by Keith Taylor
They do things differently in Britain. British poets have always seemed more comfortable with received forms and with various kinds of reference than American poets. Here, our writers always work hard to establish the absolute originality of their particular visions; that seems less an issue in Britain.
And then there is the odd case of the national Poet Laureate. Here, it's a new post that revolves every year. If it does anything, it allows the poet a soapbox from which he or she can make pronouncements, usually on the state of literary education. In Britain, the post has been around for three and a half centuries. There is no payment, and the poet is expected--if not required--to weigh in on matters concerning the royal family or the state of the Nation. The poet is appointed by the monarch, and holds the job until death or boredom changes the situation. John Dryden was the first one. Wordsworth and Tennyson had the job. And last year the Queen finally picked the first woman.
Although in this country it's hard to believe that the media would pay attention to an appointment like this, Carol Ann Duffy raised eyebrows. She's not only the first woman, but also the first Poet Laureate born in Scotland and the first to be openly gay. The joke was that the Brits could certainly accept the idea of a lesbian in the job; the idea of a Scot there, though, was a bit more of a problem. There was little doubt that Duffy's work merited the attention. Her books have been winning the most prestigious awards in Britain since she began publishing. Her poems have a studied accessibility that may reflect the politics of her blue-collar upbringing, but they readily engage the largest themes and traditions. The World's Wife, for instance, assumes a series of personae of women--some known, some forgotten--associated with the great figures or great moments of history. Mrs. Midas, Mrs. Darwin, The Devil's Wife,
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