Edinburgh Book Festival
The first thing one would have noticed when going into the tent in which Carol Ann Duffy would be speaking would undoubtedly have been the table set up on-stage, covered in a bizarre array of props – as well as a few chanters, there was a variety of other instruments I had never seen before in my life, but, perhaps most strangely of all, there was a wig, balanced on top of a polyethylene head. Frankly, I was confused. I had been expecting to come along and hear Carol Ann Duffy speak to us, perhaps recite some poems – I was not expecting to be bombarded by the sight of these strange and mysterious instruments.
However, all was soon to be revealed – Duffy was performing that afternoon with musician John Sampson. For the first 10 minutes we were treated to various pieces from Sampson, which annoyed me to begin with – I was there to see Carol Ann Duffy, not John Sampson! – but things quickly picked up when he played his piece “Schizophrenia”, a piece in which he plays two recorders and hums at the same time! After this, it was time to hear from the main event, something I’d been looking forward to for a while. After giving some backstory to the story of King Midas, a story which Duffy was “enthralled and enchanted” by when she was young, she recited to the audience her first poem – Mrs Midas. Already a poem I was familiar with, and had enjoyed, it was interesting to hear it read how it ought to be read, and Duffy’s carefully placed pauses and varying degrees of emphasis made it all the more entertaining.
She then went on to read Mrs Tyresius, Mrs Darwin, and Mrs Faust (Faust being her “favourite of all the old characters and stories”), all of the above poems being from the collection The World’s Wife. As with Mrs Midas, Duffy read them brilliantly (as expected), but it was Mrs Darwin that received the most laughs and the greatest acclaim:
“7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to him –
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.”
She then read more poems from her other collections, some accompanied by Sampson on his cramhorns and cornets, some read only by herself. It was interesting to hear that her poem Miss Schofield’s GCSE came about because another pro-education poem she had written was banned after from the GCSE syllabus after 25 years, due to an invigilator thinking it encouraged knife crime. This retaliation poem was another popular one, especially when she ended with an exclamation of “Cow!”.
Having this opportunity to hear Duffy speak was highly beneficial, particularly as I’m studying her poems in English, so it was fascinating to hear how she felt her poems ought to be read as well as hearing what her inspiration was.