Poet Biographies

Carol Ann Duffy: A Life in Verse

Carol Ann Duffy is a poet of self-discovery and the exploration of the human experience. Her monologues address issues about love, loss, and identity. From her humble beginnings in Glasgow to becoming the first female Poet Laureate of the UK, her life and work have been a source of inspiration for many.

Carol Ann Duffy is considered to be one of the most significant contemporary British writers. She has made a name as a poet and playwright. Her work is enjoyed by a vast audience and appreciated by critics and the general public alike. She is recognized for her straightforward, unrelenting approach to gender issues, oppression, and masterful use of dramatic monologue in her verses, whilst sprinkling humor throughout. With the use of conversational language, creating works resembling feminine gospels, and writing with such sincerity, it is easy to see how so many can relate to her words.

The British poet has achieved a wide array of literary success in her career. Not only did she become the first female to come out of Britain to become the Poet Laureate, but she was awarded an OBE, CBE, and DBE, followed by a Whitbread Poetry Award, and eventually became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her poetry was so forward-thinking that she earned herself the Forward Poetry Prize in 1993 for her work ‘Mean Time.’

Life Facts

  • Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in December 1955.
  • She published her first written works in the early 1970s.
  • She graduated in 1977 with a degree in philosophy from the University of Liverpool.
  • In 2005, she won the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize for her collection, “Rapture.”
  • She was named an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy in recent years.

Interesting Facts

  • She won the National Poetry Competition for ‘Whoever She Was.’
  • Duffy spent a brief period working as a poetry critic for The Guardian.
  • She has also written picture books for children.
  • She was named poet laureate in 2009 and stepped down in 2019.
  • Duffy only accepted the position of United Kingdom’s poet laureate because there had never been a woman in the role.

Famous Poems

  • ‘Havisham’ is a brilliant retelling of the life of the famous character by the same name in Dickens’ Great Expectations.  Rather than depicting her as a depressing, and sometimes slightly scary spinster, she is a powerful woman who has no desire to mourn the man she lost. The poem contains humorous elements as well as a strong feminist message.
  • ‘Mrs. Midas’ is another retelling of a character’s life. This time it is the wife of the mythological King Midas from Ovid’s Metamorphoses speaking. Mrs. Midas is immediately irritated by her husband’s newfound abilities and ends up having to throw him out of the house. He depressingly goes to live in the woods, where she can barely stand to visit him.
  • ‘Nostalgia’ considers the importance of language, the meaning of the word “nostalgia” and the emotions associated with it. Through the poem, Duffy is asking the reader to consider when they first knew what nostalgia was and how it is present in their own life.
  • ‘Prayer’ is another emotional piece. This time, it is about how one confronts the world in times of need. Prayer is one way of dealing with the difficulties of life. In this text, Duffy gives examples of the vibrant forms it can take. It emanates from unusual sources. Such as the chanting of trains and the “minims sung by a tree.” These are the gifts that give the world order and our lives meaning.
  • ‘Anne Hathaway’ investigates the life of Shakespeare’s wife of the same name. Anne is the speaker of the text and it is through her that the reader gets an intimate look at the Bard’s life. This piece is sweet, moving, and filled with figurative language. She compares his writing to beautiful things, like shooting stars. His touch is just as powerful to her as his written words.

Explore more of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry.

Early Life

Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in December 1955. Her family was Roman Catholic and lived in a poorer region of the city of Glasgow called Gorbals. It was in this area that her father, Frank Duffy, worked as an electrician and lived alongside her mother, Mary Black. Duffy was the first of five children, all of whom, aside from the writer, were boys.

In 1961, when Duffy was still young, the family moved to Stafford, England. She began her education the following year at Saint Austin’s RC Primary School. Duffy was there until 1967 when she moved to Joseph’s Convent School. It was at St. Joseph’s that her passion for literature first fully emerged. She had always been a passionate reader and writer, but with the encouragement of important instructors, she concluded that she wanted to become a writer. Her first poems were written when she was only eleven years old.

Duffy went on to Stafford Girl’s High School in 1970, where she stayed for four years. It was around this same time period that she first began to publish her adolescent work in poetry magazines. It was the connections that she made in her later convent schools that allowed her to get a number of her poems published in Outpost. She would soon meet Adrian Henri who was one of the “Liverpool poets,” a group working in the 1960s in Liverpool, England. They were from the same scene that produced The Beatles. Duffy and Henri lived together until 1982.

Literary Career

In 1974, Duffy began a degree in philosophy at the University of Liverpool. She graduated in 1977 with honors. It was only six years later that she won the National Poetry Competition for Whoever She Was, as well as the Greenwich Poetry Competition for ‘Words of Absolution.’ The following year saw her begin work as a poetry critic for The Guardian. She only worked there for a year before moving on to Ambit, where she was the editor.

The late 80s and early 90s saw Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry continue to win awards; these included the Scottish Arts Council Award for her collection, Standing Female Nudepublished in 1985, and the Somerset Maugham Award for her 1987 collection, Selling Manhattan. These were followed by the Dylan Thomas Prize in 1989 and the Lannan Award in 1995. This year also saw the birth of her daughter, Ella. Throughout the 80s, she had a number of plays performed at the Liverpool Play House as well as a theatre in London. These include Take My Husband and Cavern of Dreams. 

She continued to publish throughout the late 20th century. She released a variety of collections and was included in and edited numerous anthologies. She also published Grimm Tales and More Grimm Tales, a collection of plays for children, as well as The Oldest Girl in the World, a book of children’s poetry. Other works targeting children were “To the Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems” and “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday.” The poet wrote and continues to write picture books for children.

In 1999, the media released a rumor that Duffy had been considered for and lost out on a chance to be named poet laureate. It was said this was due to the fact that the Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, feared her sexuality would upset the general public. She would later be renominated and accept the position in 2009. She is the first woman and Scottish poet to be in the role since the tradition began 400 years ago. The sole reason, she states, is that she accepted the nomination.

In Recent Years…

In 2005, she won the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize for her poetry collection, Rapture, which is considered one of her most important volumes. It is said to detail the long-term relationship the poet held with Scottish poet Jackie Kay, which ended in 2004. The same year she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University. More recently, she was named an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy.

Carol Ann Duffy currently lives in Manchester, England, and is the Creative Director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. She stepped down from the role of poet laureate in May 2019 and was replaced by Simon Armitage.

Influence from other Poets

Carol Ann Duffy was notably influenced by writers such as Pablo NerudaAimé CésaireWilliam WordsworthT.S. Eliot, and Robert Browning.

Duffy’s work has also gone on to influence poets to this day. Her ability to create such dramatic characters and narratives has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in written verse.


What is Carol Ann Duffy most famous for?

Despite having a large catalog of poetry, Carol Ann Duffy is most famously known for her love poems that are written in monologue form. Her works have garnered critical acclaim from poetry lovers, becoming the Poet Laureate for the UK, alongside many other awards.

Is Carol Ann Duffy a feminist?

Carol Ann Duffy is known for her poetry that relates to women throughout society. Duffy’s work has been said to give a voice to marginalized women and has proven to be an example of success. She has not only connected to women in the UK but across the globe, winning the Lannan Literary Award in 1995, a prize given in the US.

What inspired Carol Ann Duffy to become a poet?

Carol Ann Duffy was said to be inspired by the Liverpudlian poet Adrian Henri, alongside being encouraged by her English teachers at school. From that moment on, her natural gift for poetry was met with a passion for writing and reading.

What are the achievements of Carol Ann Duffy?

Although she has attained some of the highest awards in poetry, some of Carol Ann Duffy’s crowning achievements are her Poet Laureate status, an OBE, CBE, and Damehood, alongside becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

What famous poems did Carol Ann Duffy write?

Some of Carol Ann Duffy’s most famous poems include; ‘Standing Female Nude,’ ‘The Other Country,’ ‘Rapture,’ ‘The World’s Wife,’ ‘Havisham,” and ‘Nostalgia.’ These are all critically acclaimed alongside the majority of her works.

William Green Poetry Expert
Will created Poem Analysis back in 2015 and has a team of the best poetry experts helping him analyze poems from the past and present. Although he has a background in Automotive Engineering, having worked for McLaren testing supercars, Will has a keen eye for poetry and literature.

Leave a Comment

Share to...