Carol Ann Duffy: A poet laureate with a twist

Tony Blair feared she'd be too controversial for Middle England. But Carol Ann Duffy – a gay woman – is now expected to succeed Andrew Motion

Few positions in public life, apart, perhaps, from Pope or manager of the England football team, have proved quite so unattainable to women over the years as that of Britain's Poet Laureate. For centuries, from Ben Jonson onwards, the prestigious honour with its peppercorn salary and liquid remuneration of a "butt of sack" has been a masculine stronghold, handed down from man to man.

But that dominance could well be set to come to an end this week after it was let slip that the name of Carol Ann Duffy has been put forward for the Queen's approval to assume the role from the outgoing Laureate Andrew Motion. If all goes as planned, the Glasgow-born poet will become not only the first woman to hold the post but the first openly gay one.

In a sign of the increasing certainty surrounding her appointment, bookmakers yesterday stopped taking bets on the 53-year-old whose extraordinary range of monologues, love poems, children's rhymes, plays and librettos have made her a favourite beyond the traditional confines of literary festival audiences.

It is understood she has been chosen after a new selection process, introduced by Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, in which the public was invited to offer their views on the search for the successor to a position whose previous incumbents included Lord Tennyson, Sir John Betjeman and Ted Hughes.

Judith Palmer, director of The Poetry Society, said her appointment – should it be confirmed – would prove extremely popular and follows a long-running campaign to get a women into the position. "We are incredibly lucky in this country to have so many seriously great women poets and Carol Ann would be fantastic. She is really, really loved and her work is known to a whole generation of young people," she said.

Ms Duffy's work has impressed critics with its range and depth. "There are poems to make you laugh, poems to make you think and ones you would pass on to a lover and just about everything else in between," said Ms Palmer.

However, Ms Duffy's decision to accept the title could surprise many who have followed her career during which she has become the most widely read living British poet.

Her popularity has grown on the back of her becoming a stalwart if occasionally controversial feature of the school curriculum. Last year she found herself at the centre of a censorship row after her poem Education For Leisure, which examines a young boy's fascination with street crime, was dropped by an exam body. She narrowly missed out to Motion when he was appointed Laureate in 1999 because the then Prime Minister Tony Blair felt her sexuality would prove unacceptable to Middle England. She was said to have been left deeply bruised and declared herself "out of the picture" for any future contest, later excoriating the idea of writing a poem for Prince Edward and his bride Sophie, the creation of verse to mark royal nuptials being part of a Laureate's work.

It seems unlikely however, that the Government would have allowed her name to emerge should she be about to decline the post and she would be a very high-profile ambassador for the form, having edged out another popular choice, the poet, author and broadcaster Simon Armitage.

The outgoing Laureate Andrew Motion, 56, heaped praise on his friend and likely successor yesterday. He said: "I would be profoundly pleased if Carol was to take on the role as I think she would be magnificently good at it. She's an absolutely wonderful writer and I think that because no woman has had the role, having Carol would give the whole thing a great glamour and appeal."

Born in Glasgow to a Catholic family, Duffy was brought up in the Midlands with impeccable left-wing credentials, her father standing as a Labour Parliamentary candidate. Her first collection, Standing Female Nude, published in 1985, which included Education For Leisure and the title poem about a disenchanted life model, was widely praised and since then she has gone on to win every major poetry prize, including the Forward Prize, the Whitbread Poetry Award and both the Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot prizes. Since 1996 she has taught at Manchester Metropolitan University.

It is not yet known whether the next Laureate will continue Andrew Motion's break with tradition by opting for a 10-year term rather than for life. Motion has described his mixed feelings at holding the position, during which time much of his output has been derided by critics, not least his toe-curling "rap" to mark Prince William's 21st birthday. Among his proudest achievements has been the establishment of the free online Poetry Archive, which has introduced millions of new readers to the form.

Valentine By Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Verse and worse: Send in your recession poetry

Andrew Motion used one of his last public appearances as Poet Laureate on the BBC's Any Questions to read a light-hearted and hastily assembled set of limerick verses to mark the passing of the Chancellor's credit-crunch Budget. But can you do any better? Andrew Motion's version is below but send your odes, sonnets or verse on the current recession to .

Poor Alistair Darling's new Budget
Invites us to listen and judge it
As though we'd agree
It was better to be
Au fait with hard truth and not fudge it

But some difficult questions remain
When our pensions are all down the drain
Dole figures sky high
Debt figures awry
And high tax on what extras we gain

Whose fault can we honestly say
Must it be for things being this way?
Banker pigs in the trough
MPs sure enough
And ourselves – what role did we play?

I'll just finish this short doggerel
With a personal comment as well.
The duty of writing
Lines short and exciting
On this, it ain't mine but my heirs as PL.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own