Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Poet Laureate at the Edinburgh Fringe

A storm erupted shortly after I sat my English GCSE back in 2008: the examining board AQA had decided to remove a poem by Carol Ann Duffy because one exam invigilator thought it would incite knife crime amongst youths. 

On learning this, the first thing I did was pick up my AQA text book and turn to the poetry section we hadn’t had to study, and I read the offending poem. My immediate thought was ‘I wish we could have studied this group of poems instead of the other group’, soon followed by, ‘that’s such a surface reading, even I can see that’s not the point’. 

‘Surely,’ I thought, with all the smugness of a 16 year old who had just attained a decent grade in my GCSE, ’surely if the invigilator had sat the exam, they would have failed.’

Carol Ann Duffy
The offending poem, as it appeared in the AQA text book
On Wednesday, sitting in a small theatre in Edinburgh, I was transported back to that moment when I read Carol Ann Duffy’s work for the first time. But on that afternoon I had the privilege of hearing the Poet Laureate read her work aloud, including her scathing response to that absurd move by AQA.

After discovering her writing that day I continued to read Duffy’s poetry, and it was especially wonderful to hear her read two of my favourites from her World’s Wife collection, Mrs Aesop and Mrs Faust.

She was a captivating speaker, accompanied by John Sampson with musical interludes that neatly segmented the performance and underscored various poems (Danny Boy softly played underneath Carol Ann’s reading of Premonitions very nearly reduced me to tears). 

This poem is from her collection, The Bees. Sometimes the synchronicity in my life astounds me.

If you missed Carol Ann Duffy’s show in the Fringe, you can still see her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where she is appearing with Jackie Kay on the 17th and Gillian Clarke on the 18th. (The book festival is amazing and I highly recommend it! I had the good fortune to see Marina Warner speak last year!)

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