Wednesday 15 April 2009

The World's Wife

This splendid collection of short poems by Carol Ann Duffy was first published in 1999, so it has only taken me ten years to discover it. Apart from a reference to a Ms M Lewinsky the poems are pretty much timeless. Each poem is written in the voice of a woman, mostly the wife of some famous historical figure – some real, some literary. Women's revenge might be a subtitle for the collection as most poke fun, sometimes light, sometimes bitter, at men and their (mis)rule over women. A lovely example from one of the shortest poems – Mrs Icarus.

I'm not the first or the last

to stand on a hillock,

watching the man she married

prove to the world

he's a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.

Many of the poems express a confident female sexuality, almost machismo at times. These are no downtrodden victims. The beginning of Salome's own tale is a good example of this:

I'd done it before

(and doubtless I'll do it again,

sooner or later)

woke up with a head on the pillow beside me – whose? -

what did it matter?

Good-looking, of course, dark hair, rather matted;

Now and again a tenderness will surface, a recognition that not everything in a relationship was bad. The ending of Mrs Midas – him of the golden touch - expresses this loss of something good and wonderful.

I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,

and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,

even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.

This is a enormously enjoyable little book, full of wit, vigour and charm.

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