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Love poems by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador, 2010)

Our Poetry Library Book Club in February 2011 was a Valentine's special in which we looked at Carol Ann Duffy's "Love poems", a collection of her love poems drawn from eight collections.  This Book Club saw our biggest turn out so far, with 22 attendees; testament to the power of love perhaps, or the pulling power of our Poet Laureate.

The book is arranged chronologically, indicating which collection the poems are taken from.  This allows you to get a sense of the mood of the love poems from a particular book.  For example, the poems from Duffy's second collection "Selling Manhattan" seem to be about longing; poems from "Mean Time" could be said to be about behaving badly and betrayal; poems from her T. S. Eliot winning "Rapture" are indeed rapturous, relishing in the excitement of a new love; while poems from the forthcoming collection "The Bees" are quite bleak in their outlook.

During the evening we looked closely at the following five poems:

'Correspondents' from "Selling Manhattan"
Questions we asked of this poem included:
Can there be adultery without any physical contact?  Can you be unfaithful in your head or is this what all of us indulge in to some degree with films and novels?
How much is all romance carried on in the head?

'To the unknown lover' from "New selected poems"
We asked:
Is the opening line of this poem what you'd expect from a love poem?
Do you think the poet really means this and wants future lovers to keep away?

'Valentine' from "Mean time"
How would you feel on Valentine's Day if someone gave you an onion?
Do you find the poet's explanation of the onion surprising?  Is it positive or negative or both?

'Anne Hathaway' from "The world's wife"
This poem is a sonnet, a traditional form, much used by Shakespeare.  It also uses images that we can often find in love poems - shooting stars, forests, pearls.  What is it about this kind of language and writing that seems to fit the idea of love?

'New vows' from "The bees"
Is the poem convincing as a public declaration of a divorce/break-up which is usually a very private thing in comparison to a wedding?
However, who do you imagine is present at the end of the poem?  Is it a room full of people or just 2 people?

We also asked if anyone in the group had a favourite Carol Ann Duffy love poem that they'd like us to look at and the poem suggested was 'Who loves you' from "The other country".

General discussion points:

Can you think of any other contemporary poets who could have a whole collection of love poems?

Do you get the impression that Duffy has had an eventful love life?  Are you envious?

The inadequacy of language to express love seems to be a recurring theme across the poems: "For I am in love with you and this / is what it is like or what it is like in words." - 'Words, wide night'.  Do you think Duffy expresses the different facets of love well?  Could you relate to the experiences/feelings expressed in the poems?

Does reading this collection make you want to go and read more love poems or does it make you want to go and read poems that have nothing to do with love?

A review of the Book Club by one of the attendees can be found here:

Further reading:

Carol Ann Duffy's own favourite love poems include:

Twenty love poems and a song of despair / NERUDA, PABLO. -- London : Jonathan Cape, 1969. (Book) Adult collection - copies available in the Poetry Library.

Song of Songs from "The Bible"

"Donal Og" anonymous 8th century Irish poem translated by Lady Gregory, published in many anthologies, including "By heart : 101 poems to remember" / Hughes, Ted (introduction). -- London : Faber and Faber, 1997. (Book) Adult anthology

"Black Marigolds" 11th century Sanskrit poem translated by E. Powys Mather?s in 1919, available in the Poetry Library in "Black marigolds and coloured stars" -- London : Anvil Press Poetry, 2004. (Book) Adult anthology

During the Book Club, if available, we play a recording of the poet reading the poems we'll be looking closely at to enhance our reading of the poems - sometimes hearing a poet read their work can give you a sense of how they want you to approach a poem, the tone they are aiming at.  CDs of Duffy reading her work available in the Poetry Library include:

Selected poems, 1985-1993 [compact disc] / DUFFY, CAROL ANN ; Duffy, Carol Ann (reader). -- London : Hachette Audio, 2006. (Compact disc) Adult collection.

Carol Ann Duffy [compact disc] : reading from her poems / DUFFY, CAROL ANN ; Duffy, Carol Ann (reader). -- Stroud, Gloucestershire : Poetry Archive, 2009 - all of the poems read are taken from Duffy's collection "Rapture".

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