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This review is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

COME ON! SURPRISE ME! CAROL ANN DUFFY, The World's Wife (Picador) £10
TOM PAULIN, The Wind Dog (Faber) £7.99

Carol Ann Duffy's idea of writing a series of poems from the point of view of the 'wife of', a locution which obliterates the self even as it identifies the woman as an appendage of the more famous male, is a smart one for both artistic and political reasons. Revealing the gender basis of myths and achievements as well as the political function of those myths in denying female autonomy is one of the real revolutions to occur in scholarly and artistic thinking in recent time. The idea of imagining how Mrs Faust or Mrs Darwin or Mrs Icarus might speak is an exciting one since it could provide an opportunity to scrutinize the assumptions of male power as well as to tease out the hidden counter-lives of women, including the costs inflicted on those 'wives of'. In recent years, Louise Gluck and, especially, Eavan Boland have been mining this vein and changing received ideas about myth as well as the gendering of language and forms.

But like a lot of contemporary writers - male and female - Duffy can't resist playing to the gallery with the easy joke; I'm not sure there's a lot of confirmatory laughter at her readings. 'Mrs Icarus' runs

I'm not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock,
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he's a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.

Not exactly Auden on ...


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