XXY Reads: The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

XXY Reads: The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

Subversion is the act of systematically overthrowing a government or political system by someone working from within. Strangely enough, it is also the first word that comes to mind when I think of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry volume, The World’s Wife. The poems are about women and the struggle that comes with being one – some of them having lived in the shadow of famous men (Icarus, Pilat, The Big Bad Wolf), some of them taking their identity (Queen Kong). Essentially, the volume reads like a never before heard account of mythological and religious events, hence the initial association with the act of subversion.

Reading The World’s Wife, the emotion that stands out to me is anger. Carol Ann Duffy writes from the perspective of women who know ‘what’s up’: they have lost their innocence, they are fed up, they love and they hate. They are ready to take more than what the world has deemed it is enough. From this perspective, I can relate to their anger. The poems are unapologetically feminist and I enjoyed them for that very reason, which goes against everything mainstream feminism stands for. Mainstream feminism is the notion that women should be polite and never stop reassuring men when they ask for equal rights (#NotAllMen, anyone?). And while this is not the kind of feminism the people in my circle of friends stand for, the fact that I always have to tiptoe around men when talking about things that affect us daily does not escape me.

For this reason, The World’s Wife is refreshingly unapologetic and raw. This is not to say that I can relate to each poem, or that I agree with everything; but if I reach deep inside of myself, I can find traces of the same anger Duffy writes with and about. To see it expressed so blatantly can be… liberating.

The volume opens with what is probably my favourite poem from the collection, Little Red-Cap. The poem is about the loss of innocence and the act of growing up, with elements which are oddly reminiscent of Adam and Eve (which does not come as a surprise, as religion plays an important role in the collection). Ultimately, Little Red-Cap takes charge of her life, and her sexuality.

[…] I took an axe to the wolf

as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw

the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones.

I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up.

Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.

Duffy’s imagery is certainly capable of getting a reaction out of the reader – it can definitely leave a lasting impression, as I have managed to memorise these lines purely because of the unexpected violence.

Poetry is not meant to pacify. Poetry is an expression of thoughts and feelings that can very easily become controversial; but that is a risk every poet must take. Carol Ann Duffy refuses to apologise for her outrage and neither will I.


Written by Alina Bojescu,

Contributing Editor

Visuals by Pan Macmillan, “Diana Slash Artemis” by Peter Nixon and  “Sleeping Venus” by Giorgione

the-worlds-wife-9781447275244 Diana slash Artemis by Peter Nixon Sleeping Venus by Giorgione