Venue: Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall
Rating: * * * *
Carol Ann Duffy, like Paul Muldoon before her, has a soft spot for audiences. She recognises that a person seated in an only-moderately comfortable upright chair for an extended period of time cannot and will not bear with equanimity even the most enthralling poetry recitation.
She is also realistic about long poems. She knows, perhaps from bitter experience, that the longer a poem is, the less likely an audience are to give it their full concentration. Duffy chose ‘The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High’ as the evening’s ‘longer poem’, but instead of reading the whole thing in one exhausting, nightmarish sprint, she started and stopped, revisiting it occasionally over the course of her performance.
This sympathy for her reading or listening public characterises her whole attitude. She owns no vestige of artistic self-regard, and was happy to read a few of her more anthologised, popular poems, including ‘Prayer’, the only poem ever to acknowledge the artistry of the shipping forecast, and ‘Anne Hathaway’, one of a number of poems written as part of a questionable endeavour to examine famous historical or mythical figures from their wives’ perspectives. Questionable because the boring domesticity of the wife’s situation was probably omitted from these stories for a reason; a better shout-out for the women that history ignored would be to imagine the women in their husband’s roles. But it’s all a bit of fun!
Though slightly hoarse, Duffy was relaxed and professional, and it was encouraging to see that she is as playful and unaffected in person as she is on paper.