Britain’s highest profile poet, Duffy will be reading her work at the Norwich Playhouse to a musical accompaniment.
Her groundbreaking appointment in 2009 made Duffy the first openly homosexual, and the first female poet laureate to hold the position. She has since had her royally commissioned work widely published in the media, often bringing a cynically politicized edge to the role. She will however, be more familiar to the current student generation for her poetry appears in the secondary school syllabus across Britain.
Since her first published collection in 1985, Duffy has at times been a controversial figure. She was almost appointed Poet Laureate in 1999, but was vetoed by Tony Blair, perhaps because of her sexuality. She became the subject of debate again in 2008, when her sinister poem Education for Leisure was removed from the school syllabus for its exploration of psychopathic violence.
When finally awarded the laureateship, Duffy interrupted the literary culture of aristocratic male laureates stretching back to the position’s creation in the 16th century. With previous laureates including William Wordsworth and Lord Tennyson, her presence and popularity disrupts Britain’s vastly male literary canon. With her working class background, and simple style in which she engages with topical subjects, Duffy has been seen to renew the position’s social relevance. In her first poem as Laureate, Politics saw her lambast the expenses scandal with heartfelt vitriol embodied by the vividly physical imagery that is a hallmark of her style.
Her somber, pensive reflections, unassuming language and blank verse give many GCSE students their first opportunity to engage with contemporary poetry, and are chosen for their approachability. However, the decreasing popularity of poetry has made this a challenge, and leads us to question whether poets still have a social role. It will be indicative of modern poetry’s public perception, and Duffy’s success as poet laureate, to see how many choose to receive some Education for Leisure on the 24 May.