Carol Ann Duffy and Friends
Hope Park & Martyrs Church, St Andrews; July 2nd 2016, 7pm
Our Poet Laureate – Carole Ann Duffy – is no stranger to supporting a good cause, so it was no surprise when she announced her Shore to Shore tour to celebrate and support both poetry and independent bookshops all around the UK – which she believes are “so often the cultural heartbeat of their local communities”. Duffy and friends fittingly opened the tour during the tenth anniversary of Independent Bookshop Week (18th- 25 June). The final night of the tour was hosted in the beautiful Hope Park & Martyrs Church in St Andrews, a very small and intimate venue with a warm, welcoming atmosphere palpably present from the moment of arrival. I managed to find a seat in the pews left of the altar. However, seating really was irrelevant as all performers interacted with the whole audience.
A speaker introduced the night, quickly followed on by the very musically talented and witty John Sampson. His comic timing was absolutely spot on throughout, really relaxing and involving the audience. Sampson played a small excerpt of a song before each poet came on stage, and most of these were very rhythmic with a lot of movement. However, one was very poignant “You’ll Never Walk Alone” played as our Laureate performed her emotive sonnet “Liverpool” dedicated to the Hillsborough victims. I’m quite sure there were very few dry eyes in the room at this point.
The first performer to take to the stage was Gillian Clarke – National Poet of Wales, opening with the beautiful “Miracle on St. David’s Day” about a visit to a psychiatric hospital in the 1970’s where she was asked to do a reading: a mute patient spoke for the first time in years after hearing one of Clarke’s poems. An amazingly up-lifting piece on the power of poetry.
Local poet and Professor of English at University of St Andrews, Robert Crawford’s performance had a strong, unshakeable charm , and in keeping with most other poets on the night, there were references to politics; a topic which could hardly be ignored during referendum week. Crawford’s poem “Declaration” really stood out for me – very powerful with a hint of friendly satire, taken from his most recent collection Testament.
By far the most endearing performance of the night came from our Makar, Jackie Kay. Her warmth and enthusiasm shone throughout, at one point telling the audience about her dad joking she was the Poet Laminate (after getting excited about seeing her photo on a wall) in comparison to Carol Ann being the Poet Laureate. Two of her poems that really shone “Fiere” a poem about friendship, and in keeping with the political undertone of the night “Extinction” which generated plenty of laughs as well as projecting some very strong views.
Imtiaz Dharker, winner of the Queens Gold Medal for her English poetry, wowed the audience with her mix of humour and heartbreak, especially with her love poem “I Swear” about her late husband, and her attraction to his foul mouthed one liners. It quite literally gave me goose-bumps, her performance left me wanting to hear much more from her.
Last but far from least, a memorable performance from Carol Ann Duffy herself. Graceful, passionate and witty are three words I would use to describe the Laureate on the night. For me, her outstanding piece was “The Counties” penned during 2010, in reaction to Royal Mail’s stated agenda to remove counties from its database. On a different note, Duffy’s beautifully sombre poem about her late mother, written in the form of a life lived from death to birth was so powerfully emotive it left a lump in the throat.
Overall, a night of music and poetry which will be remembered fondly by most …no, by everyone who attended.