The book I am currently reading
The Poem: Lyric, Sign, Metre by Don Paterson. Reading it, your estimation of your own IQ incrementally diminishes. There are diagrams. Also Jay Bernard’s Ted Hughes award-winning collection Surge: Side A.

The book that changed my life
Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking – about 30 years ago. Hurrah!

The book I wish I’d written
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, obvs.

The book that influenced my writing
Influences in writing, for me, seem to have splashed in early, in teenage years, and continue to ripple out. All poets, from different times, still making waves.

The book that changed my mind
I was hugely moved and provoked by Jimmy Boyle’s visceral A Sense of Freedom when I read it in my early 20s. A book that not only revealed the (continuing) barbarity of our prison system but also demonstrated the humanising redemption of art and literature.

The last book that made me cry
The one that made me cry when I first read it, and still does, is Elegies by Douglas Dunn; beauty crafted from grief after the death of his wife. Wonderful poems. More recently, Denise Riley’s stunning Say Something Back, which also deals with bereavement, truly moved me. She’s a terrific talent.

The last book that made me laugh
Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown. The riffs on her fictional marriage to Picasso and her “Christmas Broadcast” are tears down the cheeks hilarious. Still making me laugh, on every rereading, is Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm. Amos Starkadder’s sermon – there’ll be no butter in Hell.

The book I couldn’t finish
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. As the poet Paul Muldoon has remarked, a classic example of a typo. I must try again again, again.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Don Quixote by Cervantes. This is a deep shame that I am dealing with next May, when I’m away to write, read and tilt at windmills. He’s widely regarded as as great as Shakespeare, died around the same time, and Shakespeare probably read him. I am a disgrace.

The book I give as a gift
Depends on the recipient. Generally, I give poetry collections. Most recently, to my daughter, Alice Oswald’s The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile. I’ve long thought she’s the best UK poet now writing, bar none.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
New and Collected Poems for Children. Joyful years.

My earliest reading memory
The first book I read alone was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I still have the copy, signed by my grandfather in August 1962. So I would have been six. I read it in a tree, eating an apple.

My comfort read
The eternal prose maestro PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories. In fact, I’m suddenly in need of comfort after answering these stressful questions, so I’m off into the garden to read one now. With a glass of sancerre. Toodle-oo.

Shore 2 Shore: Carol Ann Duffy tours with Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and Jackie Kay in support of Independent Bookshop Week, 16-23 June.

Off The Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse is published by Picador. To order a copy for £8.50 (RRP £10) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.