May 1, 2009 / 8:25 AM / 11 years ago

Duffy named Britain's first female poet laureate

LONDON (Reuters) - Carol Ann Duffy was named Britain’s Poet Laureate Friday, the first woman to hold the royal post in its 341-year history.

Britain's new poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy poses for photographers following a news conference at the John Rylands library in Manchester, northern England, May 1, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The 53-year-old, born in Glasgow, Scotland, said she had thought “long and hard” about accepting the position, seen by some as a poisoned chalice due to the public scrutiny that comes with it.

“I look on it as a recognition of the great women poets we have writing now,” Duffy told BBC Radio. “I’ve decided to accept it for that reason.”

Poets Laureate are expected to compose poems to mark major state occasions and other national events.

The post has been held by John Dryden, William Wordsworth and Ted Hughes. It used to be for life but Duffy, like her predecessor Andrew Motion, will hold it for 10 years.

Duffy had been in the running for the role in 1999, but lost out to Motion because of what British media reports said were concerns about how people would react to a lesbian laureate.

Duffy is probably best known for her 1999 collection “The World’s Wife” in which she tells the stories of the women behind some of the leading men through history.

Other highlights among her collections, many of which have won major awards, are “Standing Female Nude” (1985), “Mean Time” (1993), “Feminine Gospels” (2002) and “Rapture” (2005).

Duffy also writes picture books for children and plays.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Duffy “a truly brilliant modern poet who has stretched our imaginations by putting the whole range of human experiences into lines that capture the emotions perfectly.”


Judith Palmer, director of the Poetry Society which marks its centenary this year, also welcomed Duffy’s appointment.

“It shows how far this country has come that a woman, and a woman like Carol Ann, can hold an appointment such as Poet Laureate,” Palmer told Reuters.

“That is incredibly heartening for all of us. It focuses attention on the wide range of excellent women poets working in Britain at the moment.”

The holder of the title receives 5,750 pounds ($8,600) a year. Duffy said she would give the fee to the Poetry Society.

According to the Society, the laureate’s original salary was 200 pounds per year plus a butt of canary wine. John Betjeman had the tradition revived in 1972 and today’s laureate receives a barrel of sherry.

The new appointment is likely to reignite debate in literary circles over whether Britain really needs a Poet Laureate.

Motion was generally viewed as a success for actively promoting verse but his poems did not attract widespread acclaim and he complained last year of suffering from writer’s block.

“The pressures and peculiarities of the laureateship, some of which I put myself through, did have a rocky effect on my life,” he said in an interview with the Independent newspaper.

“It was a strange mix of making me self-conscious that so few writers are made to feel because of being so public. There is an isolation in being the Poet Laureate.”

Editing by Robert Woodward

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