UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy reads a Human Bee in Hunmanby

Portrait image of Carol Ann DuffyI was very fortunate to be one of 120 people in the intimate audience at Hunmanby Community Centre last night for a poetry evening. Carol Ann Duffy, one of the most significant names in contemporary British poetry, read a selection of her older and more recent work, accompanied in a couple by the very entertaining woodwind musician, John Sampson, who also performed in her breaks on an abundant array of older and more recent woodwind instruments.

As I’d had the tickets for some time, in preparation, I had been rereading my Carol Ann Duffy collection, and was pleased to hear her perform some that were already familiar to me. I was enlightened by her introductions, explaining where she drew her inspiration and what references and nuances there were in the words.¬† I particularly like her use of list-like poems and admire her word craft, how she places rhymes in less formal spaces… and her comic timing. I hadn’t realised that “The Counties” (in “The Bees”) was a protest inspired by the Post Office’s campaign to lose the county from postal addresses, because of its distraction from the post code.

But I want to write to the National Poet of Wales at Ceredigion
in celebration
and I want to write to the Dorset Giant
in admiration
and I want to write to a widow in Rutland
in commiseration
and to the Inland Revenue in Yorkshire
in desperation

I’m sure I’ve drunk in a lot of the traditional pubs listed so fluidly in “John Barleycorn”. Carol Ann read quite a few others from her last published anthology (“The Bees” 2011), which has a thread running through of the environmental concerns of the loss of bees. “The Human Bee” (in the title of this post) refers to people in China who have the job of pollinating fruit trees by hand because they have no bees to do it any more.

I became a human bee at twelve,
when they gave me my small wand,
my flask of pollen,
and I walked with the other bees
out to the orchards.

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