Impact Case Study

The Poet Laureate - Defining creative leadership

In 2009, Dame Carol Ann Duffy became the first female Poet Laureate.  She has made an impact politically, culturally and in education, challenging positions and connecting with new audiences.

How it started

Dame Carol Ann Duffy has been researching and writing poetry at MMU since 1996.

From the outset, Duffy has demonstrated a determination to speak freely and accessibly through her laureate poems, challenging political and social conventions.

What we did

Her work ranges from the wit of The World’s Wife to the intimate love lyrics of the TS Eliot Prize-winning Rapture (2005) and the blend of personal and public poems in The Bees.

In her first Christmas poem as laureate in 2009, Duffy addressed such challenging issues as species extinction, climate change, the banking crisis and the war in Afghanistan.

In 2008 when she published Education for Leisure about violence and knife-crime in a schools anthology, it precipitated a national debate in the media about the impact of poetry, when it was alleged that exam board AQA had urged schools to destroy copies of the unedited anthology.

Duffy’s research is eclectic and she has written a stage musical, produced an acclaimed set of carols, worked with artists, written a short drama, and written and performed extensively for children, working with a range of illustrators and musicians.

Duffy’s conviction is that poetry should not be confined to familiar cultural contexts but can communicate widely without compromising quality or complexity. It works in concert halls, theatres and galleries.

Her research is eclectic – she believes that poetry can communicate and connect widely. She has written a musical, produced an acclaimed set of carols, worked with artists, written a drama, and worked with illustrators and musicians.

Why it matters

Duffy’s vision as laureate involves reconnecting British poetry with the broader public through her large following of colleagues and poets.

Several poetry prizes, an OBE and a CBE, a high media profile, involvement in the school curriculums and her lasting success of her work contributed to gaining her laureateship.  She has since also been made a dame.

As an ambassador for British poetry she provides creative leadership and has revived poetry’s appeal to the masses.

Duffy’s work, rooted in the Northwest, focuses on increasing local artists and organisations’ opportunities.

Her flagship sell-out readings Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre provide a platform for emerging poets.

This inclusive and collaborative approach to the laureateship has continued with commissioned anthologies. Duffy commissioned 60 poets, to respond to a different year in the Queen’s reign called ‘Jubilee Lines’.

Readings in London and Manchester raised money for the Poetry Book Society’s work and Duffy agreed to chair the judges for their TS Eliot Prize 2012, raising its profile and helping to fundraise.

At MMU’s Manchester Writing School, Duffy’s leadership has established a world-leading postgraduate creative writing programme.

Her extensive work in schools and in the GCSE and A Level curriculum has ‘opened the doors’ of poetry, challenging the notion that it is old-fashioned or difficult.

Her growing overseas reputation and travel has given the laureate’s role a genuinely international dimension.

Duffy donates her annual laureate salary to the UK Poetry Society’s ‘Ted Hughes Award, honouring previously neglected areas of poetry and raising awareness of poets in those fields by attracting wider audiences.

Featured Researcher

Professor Carol Ann Duffy

Carol is a Professor of Contemporary Poetry & Creative Director of the Manchester Writing School

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Phone 0161 247 6761