The Literary Year: 23 December
Having reached 65 today, I assume former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy can settle down to a hopefully long and happy retirement. I doubt she will just put down her pen, though ...
Sadly, I hardly teach Duffy at the moment: 'War Photographer' is her resonant contribution to the Power & Conflict cluster in the AQA GCSE anthology, and I'll occasionally use the poignant 'Before You Were Mine', in the Love & Relationships cluster, as an unseen poem, although I do find it a little depressing to have to explain who 'Marilyn' is.
There was a glorious period of 2-3 years during which I taught 'The World's Wife' (1999), the collection from which 'Medusa' is taken, at A Level. For those unfamiliar with her work, the collection tells the stories of almost thirty women, ranging from the hilarious 'Frau Freud', through the witty yet serious point made in 'Mrs Darwin', to the awful anger and despair of being judged on your looks and losing them (or never having them in the first place), that we see in 'Mrs Quasimodo' and, yes, in 'Medusa'. .
Whilst at university, I attended a reading by Duffy. The most striking thing for someone whose written voice is so powerful was that she seemed almost shy in introducing her work, reluctant to raise her voice or her eyes towards the rear of the lecture theatre, where I was sitting. But she was transformed when reading her poems, as if someone had switched on a light inside her. Incredible stuff.
By the same author: check out 'Education For Leisure', controversially dropped from the GCSE syllabus in 2008, and 'Mrs Schofield's GCSE', her riposte to one of her critics.
Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad (2005) is an excellent match to Duffy - it tells the story of Penelope, the long suffering wife of Odysseus/Ulysses from her point of view. It's a witty, grimly funny read with plenty of attitude.
Madeline Miller's acclaimed Circe (2018) also adopts the viewpoint of a female character in The Odyssey.
Angela Carter's Fireworks (1974) is a startling collection of short stories, bursting with female empowerment, the dark side of power, and the flavour of Japan, where Carter lived for a few years.
If you would like a downloadable PDF of this graphic, you can get one below.