ARTS CENTRE: Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy

Carol-Ann-Duffy-002AS PART of the Wales Festival of Architecture, Thursday 18th April saw the Arts Centre bar bursting to capacity as a crowd of eager listeners awaited the arrival of two literary greats. The excitement was overflowing as Damien Walford-Davies approached the stage to introduce a duo who, let’s face it, really needed no introduction at all.  Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales, began by dedicating the evening’s readings to the two controversially suspended Arts Centre staff, Director Alan Hewson and Operations Manager Auriel Martin. Clarke’s speech was met with a standing ovation from the audience and a rousing applause; the patriotism within the room doubtless.

As Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate, stepped into the spotlight the atmosphere immediately became lighter.  Duffy began her first stint on stage with the epic ‘The Laughter of Stafford Girl’s High’, explaining that this poem would be intertwined with the other poems in her reading. Duffy’s dry delivery of the first section prompted rumblings of laughter from the audience, almost a reflection of the words being spoken. For the women in the audience, and there were many as one would expect at a performance by the renowned feminist, there came a trio of poems. ‘Mrs Midas’, ‘Mrs Tiresias’ and ‘Mrs Faust’ are all born of classic tales depicting the fall of great male figures.  Duffy’s comparison of Nick Clegg to Faust (-a character who sold his soul to the Devil) was met with sniggering applause. Then it was time for a change in tone as Gillian Clarke took the reins.

Clarke’s first readings were an ode to the Festival of Architecture, beginning with the aptly titled ‘Architect’; a nod to E.A Rickards who was responsible for the design of the City Hall in Clarke’s beloved Cardiff.  There were four more poems that followed the theme of architecture including ‘Castell y Bere’ and ‘The Tree’.  Clarke’s final reading of the first half was the poignant elegy to April Jones, the Machynlleth girl who went missing last October and is now presumed dead. The silence within the room was incredibly moving as each person took a minute to reflect on Clarke’s beautiful words.

The opener of Duffy’s second half was the satirical ‘Weasel Words’, which was read in the voice of the late Margaret Thatcher.  It was impossible to not laugh out loud at this delivery, regardless of political views. The third poem was the beautifully written ‘Water’, the poem Duffy wrote after the death of her mother. There were three more poems including the tribute to the ’Hillsborough 96’, bringing current events to the forefront once again. Duffy’s reading ended with another extract from ‘The Laughter of Stafford Girl’s High’. The stage was then handed over to Clarke once again.

Clarke’s final section began with the childhood reminiscence of ‘Polar’ and included others such as ‘Fluent’ and ‘Bluebells’.  This section focused less on the architectural theme of the previous one and more on the landscape of Wales. Clarke finished with ‘Running Away to the Sea’, a poem written by Clarke but commissioned by Duffy and included in the anthology  ‘Jubilee Lines’, a commemorative collection marking The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The evening finished with wild applause from the crowd. The atmosphere was electric as people bustled out back into the bar and waited for the two poets to sign books and chat with guests. On a personal note, this was an outstanding evening. I got to listen to two incredible poets and then to meet them both afterwards. I defy anyone to have come away from this event without a beaming smile on their face, as I certainly did.