Words on women of the world

Feminine Gospels
by Carol Ann Duffy

A lot of the poems in this collection by our esteemed Poet Laureate read like little short stories, which made them pleasingly accessible for someone like me who doesn’t read a whole lot of poetry.

The subject matter, as you might guess from the title, is women – the women of myth, of urban legend, of old wives tales – and womanhood, what that means. The tone ranges from meditations on love, beauty, identity to everyday rhythms and humour.

There’s “The Map-Woman” about a woman whose skin is a map of the town, from head to toe. There’s “Work” about a woman taking on increasingly tough jobs as she has more children to support, until she has a billion children and can no longer cope. There’s “Beautiful”, about some of history’s most famous women, from Helen of Troy to Princess Diana, drawing the parallels between their lives and the way they were treated.

I usually like love poems best and there are some of those here, but I think my favourite in this collection is “A Dreaming Week”, which uses repetition and clearer rhythm and rhyme than most of Duffy’s poems to create something that sounds really good spoken aloud. Its story, if it can be said to have one, is quite simply a person daydreaming/dreaming a week away. There’s idle playing with words, there’s evocative descriptions of bed and night-time.

I think I prefer Duffy’s most recent book, Rapture, but this is an excellent window into multiple characters/perspectives/ideas about femininity.

Published 2002 by Picador.

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