An Exploration Of Illusion And Reality In Carol Ann Duffy's Poetry

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Carol Ann Duffy is one of the most significant names in the world of contemporary British poetry, her work is viewed as “accessible” regularly featuring within many secondary schools and universities across Britain. Her writing can be described as conversational, using very simple language which can make her poems seem exceedingly straightforward at first glance, but this demotic style of composure helps create a contemporary version of previously traditional poetic forms. Duffy is both serious and humorous in her poetry, using word play to her advantage to help explore their hidden meanings and the reality behind them, making this intention obvious through the language she uses. This style of writing links many of Duffy’s works to postmodernism and poststructuralism where it is seem as a thematic influence rather than a stylistic one which helps to create an interesting contrast between the postmodern content and the conservative forms.

Duffy’s use of everyday language can be traced back to poet William Wordsworth alongside many other poets such as Dylan Thomas, Robert Browning and the Liverpool poets. These inspirations are displayed in a selection of collections such as Standing Female Nude and Selling Manhattan where there is heavy use of characterisation, timing and dialogue, especially dramatic monologue. This is down to Duffy’s talent of placing her mindset into each of her characters being “acutely sensitive and empathetic”, articulating the respective points of view within a character’s own speech which can often be portrayed as humour with serious insights alongside social commentary.

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However, due to Duffy’s ‘simple’ writing, she is often a subject of criticism amongst the British public as well as popularity. Her work can be observed as “a rare moment of…great poetry”, being compared to Philip Larkin, another one of Duffy’s creative inspirations. But this has also proved many problems, the central one being the difficulty of seeking common ground between the two authors. Furthermore, Duffy is also critisised for not establishing a more obvious meaning within her writing, with many dragging in the factor that Duffy is infact a lesbian – but it doesn’t mean evey person she writes about is one as well. This is suggested by the Sunday Times who claim that Duffy sexuality was the “deciding factor” of losing the Poet Laureate to Andrew Motion in 1999. Duffy’s characters are up for discussion, they are rarely ever biographical in a sense. This is commented on by her former publisher Peter Jay, “I have never felt that her sexuality is an issue in her work…She has largely managed to transcend the issue by virtue of writing good poems as opposed to gender studies.” But the reality is that her writing contains many techniques and themes, it’s not all about sexuality as many propose; the representation of reality, self construction, gender issues, contemporary culture, along with many forms of alienation, oppression and social inequality frequently appear in Carol Ann Duffy’s work. From this it is clear to see that she isn’t a ‘simple’ writer in the slightest but critics often go off their interpretation of the poem and how they view it, which can be miles away from Duffy’s reading of the work.

Instead of letting the criticism weigh her down, Duffy takes it and turns it into what she does best – a poem. In Poet for our Times she almost is making a mockery of her critics and how they see her writing as simple, ironically through the use of various hidden meanings and techniques. This take on the poem is backed up by the speaker’s own self-delusion that his controversial titles will be studied in school, just like Duffy’s own poems, appearing as an insult to poets. It makes fun of how his titles are very easy to read, hinting at Duffy’s own simple writing and how she is condemned for her blunt and honest language, but the reality of the newspaper titles that appear throughout the poem is that they are filled with sexist comments, offensive terms and titlation in an attempt to gain any sense of popularity. Duffy uses this to make fun at critics by saying that using these techniques seem to be the only way to gain success as her previous techniques clearly haven’t been working in the eyes of some people.  

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