The empire on which the sun once never set has finally become enlightened.  Britain has named  its first female poet laureate. Ever frank, ever bold, ever herself, Carol Ann Duffy was a reluctant candidate, but she ultimately took the post “purely because they’ve never had a woman” (as in no woman poet laureate in the U.K. in nearly four hundred years).  She also declared her willingness to accept as a tribute to her sister poets who deserve recognition and the validation that comes with having a woman in a role that is far more prominent and demanding in England than it is here in the U.S.

Ms. Duffy was a popular favorite, embraced by the citizens who were encouraged to make suggestions in favor of poets to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.  She is also an outlier— a woman who has been in a lesbian relationship, a single mother unfazed by fashion, a fiercely private person who labors in the solitary pursuit of words decoded into truth.

You can read her whole story here in the Guardian. But before you do, you might want to dust off something you’ve probably got in your pantry or the back of your liquor cabinet. Ms. Duffy has just broken the gender barrier in a post that brings with it “a butt of sack”—600 bottles of sherry—which she asked for in advance when she heard that the outgoing laureate, Andrew Motion, had never received his. It is time to toast her, friends, to recognize that a woman who is giving her stipend back to poets, a woman who sought no spotlight, but never stopped seeking the answer to life’s mysterious ways, a woman who doesn’t look like a celebrity, has stepped into a small but intense spotlight with a whisper and a roar.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of honesty becoming louder.  Cheers.

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  • Margo Viscusi May 2, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Laura, what a graceful tribute to Carol Ann Duffy. And also, finally, to the English public. Your remarks contain all of the essentials and non of the dross. Margo

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