She was born in Glasgow in 1955 to a Scottish father and an Irish mother. Raised Catholic, she grew up in Staffordshire an ardent reader and elder sister to four brothers. Her mother would invent fairy tales for her - a form whose archetypes she has always found seductive. She has been particularly interested in exploring feminine archetypes, which she subverts with dexterity in The World's Wife (Anvil Press Poetry 1999). Duffy wanted from a very early age to be a writer and was encouraged to write poetry by an inspirational teacher at a Convent school when she was ten years old.
Duffy graduated from Liverpool University in 1977 with a BA in Philosophy. She won the National Poetry Competition in 1983, an Eric Gregory Award in 1984 and her first collection Standing Female Nude (1985) was met with acclaim. Robert Nye in The Times declared the book "The debut of a genuine and original poet". In 1993, Mean Times won the Forward Best Collection Prize, a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the Whitbread Poetry Award. She has gone on to publish many books for adults and children and is also an acclaimed playwright and editor.
A sense of the ritual of language learned in her school days pervades Duffy's work, although she is no longer a practicing Catholic. Indeed, her much anthologized sonnet 'Prayer' speaks of religious feelings and of epiphanies, but also of the absence of formal religious beliefs. "Poetry and prayer are very similar," she explains. "I write quite a lot of sonnets and I think of them almost as prayers: short and memorable, something you can recite."
In 2005, she was awarded the TS Eliot Prize for Rapture, a collection of love poems in variations of that traditional alchemic shape for love poems - the sonnet. The narrative begins with a celebration of 'You' as an "untouchable dream", and charts the joy and the agonies of love all-consuming, ending with 'Over.' You can listen to some of these poems here, and experience the whole of Rapture brought to life movingly by Duffy on a special Poetry Archive CD.
This recording was made on 31st March 2009 at the BBC Studios in Manchester and was produced by Richard Carrington.