Carol Ann Duffy’s seventh collection is a book-length love poem, and a moving act of personal testimony; but what sets these poems apart is Duffy’s refusal to simplify the contradictions and transformations of love – infatuation, longing, passion, commitment, rancour, separation and grief. Instead, Rapture is a map of real love, in all its churning complexity, showing us that a song can be made of even the most painful episodes in our lives. These are poems that will find deep rhymes in the experience of most readers and will, ultimately, prove that poetry can and should speak for us all.
I like poetry and try to read a poem here and there as often as possible but it’s relatively rare that I read a whole collection in one go. British poet Carol Ann Duffy’s collection Rapture was an exception that’s why I decided to write about it.
I often hear people say they would love to read poetry but feel they need special guidance, an instruction, an interpretation to be able to make the most of a poem. While I certainly like some of the poets which are not so accessible, I thought it was a pleasure to find someone like Carol Ann Duffy who is so readable and whose poems almost read like short stories. Reading her would be a perfect starting point for someone less familiar with reading poetry.
Rapture is meant to be read from beginning to end as it does, to some extent, tell a love story, beginning with the early enchanted moments of falling in love and ending with the break-up and loss of the loved person.
What appealed to me in Duffy’s poems is the combination of strong imagery and ideas. The words she chooses create pictures in the mind, are very sensual but at the same time they lead to intellectual discoveries. Another element which seems typical for her and makes her so accessible, is the combination of the mundane with lyrical descriptions of nature. Love in these poems is rooted in daily life but also experienced as pure beauty and enchantment. Duffy writes a lot of almost magical poems describing exalted states but she doesn’t shy away from writing about the sudden importance of text messages.
I haven’t read any others of her collections so far but it seems every book has a theme which runs through it. The themes are different from one book to the next, but images return and weave a world of their own.
The collection I bought, is the Picador collection which you can see above. The cover is very pretty, it’s not as red as on the photo. The picture of the branch of a fig tree, with leaves and fruits, is embossed on it.
I find it very hard to review a poetry collection and think it might be better to let the poems speak for themselves. Here are three of my favourite poems of this collection:
When did your name
change from a proper noun
to a charm?
Its three vowels
on the thread of my breath.
brushing my mouth
like a kiss.
I love your name.
I say it again and again
in this summer rain.
I see it,
discreet in the alphabet,
like a wish.
I pray it
into the night
till its letters are light.
I hear your name
rhyming with everything.
Down by the river, under the trees, love waits for me
to walk from the journeying years of my time and arrive.
I part the leaves and they toss me a blessing of rain.
The river stirs and turns consoling and fondling itself
with watery hands, its clear limbs parting and closing.
Grey as a secret, the heron bows its head on the bank.
I drop my past on the grass and open my arms, which ache
as though they held up this heavy sky, or had pressed
against window glass all night as my eyes sieved the stars;
open my mouth, wordless at last meeting love at last, dry
from travelling so long, shy of a prayer. You step from the shade,
and I feel love come to my arms and cover my mouth, feel
my soul swoop and ease itself into my skin, like a bird
threading a river. Then I can look love full in the face, see
who you are I have come this far to find, the love of my life.
I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.
Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.
I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.
Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,
as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.
While browsing the internet to do a bit of research on this collection I found an interesting article by Jeanette Winterson from 2005 in which she deplores that Carol Ann Duffy is not poet laureate. I’m sure Jeanette Winterson is pleased that this has changed. Carol Ann Duffy holds the title since 2009.
Do you have a favourite poem or poet?