In Empty Nest, poet Carol Ann Duffy collects ninety-nine poems on the subject of families. These poems explore the cyclical nature of familial relationships. Poems include mothers writing to their unborn children, and sons writing to their elderly fathers. They lay bare an entire gamut of emotions. In a year where most humans have been deprived of the physical and emotional presence of their families, this book is very poignant.

The collection opens with a poem by Duffy herself, written for her own daughter when she left for University. The reader considers the weight of a mother’s heart in these lines:

I research whether there is any bird who grieves
over its empty nest.
Your vacant room
is a still-life framed by the unclosed door;
read by sunlight, an open book on the floor. 

It is impossible to not be touched deeply.

The poems vary in length and style but are held together strongly by the unique flavour of love and, be warned, most of them are emotional. Consider these deeply upsetting couplets from the Irish great Seamus Heaney in Elegy for a Stillborn Child:

On lonely journeys I think of it all,
Birth of death, exhumation for burial,
A wreath of small clothes, a memorial pram,
And parents reaching for a phantom limb.
The collection is small and yet immense in its reach. Mention also must be made of Amy Hiley’s beautiful linocut design on the jacket which is quite exquisite. On the collection itself however,  a note or a word of introduction from Duffy herself could have elevated it further. It felt like this work would be remarkably richer if the poet were to share the deliberation behind the inclusion of each poem. It missed the format and the framing of collections like The Fire of Joy by Clive James, for example. Having said that, there is a loose frame as the book comes full circle to end with a poem called Shard by Ella Duffy, Carol Ann Duffy’s daughter.
The simplicity and lightness in this collection belies its emotional weight. If the reader hasn’t hugged a parent in a while, approach with caution as tears are guaranteed.