Book Review – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

worldwifeIt’s an interesting way to theme a poetry collection; to look at a number of famous wives/sisters of history and myth and rework those stories from their perspective.  I commented to friends that The World’s Wife reminded me of Fablecroft’s Cranky Ladies of History but in poetic form.

The World’s Wife is refreshing,  the concept paired with Duffy’s wit, rhythm and rhyme makes for a very enjoyable and at times educational collection.  I  find the majority of Duffy’s work uplifting and vibrant even when she’s covering serious subjects and here she is especially fresh and exhuberant.

In this collection we are treated to the playful Mrs Darwin:

Mrs Darwin

7 April 1852.

Went to the Zoo.

I said to Him –

Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of



and the imaginative The Kray Sisters, that conjures up a set of fictional female twins of the infamous Kray brothers. Duffy weaves in rhyming slang in a way that feels natural(at least to my ear).

Childhood. When were the god forbids, we lived

with our grandmother – God Rest Her Soul – a tough


who’d knocked out a Grand National horse, name of

Ballytown Boy, with one punch, in front of the King

Jeanette Winterson introduces the collection and starts with “Poetry is pleasure.”  And I find that The World’s Wife, is indeed that, a pleasure.  It’s rare, for me at least to find technical proficiency mixed with such light hearted enjoyment.  I enjoy navel gazing poetry but I sometimes feel that in poetry circles in Australia, the fare is all too serious and distanced from enjoying the benefits of ebullient rhythm and rhyme.

Another strength of this collection is that the poems are narratives and narratives that most will have a passing familiarity with.  So even if you don’t immediately notice her expert handling and variation of rhythm and rhyme you'll enjoy a different take on an old tale.

I should note that not all tales are happy go lucky positive twists on old tales, nor present their characters as Angels, but even Salome (of Salome and John the Baptist fame) gives me a giggle.

A poetry collection for those who may not like navel gazing poetry or that prefer the poets message to be entertaining as well as instructive. Those readers who enjoy modern takes on old fairytales or cultural myths I think will find it interesting too.


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