Carol Ann Duffy must be one of the best known, and most popular, of contemporary British poets, but I’ve not read a huge amount of her work: just The World’s Wife and a few poems here and there – the first, I think, was her classic ‘Warming her pearls’, which I remember writing an essay on at school, and then of course ‘Prayer’, which always comes high on lists of favourite contemporary poems (I love it). Perhaps when a poet is so well known you tend to assume you know her work without actually having read it.
I was given this, her seventh collection, for Christmas this year (thank you, Katharine). It’s a book-length love poem, with this as its epigram:
Now no discourse, except it be of Love;
Now I can break my fast, dine, sup, and sleep
Upon the very naked name of Love.
Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona (II, iv, 137-9)
I’m fascinated by how she might have written it – poem by poem, as the affair unfolded, or all together at once, as it ended, or after it had finished? That’s of course assuming that it is in fact the record of an actual love affair from beginning to end. But why do I assume that? It’s implied by the blurb on the back – ‘a moving act of personal testimony’, ‘a map of real love’ it says – but then poems can be real and truthful without necessarily being factual. And yet I find that I do assume that Rapture is an account of one specific love affair.
If that is the case, I wonder too how it must feel like to be on the other side of the book: to be the subject written about. What must it be like to read someone else’s rendering of the love you shared? Would permission have been asked? Would the person who was the subject even know it was about them? This review makes the point that ‘Rapture is intimate as a diary – except that it is free of particularity, of identifying characteristics about the lover, who could be anyone but is not quite everyone.’
Intriguing questions. I really enjoyed reading Rapture this week; it’s somehow beguiling to consciously read a collection of poetry from beginning to end, to see each poem as part of a coherent whole in a more concrete way than is usually the case.
I have to confess that I do sometimes find Duffy’s work a little too easy, for want of a better word. Sometimes it seems all surface and no depth; lacking in that kind of magic that makes poetry poetry (and which I find almost impossible to pin down). At times the poems in Rapture in particular seem a little teenage, or adolescent – but then perhaps that’s the nature of love. And the repetition of certain words and images – turquoise, trees, water, stars – had a numbing effect on me after a while. I feel a little nervous writing my criticisms, though, given that Rapture won the T.S. Eliot prize the year it was published…
But there are some real beauties in this collection, and I have a long list of favourites – ‘You’, ‘Name’, ‘Hour’, ‘Rapture’, ‘Fall’, ‘Finding the words’, ‘Presents’ (which would make a beautiful lyric for a song), ‘Night Marriage’, ‘Art’ and ‘Unloving’. If I had to choose my favourite out of these my favourite would probably be ‘Hour’:–
Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,
bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.
We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers
or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.
For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair
like treasure on the ground; the Midas light
turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here
we are millonaires, backhanding the night
so nothing dark will end our shining hour,
no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit
hung from the blade of grass at your ear,
no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit
than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,
but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.
A good collection to start off a year of consciously reading one book of poetry a week. And I’ll definitely be looking up more Carol Ann Duffy in the future.