#185: THE LADY HAS HER SAY. Sailing now well past its twentieth anniversary, Carol Ann Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife (Faber, 1999) remains an impudent delight. With the mere addition of a letter “s,” Duffy calls up a speaking parade of the unnoticed women of literature, the past, and myth: Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresias, Mrs Quasimodo, Mrs Sisyphus, etc. We get Frau Freud, the Kray Sisters, Elvis’s Twin Sister, even Mrs Beast, as in Beauty and the. In tone it much resembles Margaret Atwood, particularly The Penelopiad, but I was also put in mind of Atwood’s black-comic novel The Robber Bride, which of all the novels I’ve ever read gave me the most pointed idea of what men look like to women (a sobering experience). In Duffy’s wonderfully sustained book each poem is not only a surprise, but a different kind of surprise: read “Mrs Darwin” next to “Queen Kong” next to “Demeter.” And when we get to Anne Hathaway, whose famed inheritance of the second-best bed is basically a graven invitation with bows and hearts to acerbity, Duffy springs a full-grown, beautifully tendered love poem—one for the ages. The World’s Wife is a collection of balloons, blossoms, thumb-tacks and hand grenades. “Behind our lullabies, / the hooves of terrible horses.”
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