The Poet Laureate, the ode to an Achilles and a pair of Beckham's boots
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.
Friday 07 October 2011
When the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy struck a deal with David Beckham – she would send him a handwritten poem about his ankle injury if he sent her a pair of his football boots in return – she expected a package to turn up six months ago.
Last week, in an interview on Radio 4, she revealed her frustration with the footballer who had evidently forgotten to post them, pleading: "Can I have the boots by Christmas, please?"
But now, in an interview published in today's Independent, Duffy appears to have calmed down: "Beckham saw the poem ["Achilles", about the injury that kept the former captain out of the 2010 World Cup] and got in touch [to] ask if he could have a hand-written copy of it. And I said, 'Yes, but only if I can have a pair of your boots.' The boots apparently, are on their way. He's had the poem."
Duffy also speaks of her childhood passion for the beautiful game. As the only girl in a football-mad family of four brothers, "I had to grow up either hating or loving it," she says.
She was soon hooked, and as a philosophy student at Liverpool University, she "used to go to Anfield for every home game".
Speaking about her role as Poet Laureate, Duffy says she has forged a collegiate relationship with fellow poets, so that poetry could "authentically be present" in the national conversation.
"Doing that means being inclusive and inviting other poets to do it... I'm not the only poet," she says.
She also speaks about her initial ambivalence towards writing the traditional paean for this year's royal wedding. "Obviously, the royal wedding was coming up and I didn't want to do the knee-jerk royal-wedding poem, which has been discredited for years anyway. Even a great poet like Ted Hughes struggled with that. "
In the end, she wrote the poem, "Rings", and also commissioned 20 poets to contribute their own work. "I wanted to take the idea of the ring but perhaps to find it in the world; in the way that when you are in love, you will find the lichen ring on the wall, and you will see the symbols everywhere. The poem for me is a personal poem, but one that I was able to utter publicly. Those are the poems I'm most comfortable with: when they're true to me, but where they can be shared to say something that everyone will... recognise," she says.
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