out on the position to Andrew Motion. According to the Sunday Times [1] Downing Street sources stated unofficially that Prime Minister Tony Blair was 'worried about having a homosexual poet laureate because of how it might play in middle England'. Duffy later claimed that she would not have accepted the laureateship anyway, saying in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that 'I will not write a poem for Edward and Sophie. No self-respecting poet should have to.' She says she regards Andrew Motion as a friend and that the idea of a contest between her and him for the post was entirely invented by the newspapers.

Carol Ann Duffy: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes

Book: Reflection on the Important Things