Poet Laureate's grim 12 Days of Christmas: Soldiers risking death, the BNP's Nick Griffin and a buzzard instead of a partridge


Despite all the stresses of Christmas, there's still great pleasure to be had from the festive season's traditional songs.

But be warned - one Carol going about this December is unlikely to bring you tidings of comfort and joy.

That's Carol Ann Duffy, who has written a poem that takes the well-loved Twelve Days of Christmas and populates it with all the grim events of the year.

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Hard hitting: Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's 12 Days of Christmas takes on some gritty topics

Rather than a growing list of gifts for a true love, Miss Duffy, who in May became Britain's first female Poet Laureate, gives us Afghanistan, MPs' expenses, greedy bankers, climate change and the British National Party.

The 12-verse poem, commissioned for the forthcoming Christmas edition of the Radio Times, begins with a soldier receiving a card from his family: 'On the first day of Christmas, a buzzard on a branch. In Afghanistan, no partridge, pear tree; but my true love sent to me a card from home.

The poem appears in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times

'I sat alone, crouched in yellow dust, and traced the grins of my kids with my thumb. Somewhere down the line, for another father, husband, brother, son, a bullet with his name on.'

The next 11 sections interpret the gift given in each verse of the original song in terms of an event from 2009.

Five gold rings refers to 'bankers' profits fired in greed', while six geese a-laying is linked to the leader of the far-Right BNP.

Miss Duffy writes: 'I bought a poisoned goose from a crook (sick, whiffing). This foul goose laid Nick Griffin.'

The last verse deals with the current climate change conference in Copenhagen, suggesting that world leaders should take heed of the 12 drummers drumming a warning of environmental disaster.

While the themes are far from festive, there is dark humour too, such as in the verse that compares eight maids-a-milking to MPs milking-their expenses. Radio Times editor Ben Preston said: 'It's a wonderfully trenchant, funny, poignant poem.

'It shows we've got a confident Poet Laureate with a powerful voice who's prepared to grapple with the biggest issues of the year in a way that will engage readers and win friends for poetry.'

Miss Duffy, a 53-year-old lesbian, was born in the tough Gorbals area of Glasgow but now lives in Manchester.

Enlarge   Eight maids a-milking: Ms Duffy's alternative verse to the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas

Eight maids a-milking: Ms Duffy's alternative verse to the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas

She succeeded the 19th Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, who had completed ten years in the role.

His predecessor, Ted Hughes, was the last Poet Laureate to hold the position for life.

The Poet Laureate is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Government and has the job of writing poems to commemorate major state occasions and royal events. After taking up the post, Miss Duffy said she would ignore royal events if they did not inspire her to write.

Miss Duffy is professor of contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University and her poems are on the National Curriculum's GCSE and A-Level syllabuses for English Literature.

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