For their first time on stage together at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy present their recently published collection of poems. The words of these two exceptional writers has shaped the poetic landscape of the past four decades. From the deeply personal to the fiercely political, their poetry has offered inspiration, understanding, solace and light.
“Sometimes a poem hangs around your whole life and then you write it.”
It’s a bit of a weird one to recap, because it was just lots of wonderful poetry performed with musical punctuation from John Sampson. First Carol Ann Duffy reads from The World’s Wife, where she imagines people from history – like Tiresias who was turned into a woman as punishment, or Faust who did a deal with the devil – but from their wife’s perspective. It’s dark and hilarious.
Gillian Clarke’s The Habit if Light comes from her mother; she gave up Welsh after a landlord issue, and she loved shiny things and department stores. She then reads a poem she wrote about April Jones, Daughter, though she had considered not writing it given that it wasn’t her story, but found it offered great comfort to many. Her poems have a more personal air, the latter often feeling like a religious sermon in its supportive tone.
“Sometimes a poem hangs around your whole life and then you write it,” explains Gillian, on one about a polar bear rug from her childhood.
They go through protest poems against the Post Office trying to get people to stop writing the county on the envelope, then one in protest at another of Carol Ann’s poems, Education for Leisure being banned by the education board. There’s ones on love, interspersing Welsh wedding vows in its midst, then Six Bells, on the last major mining disaster in Wales.
It’s an event packed with poetry and music and stories and laughter from two wonderful poets, and what could be better than that?