Britain's first female poet laureate

Once called a "poetess" by her male colleagues, Carol Ann Duffy becomes the first woman to hold the prestigious post.

By Abigail Kramer
Published May 1, 2009 8:05PM (EDT)

Carol Ann Duffy has been appointed Britain's first female poet laureate after a 341-year run of men. That's an awful long monopoly, but England, not to mention poetry, has rarely been accused of being quick to change. (Elizabeth Barrett Browning was considered for the post in 1850, but she lost out to Alfred Tennyson.)

Duffy first got attention in 1999 with the collection "The World's Wife," which views literature and history through the eyes of women behind myth-making men (poems include "Mrs. Faust" and "Pilate's Wife"). According to a story in the Guardian, she was widely regarded as runner-up in 1999, when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair chose outgoing laureate Andrew Motion. Rumor had it Blair believed England wasn't ready for Duffy: She's not just a woman, but she's also a lesbian. 

Duffy told BBC Radio 4 she had some hesitation about the position. 

"I did think long and hard about accepting it …  I think my decision was purely because there has not been a woman. I see this as a recognition of the great women poets we now have ...  and I decided to accept it for that reason."

In an interview with Jeanette Winterson, Duffy once explained what it was like to break into the British poetry scene back in the 1970s.

"When I started on the circuit, I was called a poetess … Older male poets, the Larkin generation, were both incredibly patronizing and incredibly randy. If they weren't patting you on the head, they were patting you on the bum."



Abigail Kramer

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