Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy is one of Britain’s best loved poets. She uses simple language, and often writes in the form of a dramatic monologue to explore a huge range of characters — everyone from a serial killer to a Jewish woman in a concentration camp. Despite these dark themes, her work is also filled with humour, playfulness and parody. In 2009 she was made the UK’s poet laureate, meaning she has been officially appointed to write poems for special occasions; these have included the banking crisis and David Beckham’s Achilles tendon injury, as well as more traditional events such as royal weddings. Duffy is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly gay person to hold the position.

Language

“I like to use simple words, but in a complicated way,” Duffy once said. The use of everyday language in poetry is a tradition stretching back to Wordsworth, and Duffy delights in using contemporary slang to express big ideas.

Women’s roles

Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife was a turning point in her career. It was filled with poems from the perspective of the wives of history’s great men, from Anne Hathaway to “Queen Herod”. Since then, she has continued to write a “chorus” of women’s voices.

Isolation

Many of Duffy’s characters are found on the edges of society, withdrawn from others or isolated by difference. Her autobiographical poems have also drawn on the loneliness she felt after moving as a child from Scotland to the Midlands. Why is this emotion so powerful?

Love

“Falling in love is glamorous hell,” writes Duffy in You, one of the first poems of her 2005 collection Rapture, which charts a tempestuous relationship from beginning to end. Love is a powerful and extreme emotion. Is it just as likely to cause pain as it is happiness?

Loss

“The clocks slid back an hour and stole light from my life.” In the 1993 collection Mean Time, Duffy reflects on death, loss and the passage of time. Nothing can last forever — so how should we react when we lose the things and people we love?