The Poet Laureate premiers 'A Human Haunt' at the Cathedral

Carol Ann Duffy









The Cathedral was the setting for the premiere of a new poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, on Tuesday 20 November.

The reading of ‘A Human Haunt’ – a poem about the Cathedral itself - formed part of an evening of poetry and music during which Carol Ann Duffy read from her collected works, with the Cathedral’s Merbecke Choir providing musical interludes. The winners of the Southwark Cathedral Poetry Competition 2012 were also announced and the poems read by the actor Timothy West. They were: Christian Ward in the Adult category with his poem ‘Fox Fires’ and Yasmin Hafow from Croydon Parish Church (CE) Junior School in the under 16's category with ‘Journey through Fire’.


St Mary Overie, St Saviour, Southwark,
over the river, a human haunt in stone,
thousand years here, the sweet Thames well recalls.
Who came? Nuns, brothers, in good faith, saints,
poets- John Gower, whose blind head, look, rests
on the pillow of his books; Chaucer, imagining
the pilgrims’ first steps on the endless written road
we follow now, good readers; Shakespeare,
with twenty cold shillings for a funeral bell-
players, publicans, paupers, politicians, princes,
all to this same, persistent, changing space,
between fire and water, theatre and marketplace;
us, lighting our candles in the calm cathedral,
future ghosts, eating our picnic on a bench.

Carol Ann Duffy

Adult Category winner


A little known way to trace the history
of a fire is to examine the hairs on a fox’s back.
Historians deny reports of a vixen singed
matte black after being tempted by an opportunist
breakfast of mice in a Pudding Lane bakery
in 1666. Flames clung to a curious male like a broach
during the Blitz: attracted to shadows teasing him
like cat tails, he was almost reduced to cinders
when bombs hit Coventry. Last year’s riots were recorded
in detail on a juvenile’s hide when youths mistook it
for a police dog and pelted him with stones
and makeshift Molotovs that almost boiled the night away.
You can look elsewhere, too, for evidence of these observers:
When Rome burned, Nero sang in the company
of a skulk of foxes who licked their lips and whispered
Pretty tune. During the Dresden fire-bombings, a fox
cub separated from its mother brought food to trapped
civilians while navigating burning streets. So the rumours go.
In the Arab Spring, a brave vixen defended a pair
of German Shepherds threatened by an army convinced
they belonged to the rabble. She was paraded through the back
streets of Cairo before being celebrated by local imams, offered
lashings of rose water and all the lamb she could eat, while
the Nile silently rose above her like a crocodile.

Christian Ward

Under16's Category winner


The fire is a screaming
Like a toddler not getting his way

It jumps up and down
It pinches and bites with flickering fingers
And sharp glowing teeth

It grows – now a friendly flame
As I look through the fire,
I see it dancing for me
Its yellow dress floats
As it spins round

The fire sings a lullaby
As I drift off to sleep.

Yasmin Hafow
Croydon Parish Junior School

The Very Revd Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark said: 'We were delighted to welcome Carol Ann Duffy to Southwark Cathedral for such an enjoyable, entertaining and stimulating evening.  Southwark is a place very much associated with poets and playwrights and the Cathedral has many literary connections, most notably John Gower (whose tomb lies within the Cathedral), and William Shakespeare.  Carol Ann Duffy's poem written specially for Southwark Cathedral reflects this and the vibrant and cosmopolitan area in which it stands.  I hope she will draw further inspiration from her visit.'

Photos from the event can be found on Flickr at: