Maureen Duffy (b. 21st October, 1933)

Image: Le génie du mal, known informally in English as The Lucifer of Liège, is a religious sculpture executed in white marble by the Belgian artist Guillaume Geefs. The figure’s full length is ensconced within a mandorla of bat wings. It was installed in 1848 within the elaborate pulpit (French: chaire de vérité, “seat of truth”) of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Liège.



“…ROC: You studied for a degree at Kings College (London) and later edited a poetry magazine, the sixties. What have been your influences?

MD: My influences are all male and trad I’m afraid: Wyatt, Donne, Keats, Clare, Browning, Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Yeats… I come out of Eng. Lit. not a movement.

At King’s I was lucky enough to coincide with a group of students interested in writing, especially BS Johnson and John Ackerman. We had a very lively English society which invited professional writers to give readings, giving us contact with the professional world and an excellent college magazine, Lucifer, to publish our work in.

the sixties arose as an anti-*Movement protest. We felt that mode was too dominant and excluding, so a group of us who wanted something more passionate, more ‘bardic’ to use John Ackerman’s expression, set up the magazine as a co-operative with our own money and ran it ourselves. It collapsed when my marriage to a fellow student also collapsed and my life changed radically.

ROC: Has the status of women poets changed since the ’70s?

MD: The status of women writers in every medium has improved, though still not enough as a head count of books reviewed and their reviewers shows. There are currently more opportunities for women in the theatre, they dominated and indeed won the last Mann Booker and we have the first woman Laureate. But we still need to keep watch and be proactive so that women’s poetry isn’t designated merely personal or we are pushed back into suitable genres, the equivalent of seeing real fur back on the catwalk or the return of Clause 28.

ROC: What is the process by which you compose a poem? From which sources do you draw your inspiration?

MD: The poems bubble up from somewhere clothing themselves in things I know, have read, that interest me. I don’t consciously research for them unless I’m translating. They start happening in my head with a first line that accretes more to itself, often quite rapidly. Anything may provoke one if I’m lucky. I write them down quite fast in a notebook, read and tinker with, leave overnight and then type up making more adjustments. They have to sound right aloud in my head.

London is endlessly important to me as a place especially in childhood poems as in Family Values. But I like to give the requisite ‘local habitation and a name’ to my aery nothings as for example coming suddenly upon a house I once lived in as in Revenant, the Nova Scotia Sequence, Fur Christoph, A Dublin Diary, Old Brompton Churchyard and so on…”

*(From The Movement consisted of a group of like-minded English poets, loosely associated together in the mid-1950’s. Their intention was to redirect the course of English poetry away from the neo-Romantic Symbolist and Imagistic poetry of William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas. At the same time, they also disavowed the modernist poetry of the 1920’s and 1930’s, represented by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and W. H. Auden. Instead, they sought to place English poetry back into the tradition last represented by Thomas Hardy, of formal verse and accessible meaning, modestly covering everyday experience.

Of this group of poets, Philip Larkin (1922-1985) emerged as the most popular. His poetry did a good deal to re-engage poetry with a more popular audience. Other poets, such as Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) and John Wain (1925-1994), made wider names for themselves as novelists, especially as part of the group known as the Angry Young Men. Many of the group were academics, and their critical writings helped shape the course of British literature for the next two decades.

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