Feminine Gospels

by Carol Ann Duffy
ISBN: 0330486446

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A Review of: Feminine Gospels
by Kevin Higgins

In her previous book, The World's Wife, Carol Ann Duffy gave voices to the wives of the great, the good and the notorious: Mrs Darwin, Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresias, and Pope Joan. It was a tour-de-force: a book in which a new-found intellectual seriousness went hand in hand with Duffy's dry, subversive wit. In Feminine Gospels Duffy continues that journey. Duffy's poems are accessible and almost always on some level politically engaged. In many ways her work now resembles that of a female version of a 1930s Auden writing in slightly less calamitous times. The agenda is feminist, but the tone is wry rather than angry. In "Sub", Duffy is at her subversive best, feminising a number of sporting, musical and historical events. While hiding the fact that she is a woman, her narrator manages to, among other things, come on as a substitute during England's World Cup victory in 1966, play in a Grand Slam winning English rugby team, stand in for Ringo at a Beatles' gig, and walk on the Moon as a "stand in for Buzz". The most delightful moment of the poem occurs in the fourth stanza:

I knelt, scooped out
a hole in the powdery ground, and buried a box
with a bottle of malt, chocolates, Emily Dickinson's poems.

In Andrew Duncan's The Failure Of Conservatism In Modern British Poetry (Salt Publishing), Duffy's name appears only once. If she is locked forever out of Duncan's avant-garde heaven, it's a poorer place for her absence.

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