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Carol Ann Duffy at Shakespeare and Company

Carol Ann Duffy at Shakespeare and Company

Review and photographs by Kate Noakes.

It’s been a busy, busy Paris Lit Up week and there’s another one to come. I’d spent the afternoon running around Belleville in implausible high heels looking at art and nosing my way into the artist’s open studios, so you’d think I’d had enough for the last weekend in May and be sensibly at home having an early night, – no chance!! Not with the fabulous Carol Ann Duffy in town for just a few days and reading at Shakespeare’s. What a treat! Thanks Laura for organising it.

For those of you who don’t know (what planet are you from, really?), Carol Ann is the British Poet Laureate, the first woman ever to hold the position in 400 years and one of our finest and most generous contemporary poets.

It was standing room only in the bookshop with people listening outside and upstairs. I was lucky to get a seat for this reading of firm favourites from The World’s Wife, Rapture, and her newish book The Bees.

She kicked things off with three of the best wives of famous men: Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresius and my personal favourite, Mrs Faust, before moving on to half a dozen or so sonnets, sonnet fragments of poems that nod in the direction of the sonnet from Rapture, her much praised telling of a love story. Carol Ann explained that she considers the sonnet to be ‘the little black dress of poetry.’ And don’t we all need one of those.

P1030126From The Bees she gave us two of the three elergies for her mother: Water and Premonition, the latter being one of two poems in the collection that use the trope of telling a story backwards (the other being Last Post), but sadly not my favourite, Cold. Virgil’s Bees was one of the bee poems she read, introducing it as a prayer, which she thinks so many poems become; the other was The Human Bee. And her final gift was an unpublished and very heartfelt poem, Liverpool, for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

It was great to hear Carol Ann read again and as she signed books for a huge and seemingly never ending queue, I sat talking to her daughter Ella, thinking how very lucky we are to have her mum as our Laureate.

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