Carol Ann Duffy

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Analysis by theme – Carol Ann Duffy

CHILDHOOD

Notes from “Originally”

Repeatedly returns to the metaphor of childhood as a “country” – echoes of L.P. Hartley’s “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Notion of past being intimately associated with place, and that adulthood is a journey away from it.

“All childhood is an emigration.”/ “I want our own country”. Fear of being in an alien place as a child reflected in the alienation of adult life.

“I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of first space and the right place” – Duffy reflects on moving house as a child, and the way she lost her first senses of the world as the became accustomed to somewhere new.

“I stared at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.” Metaphor – the past, her childhood is now lifeless but she clutches to it hopelessly.

Notes from “Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team”

“a fizzing hope, Gargling/ with Vimto” – Sense of excitement and sweetness conjured in the onomatopoeia of “fizzing” and imagery of “Vimto” – childhood was sensual and exciting.

“The smell of my clever satchel” evokes a particular fragrance and evokes ideas that the satchel itself is clever, that this symbol of childhood is synonymous with the intelligence he felt in 1964.

He continues lamenting the ease he felt in childhood, before the complexities and compromises of adult life. Everything seemed black and white, right or wrong: “The Nile rises in April. Blue and White./ The humming bird’s song is made by its wings…” His achievement is reflected in the image of him “salut(ing)” the answers to his teacher and the predictable tone of “Sir?... Correct.”

It is summarised by his enthusiasm for life at the time, “no hands, famous, learning…” The first of these images is suggestive of a recklessness, a sense of invincibility and assurance which is shown as hubris by the poem’s end.

Again, Duffy gives this period of life a geographic “country” but in the final stanza it is subverted from its idealised vision and aligned with Rhodesia, a country that has been “abolished” and no longer exists as a political entity (it is now known as Zimbabwe).

The bitterness of this poem is a stark contrast to the warm, sepia-tinged romance of the others, and the narrator laments his “thick kids” and “stale wife”. “Stale” forms an interesting comparison with the “fizzing” youth and we sense the ebbing away of excitement and freshness, giving way to the flat and mundane.

POP CULTURE/ WAR/ THATCHERISM/ CAPITALISM

Notes on “Poet for Our Times”

This poem is a departure from the more personal poems concerning memory but still addresses some similar ideas.

Here, Duffy adopts the persona of a newspaper hack whose sole concern is reducing huge stories to sensationalised headlines. The narrator is odious and obsequious, trying to inveigle his way into the reader’s affections. He uses colloquial, overly-friendly language (“squire”, “cheers”, “punters”, “know what I mean”, “ta”, “Et cet.”) which does more to alienate us. The language of his work is closely associated with violence. He talks of the need to “bang” words down on paper “like they’re screaming fire”. The use of hyperbole succinctly conveys the hysterical tone of a tabloid newspaper.

The first two headlines we encounter, “CECIL-KEAYS ROW SHOCK TELLS EYETIE WAITER” and “ENGLAND FAN CALLS WHINGEING FROG A LIAR”.

The first two headlines we encounter, “CECIL-KEAYS ROW SHOCK TELLS EYETIE WAITER” and “ENGLAND FAN CALLS WHINGEING FROG A LIAR” both contain racist commentary which forms a sharp critique of the xenophobic traits of such newspapers.

The journo insists that “you’ve got to grab attention/ with just one phrase”. This is an admission that depth of reporting and factual content are not priorities to the tabloids – they need to grab attention in order to sell newspapers, and Duffy is clearly passing judgment on a news industry that considers its profit the first priority....
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