May 2019 will see the nation’s favourite poet step down from her position as Poet Laureate, having provided powerful poetry in response to Britain’s defining events for the past ten years. Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Poet Laureate in 2009, also gaining the grand title of the first female poet laureate in its nearing 350 year history. This was a title that Duffy actively pursued with excellence during her time holding the post. On the day her laureateship was announced, Duffy coordinated a mini-anthology that ‘highlighted the wonderful work being done by women poets’, as well as having organised many social events for the rights of both men and women, throughout her career.
Duffy, throughout her role as Laureate, stood true to the honest nature of poetry, stating, ‘I wanted to continue to write as I always had, and I have tried very hard not to write a poem I previously wouldn’t have written.’ However, the need to have a finger on the national pulse inevitably meant writing about national controversies such as Brexit and Donald Trump. She admits, ‘I’ve never thought “I’m going to write a political poem”. It’s the relentless pressure that squeezes them out of you’.
Not afraid to speak her mind, Duffy’s final collection as Poet Laureate expresses the national anger and unease following Brexit and Trump’s election in 2016. Although the feelings rooted in this collection may not apply to everyone, Duffy’s poetry captures the haze of such events, which seems a universal complaint. Duffy claims, ‘With the evil twins of Trump and Brexit … There was simply no way of not writing about that, it is just in the air’. The collection, ‘Sincerity’, is cleverly titled, with the word meaning ‘to speak and act out of one’s beliefs, thoughts, feelings’. Duffy was drawn to its etymology, with ‘sincerity’ deriving from the way in which sculptors in ancient Greece and Rome concealed mistakes by smothering them with wax. The significance of the title ‘sincerity’ then, lies with its ancient meaning— without wax. A sneaky dig at the inconspicuous nature of modern politics?
Duffy has certainly ensured her time as poet laureate ends with a bang, as May will see her step down, anticipated in the mischievous poem ‘The Monkey’, grounded on the idea of anarchy, ‘of stopping one life and starting another’. It is fair to say that the first female and Scottish Poet Laureate, has contributed tremendously in her role for the past ten years, articulating both the national unrest and mourning such as Grenfell in 2017, and the glee of the royal wedding.
So, the succession race begins. Representatives from the British Council, Royal Society of Literature, Scottish Poetry Library, Literature Wales and Arts Council Northern Ireland, are just a few who make up the panel that will decide on who uptakes the role of Poet Laureate commencing in May 2019. The press are already speculating on possible successors, with the suggestion of Lemn Sissay, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay, Simon Armitage, Vahni Capildeo and Daljit Nagra, as potential candidates. Although it is not up to a public vote, I encourage you to make your own predictions about who will be instated as Poet Laureate in 2019, and provide the nation with stirring poetry, hopefully to the same standard as we have seen in the past ten years, from Carrol Ann Duffy.