Christmas Carols: Carol Anne Duffy and more…

Thursday 17/12/2020

The spirit of Christmas found me well, today, after a previously novelly sombre lead up. I wrote cards, and opened cards from friends, and also a card from the local Christian Centre along with a carol sheet for this Sunday’s socially distanced service on the green. O Come, All Ye Faithful!

The National Theatre of Scotland’s Makar to Cracker added a sense of celebration to my evening.

Jackie Kay is Scotland’s Makar, and she describes her role as being “to enthuse about poetry, and to take poetry oot and aboot…”

She MCs Makar to Makar, and this Christmas special, with certain enthusiasm, and I’m already looking forward to the Burn’s Night special, on Thursday 28/01/2021.

Imtiaz Dharker was the first poet to appear, and described her poem Go to the Child as “the closest I’ll ever get to writing a carol”. It can be heard (and enjoyed) here, . I found it to spin a sense of magic and majesty.

Jen Hadfield read A Bad Day For Ice Fishing, the closest to a snowglobe I’ve got”…a dog makes snow angels. She sees heaven in a rockpool, reads Rockpool, then reads To A Limpet (a glorious ode).

I felt invited into her Shetland home, upon her reading of In the Same Way: a poem from her second collection Nigh-No-Place, published in 2008 by Bloodaxe Books, and winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize. At the centre of this poem is the kitchen door that separates herself, and her adventurous cat from the squalling Shetland winter. Letting her cat out, and then (with the wind) in again, and out, and (there is so much more to it, but) finally

“…the wind canters in, and She, with a wild carol, and all the night hail (melted) gleaming in her furs.” that’s the way I heard it, anyway. 

Surely, worth reading and re-reading.

Carol Anne Duffy (kindly, and humorously) shares the story of her birth, and Jackie Kay comments that upon reading her good friend Carol Anne’s book Meantime, she…

“really loved Prayer in it, and the image…the idea that we can have a prayer for the secular, and that prayers or blessings (if you like) are in everything“. 

Dame Carol Anne Duffy resigned from her role as Poet Laureate in 2019, and is a professor of contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. She seems to me to (generally) embody gravitas. She chose seven poems to read, with the “spirit of Makar to Cracker, in mind, and also the very difficult year that not least 60 000 families have endured, and that people are continuing to endure.” The seriousness she brought to proceedings was not altogether sombre. After reading Prayer, she reads The Bee Carol, an intimately hopeful creation, possibly inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Oxen and it’s last line“hoping it might be so.” 

You might like to compare…

She goes on to describe Premonitions as a “resurrection poem”, and hopes it can offer comfort. I found a delicate and familiar warmth in the imagery of the poet watching her Mother (who is gaining youth)… 

“open the doors to the grace of her garden” where “flowers close to their own premonitions” then seeing Mother’s “magnolia tree marrying itself to may air”

Carol Anne’s lyrics are beautifully sung by Kathryn Williams, and in fact the singing, throughout the hour and forty five minutes of Makar to Cracker, is all shades of angelic. The whole thing (and Makar to Makar, too) can be found on YouTube.

Jackie Kay’s final special little gift (in her penultimate offering as Makar, before her Burns night farewell) is a special Christmas message from Annie Lennox, but before that, she makes an inspired toast and reads her poem The Promise…

Fill your glass. Here’s tae us.

Published by Kay Keenan

Kay Keenan writes poetry and fiction, and her story "Shoes and Trews and Shell Dust" was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction prize, and published in their anthology "with one eye on the cows". She works as a holistic therapist in the country of Cumbria.

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