An evening with...

Carol Ann Dufffy

I have long believed that poetry should be read aloud – either to you by someone else, or by you to yourself. It was therefore with great excitement that I recently went to hear the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy reading her own work.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. We were at the Royal Festival Hall. How much ‘production’ would be involved? How much of a ‘show’ would it be?
The evening turned out to be a big disappointment. The poetry was as you would expect of the highest quality, but the delivery was not. Some people can read the instructions from a pack of loo cleaner and make them interesting. Unfortunately Ms Duffy is not in that league. All she did was to reduce her own poetry to a monotonous drone. At times, a drone that was hard to hear.
She was accompanied by John Sampson who is a professional musician and who played ‘tunes’ on a series of wooden flutes in between groups of poems.
Nothing wrong with this, but it wasn’t needed. How much better if two or three actors had simply read the poems having been introduced by the poet. The stories behind the poems were interesting and instructive. The idea of listening to poetry in the company of the poet – maybe with the chance to ask a question or two – could be attractive. But the evening at the RFH was not.

Dylan Thomas

Carmarthen, Wales
I have just come back from a weekend in Carmarthen. And as is always the case when I’m up there my thoughts have been with my boyhood hero – Dylan Thomas. (His mother was from a farm near Carmarthen) Even more so on this trip since the anniversary of his death in 1953 was earlier in the week. I can’t pretend it was his poetry that beckoned me at the age of 16, it was more the rebel, the romantic, the love of language and the wit that appealed. In those days it was his radio broadcasts, stories and essays that held me. I still have a tattered copy of ‘Quite Early One Morning’, the title piece closely related to the conception of ‘Under Milk Wood’ The poems came, of course, as I got older and remain favourite reading.

There’s been quite a lot of talk about what is poetry and what is not recently, here’s what Thomas said, “I agree that music-hall songs can be good poetry – so can limericks, drawing or tap-room - but I don’t think cracker mottoes, etc., ever have been.”

But then as he added later in the piece…’Almost anything one says about poetry is as true and important as anything else that anyone else has said.’ How true. By the way you may have noticed that Christmas is approaching. If you haven’t read Thomas’s ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ this is the year to do so!

Women and Poetry

During the Queen’s visit to Australia there was much talk about primogeniture. And that in turn, as usual, brought up the subject of equal opportunities for women in business. And life in general. Although I for one would like to discuss getting some equal opportunities in my life or marriage! (only joking) Anyway it struck me that with regard to poetry (fiction in general, too) women can have no complaint. There are so many fine women poets now writing and getting published. And more importantly getting the recognition they deserve. In deed, in the current issue of Poetry London – according to Carol Ann Duffy the pre-eminent poetry magazine in the country – over half the contributors are women. And in the Poetry London Competition 2011 the first, second and third prizes were won by women.
Recently I’ve very much enjoyed poems by Annie Freud, Leontia Flynn, Fleur Adcock, Kathleen Jamie and Vona Groarke. If you don’t know them they’re worth looking up.