Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poets. It was her poem “Education for leisure” which first gave me an interest in poetry and I have always found her poems both entertaining and thought provoking. So when I was sent Wenceslas as a gift via SoPost and Blackwells, I was very excited to read it. In this poem she takes the story of Good King Wenceslas and rewrites it. I have seen it described as a “reimagining” but I don’t think I agree that she has done anything interesting enough with the story to warrant that description.
It starts with a rich description of the feast being prepared for Wenceslas, with a lot of attention lavished upon the bird pie. I felt as though there was some Keatsian influence here, certainly a very sumptuous description of the food that you might expect from Romantic poetry. It was a wonderful sensual overload but once we got to the body of the story, as Wenceslas notices the poor man in the snow, the promising start seems to trail away and it feels like not much attention is given to the end. Unfortunately this lack of focus on what I see as the heart of the story left me feeling cheated and let down; after such great detail the first half of the book, for the rest of the story to be so scarce was a disappointment. Others may find it refreshing to focus on the feast which is often left with little description in other tellings of this story but for me, although the feast scene was magnificently written, I would have liked more focus on the poor man and the invitation for him to join them.
However, I need to say what a beautiful book it is. It is only a little bigger than my hand but richly decorated, with gold embossed title and cover and containing vivid illustrations throughout. The visual beauty of this little book will guarantee it a place on my bookshelf for the next few years at least. I will be keeping an eye out for Stuart Kolakovic’s illustrations in the future as they are what really make this book a worthwhile purchase.
It is an ideal stocking filler, being very pleasing to look at, and could be a nice introduction to Carol Ann Duffy, but it is not the greatest of her works and certainly not ground breaking or something to rave about.