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This paper will deal about the Poetry of the Twentieth Century. Especially it deals about Simon Armitage and Carol Ann Duffy. The first part deals about their biographies. The second part talks about the setting of their works, a description of the era when they start working and descriptions of the main aspects of those years. In the third part of this paper there is an analysis of the style that they used in their works. Then there is an analysis of some of their poems. And in the last part as a conclusion you can find my opinions about the topic.
In this section the biography of the two of them are presented. First there is the biography of Simon Armitage and then the biography of Carol Ann Duffy.
Simon Armitage was born in 1963. He was born in the village of Marsden and nowadays he lives in West Yorkshire, in England. He is a graduate in Geography at Portsmouth University and also he studied social work in the University of Manchester. In this university he also made his thesis that talked about the effects of the violence in television. He had a job as Probation Officer in the Greater Manchester until 1994.
After he published his mayor works he published some limited edition pamphlets. In these pamphlets we can find, for example: Human Geography, The Distance Between Stars, The Walking Horses, Around Robinson, and Suitcase, etc.
Simon Armitage was a teacher in the University of Leeds and in the University of Lowa’s Writers’ Workshop. Nowadays he is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. And he is also an Artist in Residence at London’s South Bank. He is Vice President of the Poetry Society.
Talking about his works, he had poems, novels, radio and television works, etc.
Within his poetry works we can find: Zoom! (1989), Xanadu (1992), Kid (1992), Book of Matches (1993), The Dead Sea Poems (1995), Moon Country (1996), CloudCuckooLand (1997), Killing Time (1999), Selected Poems (2001), Travelling Songs (2002), The Universal Home Doctor (2002), Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (2006) and Seeing Stars (2010).
He has two novels: the first of them was published in 2001 and its name is Little Green Man, the second novel is The White Stuff published in 2004.
He has other type of works: he writes for radio, television and film, and he is also the author of four stage plays.
Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy was born in 1955, in Glasgow, Scotland. She had four brothers. She went to St. Austin Roman Catholic Primary School, St. Joseph’s Convent School and Stafford Girls’ High School. She attended to the University of Liverpool, where she studied Philosophy. She also had a work as a freelance writer in London. She has a daughter in common with her husband, the novelist Jackie Kay, whose name is Ella. Since 2002 she is a teacher of Creative Writing in the University of Manchester, where she lives nowadays.
Her works can be divided into: adult poetry collections, books for children, anthologies and plays.
Within her collections of adult poetry we can find: Standing Female Nude (1985), Selling Manhattan (1987), The Other Country (1990), Mean Time (1993), The World’s Wife (1999); Feminine Gospels (2002), and Rapture (2005).
Her poems for children are collected in New & Collected Poems for Children (2009). She also has picture books for children as: Underwater Farmyard (2002), Doris the Giant (2004), Moon Zoo (2005), The Tear Thief (2007), and The Princess’s Blankets (2009).
The anthologies that were edited by Carol Ann were: Out of Fashion (2004), Answering Back (2007), and To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems (2009).
She wrote four plays: Take My Husband (1982), Cavern of Dreams (1984), Little Women, Big Boys (1986) and Loss (1986).
These two authors stated writing more or less at the same time, in the latest eighties. The life in the Eighties in Britain as Malcolm Bradbury (1994) said: “it was a time of many reappraisals and restructurings, and of rising doubts, dark prophecies and apocalyptic feelings among a good many of its artist and intellectuals”.
In history terms, it can be said that some important facts occurred in these years. This summary starts one year after that the first work by Carol Ann Duffy was published.
1984: Strike of the Coal Miners. Trade Union Act. The British Telecom became private.
1985: Anglo-Irish Agreement: an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
1986: Riots (disturbances) in Brixton or Lambeth. The London Stock Exchange was deregulated. Also in this year the British Gas became private.
1987: Single European Act (the revision of the Treaty of Rome, 1957). The British Airways were privatized.
1988: Alliance between the SDP and the liberal party.
1989: Opening of Berlin Wall. Release of Guildford-Four.
Talking about the characteristics of the poetry in the Eighties and some special features of these two authors it can be said that:
The poetry of nowadays present various ethnicities, cultures or nationalities. It moved from a nationalist poetry to a more international one. It also changes from a centralist, “male” and academic practice poetry to a cultural entertainment for all the people and multicultural one.
Old themes change to religious, cultural, sexual and ideological pluralism. We can also find the concerns of minorities, sexual orientation, origin, gender or language. Randall Stevenson (2004: 212) said that: “In “Poet for Our Times” (1990) Carol Ann Duffy defined headlines, in 1980’s, as “the poems of the decade”- a “bottom line of art” sometimes used sensationally by her contemporaries to incorporate into poetry the immediate reality of the urban life”
The traditional language used in the United Kingdom turned into new ways of writing, for example, the use of dialects as Gaelic or new grammar rules. New lexical items and words like languages of ancient colonies of Britain or different slang words are included in the poems of the contemporary poetry. In the poetry of the late century we can find language disruption, formal adventure and challenges to conventional facts.
New types of poetry appear: national poetry, women’s poetry or multicultural poetry are common in this period.
Women’s poetry became more popular at the end of the 1970’s. The topics of the women’s poetry (Randall Stevenson, 2004: 222) are: “day- to-day experience, and women’s feelings about experiences [â€¦] work, friendship, family relationship, abortion, childbirth and sexual relationships- heterosexual and lesbian”
The “black” poetry became more popular because of the fact that “black” immigrants came to England and wrote their poems there.
Poetry became a way of entertainment, it can be found in theatres, pubs or bars. It turns to an art only for few people to a popular art. This can be the consequence of the expansion of the publishing houses from London to many cities through England.
The poetry of the late twentieth century and the twenty-first century it is more focused to be an international poetry.
In this section the style of both authors is going to be analyzed. First of all there are features that are characteristic in both authors; this is because they belong to the same period. Then there are specific features of each of them.
The used to write about issues that are relevant to today’s society. They write about past experiences or characters of other lifestyles to explore them.
Both of them give thoughts and feelings that we might experiences once or themes that are relevant to everybody.
Talking about the structure and the style of the poems it can be said that:
They have different types of poems with different structures as: narrative poems, sonnets, structured verse or free verse.
Within the style, and specifically language, we can find that they use a colloquial language, but within this simple language there are complex ideas. Some examples of languages techniques that they used are: alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition, etc. The language that they used is crucial for people to understand their works.
Additionally to the common characteristics, Simon Armitage has more specific characteristics.
He belongs to the “New Generation” and as Randall Stevenson (2004: 229) quote from the Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Poetry (1982) “they are distinguished by “accessibility, democracy and responsiveness” and by reaffirmation of “the art’s significance as public utterance” (p.16)”.
Armitage’s poems make an exploration of relationships and the impact that they have on the life of people. In his poems we can find references about North England or Yorkshire dialect. His works must be interpreted on a personal level by the reader.
Ian Hamilton (1992 :16) “Armitage’s poems are both firmly grounded in place and wide in their imaginative, emotional and technical range, moving easily between anecdote, larger narrative, art and politics”
Carol Ann Duffy
Duffy’s poems reflect depressed or disturbed members of society. These characters are resent with the world in which they live.
Her themes are children, women, love, etc; and she uses the point of view of a persona. These personae that she creates are usually isolated people who feel shut out from society.
Although she is a woman she doesn’t use the typical features of women’s writing. She is less innovative than her male contemporaries and use oddly paratactic rhythms
Ian Hamilton (1992: 137) says that: “[…] Duffy aims her poetic fire at obvious victims, easy targets, but her best work combines lyric intensity with plain-speaking”
In this section you can find three poems of each author and their analysis. First you can find the poems by Simon Armitage and then the poems by Carol Ann Duffy.
November (by Simon Armitage)
We walk to the ward from the badly parked car
with your grandma taking four short steps to our two
We have brought her here to die and we know it.
You check her towel, soap and family trinkets,
pare her nails. Parcel her in the rough blankets
and she sinks down into her incontinence.
It is time John. In their pasty bloodless smiles,
in their slack breasts, their stunned brains and their baldness,
and in us John: we are almost these monsters
You’re shattered. You give me the keys and I drive
through the twilight zone, past the famous station
to your house, to numb ourselves with alcohol.
Inside, we feel the terror of the dusk begin.
Outside we watch the evening, failing again,
and we let it happen. We can say nothing.
Sometimes the sun spangles and we feel alive
One thing we have to get, John, is out of this life.
The poem is divided in five three lines stanzas and in the last part of the poem there is a couplet which give the impression that the poem is not finished or that have a sudden end.
The eleven lines have a regular rhythm.
In my opinion the title of the poem, November has a symbolic meaning. I think that because it is the penultimate it can refers to the end of the year and maybe to the end of the life, maybe it refers to the third age, when people are older. Also the night can have the same meaning as the title.
In the third stanza we can find that Armitage describes the old people as if they were monsters.
In the last part of the poem the poet don’t end the poem with a conclusion maybe he want the readers to reflect about the poem and the topic that it deals about, or he wants to represent the surprise of death.
The poem is narrated in first person but with a reference to a person called John. Simon Armitage use words that include the reader in the poem and present a situation that we all will face someday. He uses pronouns as we, you, her or their, and that could have the function of include the reader in the poem.
The themes of this poem are the relationship with the family and also the inevitable passing of time.
Kid (by Simon Armitage)
Batman, big shot, when you gave the order
to grow up, then let me loose to wander
leeward, freely through the wild blue yonder
as you liked to say, or ditched me, rather
in the gutter . . . well, I turned the corner.
Now I’ve scotched that ‘he was like a father
to me’ rumour, sacked it, blown the cover
on that ‘he was like an elder brother’
story, let the cat out on that caper
with the married woman, how you took her
downtown on expenses in the motor.
I’m not playing ball boy any longer
Batman, now I’ve doffed that off-the-shoulder
Sherwood-Forest-green and scarlet number
for a pair of jeans and crew neck jumper;
now I’m taller, harder, stronger, older.
Batman, it makes a marvellous picture;
you without a shadow, stewing over
chicken giblets in the pressure cooker,
next to nothing in the walk-in larder,
punching the palm of your hand all winter,
you baby, now I’m a real boy wonder.
In this poem Armitage talks about Batman, that is a comic hero who was popular in TV and films. The poem shows a battle of Batman and his criminal of Gotham City.
The poem has a ten syllable lines and all of them end with the sound “-er”. The language used can remember the language of television shows and also it has some sense of humor.
The symbol that I find in the poem is that Armitage make a joke about Batman and I think that this means that super heroes are not perfect and also have their bad days, or maybe that super heroes don’t exist.
The language in the poem is idiomatic and also it has expressions of Batman. This type of language is sometimes used to reflect a ridiculous expression.
In my opinion the main theme of the poem is the growing and the independence. The other theme that I found is that our imagination or our perfect believes are not true. When we are kids we think that the super heroes exist but then when we grow up we realized that it wasn’t true. He also do humorous commentaries about famous people.
Homecoming (by Simon Armitage)
Think, two things on their own and both at once.
The first, that exercise in trust, where those in front
stand with their rams spread wide and free-fall
backwards, blind and those behind take all the weight.
The second, one canary-yellow cotton jacket
on a cloakroom floor, uncoupled from its hook,
becoming scuffed and blackened underfoot. Back home
the very model of a model of a mother, yours, puts
two and two together, makes a proper fist of it
and points the finger. Temper, temper. Question
in the house. You seeing red. Blue murder. Bed.
Then midnight when you slip the latch and sneak
no further than the call-box at the corner of the street;
I’m waiting by the phone, although it doesn’t ring
because it’s sixteen years or so before we’ll meet.
Retrace that walk towards the garden gate; in silhouette
a father figure waits there, wants to set things straight.
These ribs are pleats or seams. These arms are sleeves.
These fingertips are buttons, or these hands can fold
into a clasp, or else these fingers make a zip
or buckle, you say which. Step backwards into it
and try the same canary-yellow cotton jacket, there
like this, for size again. It still fits.
The structure of this poem is simple and regular but in my opinion is difficult to understand. It is divided in four stanzas of different lengths but almost all have the same rhythm.
Maybe the yellow jacket can represent the past and how easy is to remember it. Also it can mean that the past is always in our mind or that it is easy to have in mind our past memories.
The language that Armitage uses is easy, simple and familiar, and sometimes idiomatic. It also has a change of time there is a change between the past and the present for example in stanza three.
He also use poetry features as alliteration, assonance or different types of rhythm
In this poem is more difficult to understand the theme that Armitage talks about. There is not a clear message. The theme that I find is the concept of time and memory. The poem shows how someone remembers his/her past, and in the last part of the poem brings it to their present life with the example of the jacket.
Other theme that could be found in this poem is the relationships between family and how a new life can change them.
Havisham (by Carol Ann Duffy)
Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.
Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full length , her, myself, who did this
to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake. Love’s
hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.
The poem is divided in four stanzas with four lines each of them. The poem doesn’t have a rhyme or a regular metre.
The colors are important symbols in this poem, for example, the white reflects the wedding dress or the red the betrayal.
As I said before the poem hasn’t a regular metre and it can be related to the instability of the personality of the character.
Carol Ann Duffy writes in first person. She uses questions and exclamations and gives diversity to the lines.
In the poem we can also find alliteration, for example in the last line of the poem the B.
The first lines are written to make an emphasis on her frustration and also her anger.
The poem talks about the betrayal or jealousy and also the damage that this can make in a relationship. The protagonist, Miss Havisham, get insane because of the betrayal. All the feelings and thoughts of Miss Havisham are presented in the poem.
Anne Hathaway (by Carol Ann Duffy)
‘Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bedâ€¦’
(from Shakespeare’s will)
The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next bed.
Background to the poem:
The title of this poem refers to the wife of Shakespeare.
The poem is a rhyming sonnet which has fourteen lines. In my opinion she tried to follow the poem with other ending or other explanation.
Carol Ann Duffy try to rewrite a sonnet by Shakespeare but in the way his wife would do it, so she doesn’t follow the rules of Shakespeare’s works, maybe because she wants to refer that Anne Hatheway wasn’t as good as him writing poems.
The language that Carol Ann Duffy uses is related to things about Shakespeare. It is written in first person and with the voice of a woman. She uses different literary resources as alliteration (in line twelve) or metaphor in line fifteen, that means that she keep him in her thoughts.
Themes and links:
The poem is a sonnet that talks about love (sonnets normally do so) and the absence of someone that she loved, in this case Shakespeare.
It is related with Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”
We Remember Your Childhood Well (by Carol Ann Duffy)
Nobody hurt you. Nobody turned off the light and argued
with somebody else all night. The bad man on the moors
was only a movie you saw. Nobody locked the door.
Your questions were answered fully. No. That didn’t occur.
You couldn’t sing anyway, cared less. The moment’s a blur, a Film Fun
laughing itself to death in the coal fire. Anyone’s guess.
Nobody forced you. You wanted to go that day. Begged. You chose
the dress. Here are the pictures, look at you. Look at us all,
smiling and waving, younger. The whole thing is inside your head.
What you recall are impressions; we have the facts. We called the tune.
The secret police of your childhood were older and wiser than you, bigger
than you. Call back the sound of their voices. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Nobody sent you away. That was an extra holiday, with people
you seemed to like. They were firm, there was nothing to fear.
There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tears.
What does it matter now? No, no, nobody left the skidmarks of sin
on your soul and laid you wide open for Hell. You were loved.
Always. We did what was best. We remember your childhood well.
The structure of this poem is six stanzas with three lines each of them. It has rhyme and half rhyme.
In the structure I have found that the title is repeated at the end of the poem like an ending of the theme.
I think that the repetition of the title in the last line of the poem is like an ending of the memory, maybe like if the person doesn’t want to remember it anymore.
It is a simple language and sometimes repetitive. The negative form is compressed. The language that she uses (you, yourself, etc) makes me think of it as a unilateral conversation, there is no one in the other side.
It talks about the abuses in the relationship of an adult and a child and how the memories can be remember in different ways and they are not always true.
In this part of the paper I’m going to give a brief conclusion about the authors but mainly about the poems and their style.
As you can see this two authors are late authors of the twenty century so they are closed to our society because they live in our society (both of them are still alive and with not too many years). Thanks to this fact I think that the poems that they wrote are related more or less with our nowadays society, for example, the last poem by Carol Ann Duffy refers to a theme that unfortunately is occurring nowadays, the children abuse.
Talking about their style and the way that they write I can say that the vast majority of their poems are easy to read because they have a simple language and also because they are related to topics that are known for all of us. I think that the majority of their poems are quite simple and what we read is what the author wants to say.
Stevenson, R. The Oxford English Literary History. Volume 12: 1960-2000: The last of England? Oxford University Press, United States, 2006
Hamilton, I. The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Oxford University Press, United States, 1996.
Bradbury, M. The modern British novel. Penguin Books, London, 1994
Medina Casado, C. Poetas ingleses del siglo XX. Síntesis, Madrid, 2007
Contemporary Writers – British Council. Carol Ann Duffy (20 November, 2010): http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth104
Contemporary Writers – British Council. Simon Armitage. (20 November, 2010): http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth165
Simon Armitage’s Website (20 November, 2010):
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