I love Carol Ann Duffy.

Let me explain. She is our current Poet Laureate, and she writes the kind of poems that don’t always rhyme. I mean they don’t rhyme rigorously, as I always expected poems to when I was younger. When I composed, my slavish devotion to metre often forced me to include/exclude words that didn’t belong in that poem (much like lyrics with “Oooh baby” filling the gaps). But it never occurred to me then that poetry can be different, and that conveying the thought might be more important. Not obeying the mathematics of poetry suddenly sets the poet free.

I admit to having, until recently, sneered at ‘prose poetry’ but now am embarrassed by my intransigence.

So as part of my repentance I’ll give you dear reader some of Carol Ann Duffy’s beautiful poems. I would advise any budding poet to make note of how easy the language is, and yet how mellifluous and evocative. Without the superfluous.

And then what

Then with their hands they would break bread
wave choke phone thump thread

Then with their tired hands slump
at a table holding their head

Then with glad hands hold other hands
or stroke brief flesh in a kind bed

Then with their hands on the shovel
they would bury their dead

Away and see

Away and see an ocean suck at a boiled sun
and say to someone things I’d blush even to dream.
Slip off your dress in a high room over the harbour.
Write to me soon.

New fruits sing on the flipside of night in a market
of language, light, a tune from the chapel nearby
stopping you dead, the peach in your palm respiring.
Taste it for me.

Away and see the things that words give a name to, the
flight
of syllables, wingspan stretching a noun. Test words
wherever they live; listen and touch, smell, believe.
Spell them with love.

Skedaddle. Somebody chaps at the door at a year’s end,
hopeful.
Away and see who it is. Let in the new, the vivid,
Horror and pity, passion, the stranger holding the
future.
Ask him his name.

Nothing’s the same as anything else. Away and see
for yourself. Walk. Fly. Take a boat till land reappears,
altered forever, ringing its bells, alive. Go on. G’on.
Gon.
Away and see.

Valentine

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

p.s. This book must be returned to the library soon. You can buy it here.

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