Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy

It only took 341 years but, finally, Britain has a female Poet Laureate. Carol Ann Duffy will hold the 10-year post, following in the formidable footsteps of the likes of William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Ted Hughes. Glasgow-born Duffy, 53, said she had thought "long and hard" before accepting the high-profile job, and gave the final say to her 13-year-old daughter. Her response? "She said, 'Yes mummy, there's never been a woman.'" Now Duffy, who once said "no self-respecting poet" should have to write about royal weddings (she was referring to the 1999 union between Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones) will be expected to do exactly that, in a role that requires her to write poems for royal events, funerals and various state occasions.

Duffy takes over from the current incumbent Andrew Motion (who admitted he found writing about royal happenings "very difficult") and has already said she'll give the annual $8,500 salary away to the Poetry Society to fund a new prize for the best collection published each year. As for the "butt of sack" — the 600 bottles of sherry traditionally given to the laureate — Duffy has asked for delivery up front, after learning that Motion hasn't received his yet. (Read: "A Brief History Of The Poet Laureate.")

Duffy was a candidate for the prestigious position ten years ago, but narrowly missed out due to, observers believe, concerns over her lesbian relationship with fellow Scottish poet Jackie Kay. Indeed, there were also suggestions that former Prime Minister Tony Blair thought her sexuality may not play well in Middle England — a notion that would surely amuse Duffy, considering one of her best known works is titled Poet for our Times.

Female poets have long been in the running for the post: As far back as 1850, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was considered for the laureateship after Wordsworth's death, but it passed on to Tennyson instead. However, in choosing how to announce her new job Friday morning, Duffy made sure her snubbed predecessors weren't forgotten. The name of the BBC program on which she broke the historic news? Woman's Hour. (Read about America's busiest poet, Kay Ryan.)

Fast Facts:

• Born in 1955 in Glasgow, Scotland, she grew up in Staffordshire, England and graduated from Liverpool University in 1977 with a degree in philosophy.

• Her father Frank worked as a fitter for English Electric, stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour party and managed Stafford Rangers soccer club in his spare time.

• Duffy has been publishing poetry since the age of 16 and is professor of poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University's Writing School.

• Her 1999 collection The World's Wife, notable for having every poem written in the voice of a wife of a great historical figure, was the first to bring her mass appeal.

• Awarded an OBE in 1995 and a CBE in 2002.

• Won the TS Eliot prize in 2005 for her collection of linked love poems, Rapture. She's also won the Dylan Thomas award, the Whitbread poetry prize, the Somerset Maugham award and the Forward prize.

• Duffy has written poetry and picture books for children as well as a number of well-received plays and has edited anthologies.

• Collaborated with Manchester composer Sasha Johnson Manning on "The Manchester Carols" — a series of Christmas songs.

Quotes by Carol Ann Duffy:

• "I look on it as a recognition of the great woman poets we have writing now. I've decided to accept it for that reason."
—On what led her to take up the post. (BBC Woman's Hour, May 1, 2009)

• "If I felt, in the event of a royal wedding, inspired to write about people coming together in marriage or civil partnership, I would just be grateful to have an idea for the poem. And if I didn't, I'd ignore it."
—Making clear that she won't write about every Royal event that takes place on her watch. (BBC Woman's Hour, May 1, 2009)

• "I like to think that I'm a sort of poet for our times. My shout. Know what I mean?"
—A line from her 1990 poem Poet for our Times

• "Seventh of April 1952, Went to the zoo. I said to him, 'Something about that chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.'"
— Writing as Charles Darwin's wife (The World's Wife, 1999)

• "Wheel-clamp. Dogs. Vagrants. A tour of our wonderful capital city is not to be missed. The Fergie, The Princess Di and the football hooligan."
—Describing the state of the nation in 1989's Translating The English

Quotes about Carol Ann Duffy:

• "She is a truly brilliant modern poet who has stretched our imaginations by putting the whole range of human experiences into lines that capture the emotions perfectly."
—Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (BBC, May 1, 2009)

• "[Duffy] has achieved something that only the true greats of literature manage".
— U.K. Culture Secretary Andy Burnham. (BBC, May 1, 2009)

• "Think twice before you take on Royal commissions. Or they'll be little more than rhyming emissions."
—Fellow British poet Ian McMillan, offering Duffy some advice. (BBC, May 1, 2009)

• "Carol Ann Duffy has been the most popular living poet in Britain, her sales greatly helped by the fact that she has succeeded Hughes and Larkin as the most common representative of contemporary poetry in schools."
—Journalist John Mullen (The Guardian)

• "The fact that she's the first woman to do the job would also add a fascination and a glamour — and a sense of rightness."
—Current holder of the post, Andrew Motion (Financial Times)

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