Love Poems at the Poetry Library Book Club

14th Feb 2011


Love Poems is a collection of poems from Carol Ann Duffy’s previous titles; Selling Manhattan, The Other Country, New Selected Poems, Mean Time, The World’s Wife, Feminine Gospels, Rapture and includes extracts from her forthcoming collection The Bees.

Originally intended to be the focus of a Valentine’s Day book club, it was decided by the Poetry Library to bring the evening forward by a week in order to avoid a mass-emotional collapse of the attendees.

Trepidation and the following extract from The Darling Letters accompanied my late arrival to the Southbank’s Poetry Library;

“Once in a while, alone,

we take them out to read again, the heart thudding

like a spade on buried bones”

A group of strangers meeting to discuss poems about love suggests an evening heavy with tentative recollections and tender moments. A group of strangers meeting to discuss Carol Ann Duffy’s Love Poems, however, evokes a post-apocalyptical scenario from which only the emotionally barren limp away.

Fortunately librarians Lorraine and Miriam were on hand to steer us through a lively, wine and chocolate heart saturated discussion on passion, tabboo, fantasy and frustration.

Our attention was directed to five poems; Correspondents, To the Unknown Lover, Valentine, Anne Hathaway and New Vows, interspersed with recordings of Duffy reading them aloud.

Words that previously leapt from the page were systematically clubbed to death by Duffy’s monotonous drone and for a few seconds after the only sound to be heard was the rustle of chocolate wrappers and the determined slurp of wine.

From this resolutely unromantic begining, however, sprang an irreverent and touching meditation on the nature of forbidden passion and romantic optimism.

Of the five under discussion, Correspondents was clearly a favourite with its cluttered imagery and seething passions. To the Unknown Lover was eventually claimed as a rather forbidding herald to future love, while Valentine split the group as to the merit of giving root vegetables as romantic gifts.

Anne Hathaway provoked equal amounts of confusion and laughter but it was New Vows that seemed to make the strongest impression upon the group, with its reversal of the traditional marriage ceremony.

Lorraine and Miriam then suggested we volunteer a few of our own favourites from the collection. As half the room shrank at the suggestion and the other half sat a little straight, fingers carefully marking a chosen page, I heard my own voice pipe up with Who Loves You;

The loveless men and homeless boys are out there and angry.

Nightly people end their lives in the shortcut.

Walk in the light, steadily hurry towards me.

Safety, safely, safe home. (Who loves you?)

Thankfully the group of thirty or so were receptive and were soon musing upon the fear that so often accompanies love. Impressively, a young woman who’d recently become engaged proved to be the most vocal and the recurring themes of romantic hope and optimism were reaffirmed.

As one of the youngest in attendance, it would have been easy to feel intimidated by my fellow book clubbers. The atmosphere was, however, as relaxed as any evening centred around Carol Ann Duffy could be and I was left with a feeling of exaltation, determined to return and claim my free membership to the Poetry Library.

Beulah Maud Devaney