Poetry for Now: Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife’

For many, reading poetry is altogether out of the question. As a Literature student myself I have only just come to the realisation that I can actually read and enjoy poetry outside of the classroom. Why is this? While we are still a novel loving nation, (need I only say ‘50 Shades’…?) it seems that the whole concept of poetry has acquired a general aura of inaccessibility among the public, remaining firmly associated with confusion, sonnets, Chaucer and more sonnets.

It is high time we moved away from this outdated opinion. Poetry does not have to contain the word ‘thee’ or compare one to a summer’s day. Carol Ann Duffy can certainly be described as contemporary; as our current poet laureate, and notably, the first woman to hold the position she is also taught across many school boards. Her most celebrated collection The World’s Wife not only retells the story of well known literary and historical male figures, it makes poetry important, accessible and most significantly, enjoyable.

The collection begins with a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, once an innocent and vulnerable character, Duffy’s Red Cap is a confident, striving individual, searching for her literary voice as a female character within a male dominated world. Notable poems include Mrs Midas and Penelope. Duffy looks back at well-known male characters King Midas and Odysseus and she presents their stories from the other side. While Odysseus is famed as the hero figure of Greek Literature, Duffy’s Penelope is not a love lost mourning widow, rather her story tells of her individuality and her position as a woman confidently alone in a patriarchal world.

The female voice is asserted throughout, and it is done cleverly. Although their male counterparts are often made humorous (I recommend ‘Frau Freud’), the continuous silence, yet mention of the male figure remind us how it is necessary to appreciate both voices, and the dangers of ignoring one. The subversion of the male character is the most literary fruitful but also important characteristic of the collection. Duffy writes for our amusement, there is no denying this, however the lack of male voice also appears sometimes worrying, and this subversion makes the reader consider and question the absence of voices within and across literature, and the sometimes biased opinion we are faced with.

Duffy’s rhythmic and crafting skills shine in this collection. Her poems bounce off the tongue and are never boring. Her ability to intertwine myth and fairy tale with issues of gender and voice gives us something we can all relate to. Well known stories become new again, drawing us into never before heard of characters that are made human and understandable. The mixture of the great and the ordinary produce a collection not simply relatable, but revealing. We are given as readers not only a grouping of individual poems but also a collection. Together they put forward a relevant contemporary strive for equality of voice and appreciation of feeling regardless of gender. Duffy’s work stands as a perfect example of poetry’s value in society today.

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