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Poetry To Teach: Carol Ann Duffy

Yesterday I purchased a new poetry book, and I couldn’t be more excited. Buying books is a real treat for me, and when I stumble across a poetry book by my favourite contemporary poet – it’s like Christmas has come early.

‘Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy is her first book of poems since being appointed as Britain’s poet laureate in 2009. The blurb on the back of book explains the title: ‘Duffy’s point is clear: the bee symbolizes what we have left of grace in the world, and what is most precious to protect.’ The theme of bees is intricately woven throughout the collection. I can’t tell you much more than that as I only purchased it yesterday. But I have already cleared my diary for the evening, have encouraged my husband to ‘go out and spend time with the guys’, and have purchased a bottle of wine.

I was first introduced to the work of this phenomenal poet when I was in high school. We had the wonderful privilege of studying ‘The World’s Wife’ as our set-work for poetry. To say that it made me fall in love with poetry is probably an understatement. It made me become obsessed. The premise of the collection is novel and fascinating; in this collection Duffy gives voice to the wives of the great, the not-so-great and the legendary; from Queen Herod to Elvis’ twin sister, from Pontius Pilot’s wife to Demeter. Duffy weaves words in a seamless fashion, adding touches of humor and poignancy to these amazing stories.

One of the most wonderful things about Duffy’s work, is that it is accessible and inspiring to teenagers. I once finished a class with my grade 11’s, and had five minutes to spare before the bell rang. I grabbed my copy of ‘The World’s Wife’ from my desk drawer and read the poem Mrs Midas. Purely for enjoyment. No studying. No assessment. No deconstruction. Just for pleasure. My students loved it. In fact, they loved it so much they were begging me to read more, even after the bell rang.

An English teacher’s dream.

This became a tradition and a treat. Every Friday, we would reserve the last ten minutes of the lesson for Carol Ann Duffy. My students rushed to finish their work for this. They relished it and lapped up her words. Poetry had become something exciting and I loved it.

If you want to know more about Duffy, or explore more of her work, then check out this webpage. However, I strongly recommend that you do yourself (and your students) a favor and purchase a few of her collections for your classroom – I am certain that you won’t regret it.


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