“You wait 400 years for a woman poet laureate and then three come along together” – it’s an old one but Carol Ann Duffy’s quip was particularly apt on Sunday night. As the finale of the Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s Poetry at Grasmere the three poets laureate of England, Wales and Scotland gave a combined poetry reading in St Oswald’s Church.
“It’s been a great week-end. Soul food” said Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead. What a wonderful phrase. That’s what poetry is – soul food. People turn to poetry at significant moments in their lives. I’ve recently finished a poem I was asked to write for a wedding this coming Saturday. Poems at weddings and christenings, anniversaries and funerals – when we need a little soul food. Writing to order.
With the anniversary of the King James Bible and the Queen’s forthcoming Jubilee celebrations the laureates have been busy.
Carol Ann Duffy read “The beauty of the church” a poem based on The Song of Solomon (what a gift of language) – one of a series of poems by different poets inspired by books of the Bible and read in Wesminster Abbey.
Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, alerted us to the Jubilee Lines poems on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Years of the Queen’s reign have been allocated to different poets. “You write on the year you’re given and no negotiation” (Carol Ann Duffy). Gillian Clarke read “Running away to sea” set in her year 1955 – her last year as a school girl at a convent boarding school. The poem was a good example of the way a poem can fall between the public and personal, a public poem from a personal response, as Carol Ann Duffy said at the beginning of her reading.
Liz Lochhead’s year was 1966 – “Photograph Art Student ... 1966”. The said art student might be real or might be imaginary – it was up to us to decide. So the poets, each in their different ways, drew us – “the beautiful audience” as we were named – into their poetry.
An evening of soul food. We went home well nourished.