Poet(ess) Laureates

Poet(ess) Laureates

Poet(ess) Laureates

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 4 2009 3:59 PM

Poet(ess) Laureates

As of Friday, Britain has its first female poet laureate: Carol Ann Duffy. She is a writer who favors plain language arranged "complexly" rather than what she has called "Seamus Heaney words" like "plash." She is also openly bisexual and much has been made of that in the press. Coincidentally or not, America's poet laureate, Kay Ryan, is a gay woman who favors plain language arranged complexly too. Women are coming into their own, it would seem; just this weekend, I was talking with a poet friend who felt very powerfully that women were about to become a major part of the next generation of poetry here and abroad; she's a teacher, and she felt the power and range of her female students was extraordinary and, somehow, new.
Britain's poet laureates hold the job for a term of 10 years, unlike American poet laureates. They also have to write poems to honor royal occasions, unlike American poets. It'll be interesting to see what Duffy, with her slyness, does with those moments. Here's a poem of hers called "Words, Wide Night":


Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you

and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate’s culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at the New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother’s death, is now out in paperback.