Across the Page: Poetry Collections

Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador)

Carol Ann Duffy was recently appointed Britain’s first female
poet laureate
, but that’s not the only reason to check out this
extremely engaging and thought-provoking poet. A wide audience appreciates
Duffy’s direct voice and accessibility, and her seventh collection, Rapture, is particularly powerful.

Rapture, which won the 2005 T.S. Eliot Prize, is a book-length love poem featuring fifty-two individual poems or sections that
explore the many transformations of love. The first poem, “You,” begins as an introduction to the book:
“Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head.”

This opening poem brings up several themes and concepts that
are repeated throughout the rest of the book, including the use of repetition
itself — “I went to bed, dreaming hard, hard, woke with your name.” The poem describes the experience of falling
in love as a “glamorous hell.”

Duffy continues with the idea that love is a certain hell,
but shows that it is also strong enough to raise the dead, as she reveals in
“If I Was Dead”:

I swear your love
would raise me
out of my grave,
in my flesh and blood,

like Lazarus;
hungry for this
and this, and this,
your living kiss.

Throughout the book, Duffy moves deftly through a variety of
references, from cell phones to Shakespeare. In the poem “Text,” she writes about the literal and metaphoric struggle
to communicate in a series of couplets:

I reread your first,
your second, your third,

look for your small xx,
feeling absurd.

One of the more interesting approaches Duffy uses to plumb
this dense but inexhaustible subject is the power of memory. In one of the collection’s most beautiful and
complex poems, “Forest,” she writes about how she followed her lover “into the
sighing, restless trees and my life vanished.”

The poem continues to describe the two as they “swooned” and
“kissed, kissed,” but then, there is a moment of doubt:

Didn’t we? And didn’t I see you rise again and go deeper
into the woods and follow you still, till even my childhood
to a glow-worm of light where those flowers darkened and

The speaker later ends the chase with a plea: “I am there
now, lost in the forest, dwarfed by the giant trees. Find me.”

Even the language of love is worth exploring. In “Syntax,” Duffy writes one exceptionally precise
line that captures both love and the book: “Love’s language starts, stops,

starts;/ the right words flowing or clotting in the heart.”

For more poetry, read our Lesbian Poetry Retrospective Part 1 and Part 2.

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