Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy (born December 23, 1955) is a British poet, playwright and freelance writer born in Glasgow, Scotland. She grew up in Staffordshire and graduated in philosophy from Liverpool University in 1977. Carol Ann Duffy was awarded an OBE in 1995, and a CBE in 2002. She now lives in Manchester with her daughter Ella (born 1995) whose father is the writer Peter Benson. She used to live with her partner, the poet Jackie Kay, but they split up in late 2004.


  • 1 Background
  • 2 Poetry
  • 3 Other works
  • 4 Poet Laureate controversy
  • 5 Bibliography
  • 6 Awards
  • 8 Notes and References
  • 9 External links


Carol Ann Duffy was born to Frank Duffy and May Black in Glasgow as the eldest child of the family, and has four brothers. She moved to Staffordshire at the age of four. Her father worked as a fitter for English Electric, stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour party and managed Stafford football club in his spare time. Raised Catholic, she was educated at Saint Austin Roman Catholic Primary School, St. Joseph's Convent School and Stafford Girls' High School. She was a passionate reader from an early age, and she always wanted to be a writer. Duffy dispensed with religion aged fifteen, when her convent school became an old people's home. However, she says,"Poetry and prayer are very similar...I write quite a lot of sonnets and I think of them almost as prayers: short and memorable, something you can recite." [1]

At age sixteen, she embarked on a relationship with the thirty-nine year old poet Adrian Henri, and the poem Little Red Cap in her collection The World's Wife is commonly thought to be about their relationship. She chose to study Philosophy at Liverpool University to be near him. Duffy says of Henri, "He gave me confidence, he was great. It was all poetry and sex, very heady, and he was never faithful. He thought poets had a duty to be unfaithful. I’ve never got the hang of that!" She first worked as a game-show and joke writer for Granada Television. From 1982 to 1984, she held a C. Day-Lewis Fellowship, working in east London schools, before becoming a full-time writer and dramatist in 1985.[2]


Characterized by social critique channelled through dramatic monologue, Carol Ann Duffy's poems provide voices for an extraordinary number of contemporary characters, including a fairground psychopath, a literary biographer, a newborn baby, disinherited American Indians, and even a ventriloquist's dummy. Many of the poems reflect on time, change, and loss. In dramatizing scenes of childhood, adolescence, and adult life, whether personal or public, contemporary or historical, she discovers moments of consolation through love, memory, and language. She explores not only everyday experience, but also the rich fantasy life of herself and others.

Of her own writing, Carol Ann Duffy has said,"I'm not interested, as a poet, in words like 'plash' - Seamus Heaney words, interesting words. I like to use simple words but in a complicated way." [3] Singer-composer Eliana Tomkins, whom Duffy collaborated with on a series of live jazz recitals, says "With a lot of artists, the mystique is to baffle their readership. She never does that. Her aim is to communicate." [4]

In her first collection Standing Female Nude (1985) she often uses the voices of outsiders while Selling Manhattan (1987) contains more personal verse. Her later collections are The Other Country (1990), Mean Time (1993) and The World's Wife (1999).

The World's Wife saw her retelling famous stories and fables - Midas, King Kong, Elvis, Anne Hathaway, Salome in a witty collection of poems about women, real or imagined, usually excluded from history.

Her next collection Feminine Gospels (2002) continues this vein, showing an increased interest in long narrative poems, accessible in style and often surreal in their imagery. Her most recent publication, Rapture (2005), is a series of intimate poems charting the course of a love affair, for which she won the £10,000 T.S Eliot poetry prize. In 2007 she published a poetry collection for children entitled The Hat.

She is perhaps one of the few poets in the UK to combine academic integrity with accessibility and popularity. In particular, many British students read her work as she became part of the English Literature syllabus in England and Wales in 1994.

John Mullan wrote of her in the Guardian that

"Over the past decade, Carol Ann Duffy has been the most popular living poet in Britain, her sales greatly helped by the fact that she has succeeded Hughes and Larkin as the most common representative of contemporary poetry in schools (and, it seems, the most commonly read writer of verse after Shakespeare among interviewees for university English courses). There is a suspicion that Duffy, feminist and leftish, reassuringly suits the political preconceptions of many educators, but there are also aspects of her poetry that appeal to English teachers for good practical reasons. Her poems are frequently humorous; they use clear schemes of rhyme and metre; they can be satisfactorily decoded by the diligent close reader."

According to the journalist Katharine Viner,

"Her poems are accessible and entertaining, yet her form is classical, her technique razor-sharp. She is read by people who don't really read poetry, yet she maintains the respect of her peers. Reviewers praise her touching, sensitive, witty evocations of love, loss, dislocation, nostalgia; fans talk of greeting her at readings 'with claps and cheers that would not sound out of place at a pop concert'".

Carol Ann Duffy was a poetry critic for The Guardian (1988-1989), and is the former editor of the poetry magazine Ambit. She is currently a poetry lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Other works

Carol Ann Duffy is also an acclaimed playwright, and has had plays performed at the Liverpool Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre in London. Her plays include Take My Husband (1982), Cavern of Dreams (1984), Little Women, Big Boys (1986) and Loss (1986), a radio play. She has also adapted Rapture as a radio play[5]. Her children's collections include Meeting Midnight (1999) and The Oldest Girl in the World (2000).

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 [6] 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. "I genuinely don't think she even wanted to be poet laureate," said Peter Jay, Duffy's former publisher. "The post can be a poisoned chalice. It is not a role I would wish on anyone - particularly not someone as forthright and uncompromising as Carol Ann." [7]


  • Fleshweathercock and Other Poems Outposts, 1974
  • Beauty and the Beast Carol Ann Duffy & Adrian Henri, 1977
  • Fifth Last Song Headland, 1982
  • Standing Female Nude Anvil Press Poetry, 1985
  • Thrown Voices Turret Books, 1986
  • Selling Manhattan Anvil Press Poetry, 1987
  • The Other Country Anvil Press Poetry, 1990
  • I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine (editor) Viking, 1992
  • William and the Ex-Prime Minister Anvil Press Poetry, 1992
  • Mean Time Anvil Press Poetry, 1993
  • Anvil New Poets Volume 2 Penguin, 1994
  • Selected Poems Penguin, 1994
  • Penguin Modern Poets 2 Penguin, 1995
  • Grimm Tales Faber and Faber, 1996
  • Salmon - Carol Ann Duffy: Selected Poems Salmon Poetry, 1996
  • Stopping for Death (editor) Viking, 1996
  • More Grimm Tales Faber and Faber, 1997
  • The Pamphlet Anvil Press Poetry, 1998
  • Meeting Midnight Faber and Faber, 1999
  • The World's Wife Anvil Press Poetry, 1999
  • Time's Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century (editor) Anvil Press Poetry, 1999
  • The Oldest Girl in the World Faber and Faber, 2000
  • Hand in Hand (editor) Picador, 2001
  • Feminine Gospels Picador, 2002
  • Queen Munch and Queen Nibble (illustrated by Lydia Monks)Macmillan Children's Books, 2002
  • Underwater Farmyard (illustrated by Joel Stewart)Macmillan Children's Books, 2002
  • The Good Child's Guide to Rock N Roll Faber and Faber, 2003
  • Collected Grimm Tales Faber and Faber, 2003
  • New Selected Poems Picador, 2004
  • Out of Fashion: An Anthology of Poems Faber and Faber, 2004
  • Overheard on a Saltmarsh: Poets' Favourite Poems (editor) Macmillan, 2004
  • Another Night Before Christmas John Murray, 2005
  • Moon Zoo Macmillan, 2005
  • Rapture Picador, 2005
  • The Lost Happy Endings (with Jane Ray) Penguin, 2006


  • Eric Gregory Award 1984
  • Scottish Arts Council Book Award (for Standing Female Nude and The Other Country, and again for Mean Time)
  • Somerset Maugham Award 1988 (for Selling Manhattan)
  • Dylan Thomas Award 1989
  • Cholmondeley Award 1992
  • Whitbread Awards 1993 (for Mean Time)
  • Forward Prize (for Mean Time)
  • T S Eliot Prize 2005 (for Rapture)
  • Forward Prize (for Rapture)
  • Greenwich Poetry Competition (for Words of Absolution)
  • Nesta Award 2001
  • Lannan Award 1995
  • National Poetry Competition 1st prize, 1983 (for Whoever She Was)
  • Signal Children's Poetry Prize 1999


  • "When you have a child, your previous life seems like someone else's. It's like living in a house and suddenly finding a room you didn't know was there, full of treasure and light."
  • "My prose is turgid, it just hasn't got any energy."
  • "In the 1970s, when I started on the circuit, I was called a poetess. Older male poets, the Larkin generation, were both incredibly patronising and incredibly randy. If they weren’t patting you on the head, they were patting you on the bum."
  • "I’m not a lesbian poet, whatever that is. If I am a lesbian icon and a role model, that’s great, but if it is a word that is used to reduce me, then you have to ask why someone would want to reduce me? I never think about it. I don’t care about it. I define myself as a poet and as a mother – that’s all."
  • "Like the sand and the oyster, it's a creative irritant. In each poem, I'm trying to reveal a truth, so it can't have a fictional beginning."
  • "Childhood for children yet to be born will be darkened in ways we can't imagine."

Notes and References

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Carol Ann Duffy
  3. ^
  4. ^,,1690552,00.html
  5. ^ Radio play Rapture, performed by Fiona Shaw, with Eliana Tomkins, on BBC Radio Four on 24 July 2007.
  6. ^ reported this to be The Sunday Times of May 9, 1999
  7. ^,,1690552,00.html
  • Carol Ann Duffy at
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