Love Poems, By Carol Ann Duffy

A Valentine strictly for grown-ups
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The Independent Culture

With its daintily drawn cover artwork on a purple ground, this selection from the Poet Laureate's work comes all tricked out like some Valentine's Day gift. Beware. Carol Ann Duffy's idea of a Valentine means "Not a red rose or a satin heart." Instead, "I give you an onion". This "moon wrapped in brown paper" will "blind you with tears" – but let it gently simmer, and you come to savour the sweetness underneath.

From earlier collections such as Mean Time to a sneak preview of her next volume, The Bees, an exhilarating harvest of 34 poems reveals Duffy as a poet who covers the stormy waterfront of desire, devotion and despair. From distant yearning to wild new passion through absence, boredom and infidelity, to break-ups, grief and solitude, she commands every conjugation in "the syntax of love". Versatile, restless, moving as adroitly between verse-forms as she does between the stages of affection, and disaffection, Duffy shows us "what it is like in words".

As always, she manages the rare feat of building on traditions, forebears, allusions (Shakespeare, Verlaine or, in the new poems, Yeats) while stirring and shaking the emotions with muscular, unpretentious force. Pop and Hollywood clichés stand on their head as an antidote to future folly in "To the Unknown Lover": "Here's not looking, kid, at you". A collage of famous Tudor lines, from Wyatt and Sidney to Donne, forms something fresh and strange in "The Love Poem". And Duffy's alertness to the erotic moods of place and period adds an extra charge, in the covert Victorian mistress-maid yearnings of "Warming her Pearls" or the deft evocation of modern affairs in "Text": "I tend the mobile now/ Like an injured bird".

So do give this book to mature paramours, but not to teenagers, nostalgists or sentimentalists. Any Valentine who can swallow the reckless sexy desperation of "Adultery" (You're a bastard / Do it do it do it. Sweet darkness / In the afternoon") and then coo over a candlelit dinner has to be a very grown-up date indeed.

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