Sunday, 27 June 2010

Carol Ann Duffy, Yeah!

I am still reading bloody Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets which is great, but so very, very long. So today, I shall post the first poem which really blew me away; Small Female Skull by Carol Ann Duffy.

With some surprise, I balance my small female skull in my hands.
What is it like?  An ocarina?  Blow in its eye.
It cannot cry, holds its breath only as long as I exhale,
mildly alarmed now, into the hole where the nose was,
press my ear to its grin.  A vanishing sigh.

For some time, I sit on the lavatory seat with my head
in my hands, appalled.  It feels much lighter than I'd thought;
the weight of a deck of cards, a slim volume of verse,
but with something else, as though it could levitate.  Disturbing.
So why do I kiss it on the brow, my warm lips to its papery bone,

and take it to the mirror to ask for a gottle of geer?
I rinse it under the tap, watch dust run away, like sand
from a swimming cap, then dry it - firstborn - gently
with a towel.  I see the scar where I fell for sheer love
down treacherous stairs, and read that shattering day like braille.

Love, I murmur to my skull, then, louder, other grand words,
shouting the hollow nouns in a white-tiled room.
Downstairs they will think I have lost my mind.  No.  I only weep
into these two holes here, or I'm grinning back at the joke, this is
a friend of mine.  See, I hold her face in trembling, passionate hands

I was seventeen and didn't really 'get' poetry but this was intriguing and scary and mournful. I could hear sounds and see images and feel what the protagonist is touching.

I wondered if the shower cap image was meant to represent a caul and I loved the fact that the rhymes bounced about the poem instead of being parked at the end of each line "Blow in it's eye... it cannot cry... a vanishing sigh." I picked the entire thing apart and examined it's glistening components with wonder.

I was overjoyed when Carol Ann Duffy was announced as Poet Laureate and I am delighted that she has been so productive and relevant in the role.

Although this was my first Duffy poem, my favourite is Little Red-Cap from her wonderful collection The World's Wife.

... But then I was young - and it took ten years
 in the woods to tell that a mushroom 
stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds
are the uttered thoughts of trees, that a greying wolf
howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out,
season after season, same rhyme, same reason. I took an axe...


  1. Thank you for sharing this! It's a good reminder that I've really got to read more Carol Ann Duffy.

  2. I recommend starting with the World's Wife but Feminine Gospels is also great. As is Mean Time. And Rapture. And everything that she's written!