'It was my daughter who made me accept Poet's job'

A gay Scottish mother has broken the mould of Poet Laureate forever.

Carol Ann Duffy, the Glasgow born poet who achieved the rare double of critical and popular acclaim, smashed through a glass ceiling yesterday by becoming the first woman Poet Laureate.

Duffy is also the first Scot to hold the post, the first mother, and the first "out" gay. Yesterday, she said she "thought long and hard" before accepting the title, but had decided to take it on in "recognition of the great woman poets we have writing now". Welcoming her decision to accept the post, Gordon Brown said: "Carol Ann follows in a tradition set by some of the most distinguished writers in the English language."

Like her predecessor, Andrew Motion, she will hold the post for 10 years only. Before 1999, it was for life. It comes with a stipend, worth £5,749.04 last year, and a quantity of free booze – a "butt of canary wine" when John Dryden was appointed Poet Laureate in 1668, but translated lately into 600 bottles of sherry.

Duffy announced that she will donate the stipend to the Poetry Society to fund a new annual poetry prize, but has demanded the sherry "up front".

Until now, being a woman appeared to be an automatic bar to being Poet Laureate. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was considered for the honour when William Wordsworth died in 1850, but was passed over in favour of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Duffy was considered for the position 10 years ago. It was rumoured at the time that Tony Blair ruled her out because he was nervous about how "middle England" would react to the appointment of a lesbian, although this story was denied yesterday by Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's former spin doctor.

"I think we've all grown up a lot over the past 10 years," Duffy told journalists at a press conference in Manchester yesterday. "Sexuality is something that is celebrated now we have civil partnerships and it's fantastic that I'm an openly gay writer, and anyone here or watching the interviews who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident."

Duffy's parents were working- class Catholics who both left school at 14, but were intent on seeing their children educated. In 1960, when she was four, they moved to Stafford where her father, Frank, worked as an electrician. She now lives in Manchester.

She won a national poetry prize in 1983, and was shocked when everyone she met at the ceremony described her as a "poetess". "It was still very much in the culture that poetry was very male and women poets were in a minority," she said.

She has also written plays, and was inspired by the birth of her daughter, Ella, by the writer Peter Benson, to write children's stories. Yesterday she said that Ella, now 13, had had a role in encouraging her to accept the post of Poet Laureate. Her first public engagement in her new role will be at an event in the British Library celebrating children's poetry.

Her work is popular because – as she herself put it – she uses "simple words but in a complicated way". Judith Palmer, director of the Poetry Society, said yesterday: "She writes in so many different registers, from the sardonic to the sexy, that almost everyone can find a Duffy poem that speaks personally to them."

Her poetry forms part of the national syllabus, although Education for Leisure was controversially removed last September because of its reference to violent crime.

There is no formal job description to go with Duffy's new title. Centuries ago, poets laureate were required to write sycophantic odes for the monarch, but when Wordsworth was awarded the title, at the of 73, he extracted a promise that nothing of that sort would be expected of him.

Andrew Motion found that the public exposure he received nearly suffocated his creativity, but he dutifully produced verses for royal occasions, including a rap to mark Prince William's 21st birthday.

Speaking on Woman's Hour, on BBC Radio 4, Duffy said: "If I feel, in the event of a royal wedding, inspired to write about people coming together in marriage or civil partnership, I would just be very grateful to have an idea for a poem – and if I didn't, I would just ignore it."

But some might say that she has already written lines appropriate to royal nuptials. In her poem 'Mrs Beast', she wrote: "They're bastards when they're Princes. What you want to do is find yourself a beast. The sex is better."

Seriously sexy...

Frau Freud

Ladies, for arguments sake, let us say

That I've seen my fair share of ding-a-ling, member and jock,

Of todger and nudger and percy and cock, of tackle,

Of three-for-a-bob, of willy and winky; in fact,

you could say, I'm as au fait with Hunt-the-Salami

as Ms M. Lewinsky – equally sick up to here

with the beef bayonet, the pork sword, the saveloy,

love-muscle, night-crawler, dong, the dick, prick,

dipstick and wick, the rammer, the slammer, the Rupert,

the shlong. Don't get me wrong, I've no axe to grind

with the snake in the trousers, the wife's best friend,

the weapon, the python – I suppose what I mean is,

ladies, dear ladies, the average penis is – not pretty...

the squint of its envious solitary eye...one's feeling of

pity...



Stuffed

I put two yellow peepers in an owl.

Wow. I fix the grin of crocodile.

Spiv. I sew the slither of an eel.

I jerk, kick-start, the back hooves of a mule.

Wild. I hold the red rag to a bull.

Mad. I spread the feathers of a gull.



I screw a tight snarl to a weasel.

Fierce. I stitch the flippers on a seal.

Splayed. I pierce the heartbeat of a quail.



I like her to be naked and to kneel.

Tame. My motionless, my living doll.

Mute. And afterwards I like her not to tell.

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz