Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism

By James Acheson; Romana Huk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
"Look for the Doing Words":
Carol Ann Duffy and
Questions of Convention

Linda Kinnahan

Memory's caged bird won't fly. These days
we are adjectives, nouns. In moments of grace
we were verbs, the secret of poems, talented.
A thin skin lies on language. We stare
deep in the eyes of strangers, look for the doing words.

—Carol Ann Duffy, " Moments of Grace"

As an American critic interested in experimental writing by women, I'm often struck by the difficulty I've encountered in finding British women who write experimental poetry.Although American and Canadian women are entering a second successive generation of linguistic innovations, no doubt energized by a first generation's reclamation of an enabling tradition ( Gertrude Stein, H.D., Mina Loy, Laura Riding, Lorine Neidecker, and so on), women writing experimentally in Great Britain seem, at least from these far removes of Pittsburgh, to be few and isolated.However, the example of Carol Anne Duffy, a Scottish-born and English-raised woman, a feminist and a lesbian, whose poetic page at first seems relatively conventional, leads me to muse upon what we mean by "experimental" in a North American context and what might be experienced as experimental in a late-twentieth-century British context.To look at a page of Duffy's poetry, one would not initially (or perhaps finally) associate it with the disjunctive, typographically disruptive structures one comes to expect in opening a book by Susan Howe, for example, or by Lyn Hejinian.

On first reading, the poems seem to remain within fairly regular conventions of prosody and form, drawing particularly upon traditions of the

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