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Carol Ann Duffy: ‘With the evil twins of Trump and Brexit … There was no way of not writing about that, it is just in the air’


After 10 years, the poet laureate is preparing to step down. She talks politics, swearing – and how poetry has changed since she started writing

“Combover ... twitter-rat, tweet-twat, tripe-gob, muckspout” … so runs the first stanza of “Swearing In” by Carol Ann Duffy. “That was fun to write”, the poet laureate says, laughing. The poem uses kennings, an ancient form that describes something using compound words – in this case a Duffyesque litany of insults, mixing medieval and Elizabethan phrases with modern or invented coinages (“tie-treader”: “he wears very long ties”). “‘Mandrake mymmerkin’ … I’ll leave you to research that,” she says. If you haven’t guessed the subject, the poem ends: “welcome to the White House”.

In her new collection, Sincerity, her last as laureate, Duffy is not pulling any punches. “I like the word ‘sincerity’,” she says. “To speak and act out of one’s beliefs, thoughts, feelings.” She was also drawn to its etymology, derived from the way in which “dodgy sculptors” in ancient Greece and Rome would conceal mistakes or flaws by covering them with wax. So “without wax” (sine cera in Latin), “means genuine, not duplicitous,” she explains. “I liked that as a title.”

'I’ve never thought "I’m going to write a political poem”. It's the relentless pressure that squeezes them out of you'

'You have to find where the voice of poetry can be added to the national babble and blether and jabber'

Related: Carol Ann Duffy's royal wedding poem: Long Walk

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