Bedales welcomes Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy – a review by 6.2 student Nell Whittaker

In the Bedales Olivier Theatre hearing Carol Ann Duffy read to us, a phrase from her poem The Christmas Truce seemed to me to resonate. It was the line ‘a gift to the heart from home/ Or childhood, some place shared…’ And this was what the theatre became; in the stillness of the theatre she shared with us poems about the death of her mother; her anger about her poem being removed from an exam paper; the fear of the wife of Midas; the last post for the fallen. And in return, we shared our ears and our held breath and a quiet murmur at the close of every poem.

Carol Ann is nothing if not different: she is the first Scot, the first woman, and the first openly gay poet laureate. So it was to be expected that her reading, too, would be different to the typical poetry reading. She had musical accompaniment in the form of John Samson who also, in places, supplied the loud voices of both a German soldier and a British one.

It felt like the music linked poetry – and the act of reciting poems – back to a time when it would be recited in courtly halls with a piper making music alongside. Several of the poems themselves too looked back to the past: memorably The Counties, which protested about the dropping of county names from envelopes. The poem let us know how deep running the importance of the counties is, and the voices of each one came through. The poem ended with Carol Ann hoping that the names of the counties ‘be never lost to [her daughter]’,and neither too ‘all the birds of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.’

This poem also serves as an indicator of why Carol Ann was made poet laureate. To hold the position successfully one must be both a voice for the country in all its different personas, and also be capable of writing about those events which effect Britain deeply. The poem Liverpool was written only weeks ago as the nation discovered the truth behind the Hillsborough disaster, and with its account of the deaths (‘fathers told of their daughters; the names of sons/ On the lips of their mothers like prayers’). Its closing lines were a testament to the quiet determination of the families of the 96 to see justice; and showed that a sense of peace could now return to those wronged twenty three years ago: ‘Over this great city, light after long dark,/ Truth, the sweet silver song of the lark.’

The title of Carol Ann’s last poetry collection was ‘Bees’. Bees were also the subject of several poems she read to us – she spoke of bees in Virgil’s Georgics and in Sylvia Plath’s poetry, as well as imagining a place with them gone.

The bee is a symbol of Bedales because of its inherent likeness to the Bedales motto ‘work of each for weal of all’, and we compare Bedales to a hive because everyone works for the good of the whole school. By talking too about the produce of flower visits, the honey, I felt Carol Ann Duffy had us just right: the evening in the theatre with the poet laureate was both ‘something shared’ and something wholly sweet.

 By Nell Whittaker, 6.2

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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