The second of my three part Sheffield Lyric Festival update is about Carol Ann Duffy and I have to say I was rather disappointed.
The first reason is that the main part of a poetry performance is the Poet's ability to bring you in. When I saw Paul Muldoon, none of the poems he read particularly spoke to me but he had such a warm and welcoming body language with a soothing voice that he made me feel like I was part of an experience. Carol Ann Duffy on the other hand is very difficult to connect with as although the words she used were warm and friendly her voice was very terse and her body language very cloed and negative. She looked as if she should be standing on a cliff while storms rage around her and pounding rain attempts to make even the slightest impression on her stony face.
The second reason is that there appears to be two types of Carol Ann Duffy poems. They are either, dark visceral things pregnant with meaning or quite naff lists. She read a lot of these lists and although I'm sure there are a lot of people who appreciate them, otherwise she would not be a successful poet, but hearing her do things such as reel off a list of pub names made me yawn.
The best poem she read that day was one of the former and was called Cold.
Carol Ann Duffy - Cold
It felt so cold, the snowball which wept in my hands,
and when I rolled it along in the snow, it grew
till I could sit on it, looking back at the house,
where it was cold when I woke in my room, the windows
blind with ice, my breath undressing itself on the air.
Cold, too, embracing the torso of snow which I lifted up
in my arms to build a snowman, my toes, burning, cold
in my winter boots; my mother’s voice calling me in
from the cold. And her hands were cold from peeling
then dipping potatoes into a bowl, stopping to cup
her daughter’s face, a kiss for both cold cheeks, my cold nose.
But nothing so cold as the February night I opened the door
in the Chapel of Rest where my mother lay, neither young, nor old,
where my lips, returning her kiss to her brow, knew the meaning of cold.
The power to this hangs in the last three lines. As through all the constant mention of 'Cold' in a full range of senses, the sight of it, the feel of it and the simple matter of being told you are it reinforces the assumption that you would know what it is. But the revelation of its true meaning only becoming apparent at her Mother's deathbed, like the earth opening up below her feet to allow a sensation to rush it and consume her to the core, that's power.
Perhaps the list poems are required in a performance to make notes like this stand out?