Human Interest Carol Ann Duffy Essay Topics


Havisham is a poem featuring a woman who was jilted at the altar by her ex-fiance, and has never recovered, living the remainder of her life alone and consumed by jealousy, anger and regret. The love presented in this poem is highly unconventional in that to Havisham, her and her ex-fiance resume an entirely imaginary relationship, in which she is constantly hurt and reminded of the abandonement.

The poem begins with an explanation of her love for her ex-fiance turning and becoming hate, in the form of a potent oxymoron, that reads, "Beloved, sweetheart bastard." The words beloved and sweetheart are conventional compliments used to represent true love, and often included in love poems. Whereas,"Bastard" is a strongly offensive word that is often used to express hate. The poem, "Human interest." by Carol Ann Duffy also shows love becoming an extreme of hate; describing a situation in which a man accuses his wife of cheating and eventually kills her.

Vengeful love is a strongly expressed type of love in the poem, "Havisham." It is shown through out the poem that Ms. Havisham desperately wants revenge on her ex-fiance. the line, "Not a day since then I haven't wished him dead." shows that Havisham is so devoured by hate and bitterness that she never faulters to wish death upon her ex-fiance, and that it has caused her to have, "Dark green pebbles." for eyes, which explains that they have the hardness of rock, yet are green- the colour of jealousy; and veins on the back of her hands she could, "strangle with." Which is the first time in the poem that Havisham shows or describes imaginary physical violence directed at her ex-fiance. The continuity of expressions of physical violence in Havisham not only develops the idea of Love driving Havisham to do negative things, but shows an abscence of self control when it comes to her ex-fiance.

A difference in the poems, "Havisham" and "My last Duchess"  is that despite the fact that both of the subjects of the poem want to kill another person, The duke in "my last duchess" has the power to, and does. Unfortunately, not only does Havisham no longer know the man who abandoned her, she is powerless and only able to wish for his death.

Ultimately, the deprival of love, or at least, positive or conventional love, to  Ms. Havisham destroyed her life, and left her feeling sorry for herself and not able to overcome her emotions.


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Carol Ann Duffy, one of the most significant names in contemporary British poetry, has achieved that rare feat of both critical and commercial success. Her work is read and enjoyed equally by critics, academics and lay readers, and it features regularly on both university syllabuses and school syllabuses. Some critics have accused Duffy of being too populist, but on the whole her work is highly acclaimed for being both literary and accessible, and she is regarded as one of Britain’s most well-loved and successful contemporary poets.

Duffy’s themes include language and the representation of reality; the construction of the self; gender issues; contemporary culture; and many different forms of alienation, oppression and social inequality. She writes in everyday, conversational language, making her poems appear deceptively simple. With this demotic style she creates contemporary versions of traditional poetic forms - she makes frequent use of the dramatic monologue in her exploration of different voices and different identities, and she also uses the sonnet form. Duffy is both serious and humorous, often writing in a mischievous, playful style - in particular, she plays with words as she explores the way in which meaning and reality are constructed through language. In this, her work has been linked to postmodernism and poststructuralism, but this is a thematic influence rather than a stylistic one: consequently, there is an interesting contrast between the postmodern content and the conservative forms.

Deryn Rees-Jones’ brief but useful study, Carol Ann Duffy (Northcote House, Writers and Their Work Series, 1999), lists the many diverse influences on Duffy’s work. Her use of demotic, everyday language can be traced back to Wordsworth, while her interest in the dramatic monologue links her to Browning and Eliot. Her work also shows the influence of Philip Larkin (nostalgia and dry humour), Dylan Thomas (elements of surrealism), the Beat poets and the Liverpool poets.

Though Duffy’s status and reputation rest predominantly on her poetry, she has also written various plays, and there is a lot of overlap between her poetic and dramatic skills. When her first major poetry collections, Standing Female Nude (1985) and Selling Manhattan (1987), were published, Duffy was immediately acclaimed for her outstanding skill in characterisation, timing and dialogue, particularly in her use of the dramatic monologue. She is acutely sensitive and empathetic as she places herself into the mindset of each character and articulates the respective points of view in the idiom of the characters’ own speech. Duffy often incorporates humour with serious insights and social commentary, as in ‘Standing Female Nude’ (from the collection of the same name):

Six hours like this for a few francs.
Belly nipple arse in the window light […]
I shall be represented analytically and hung
in great museums. The bourgeoisie will coo
at such an image of a river-whore. They call it Art.

Other poems, such as ‘Shooting Stars’ (also from Standing Female Nude) are acutely poignant and disturbing, and jolt the reader with their sharp dramatic timing. ‘Shooting Stars’ articulates the voice of a dying woman in a Nazi concentration camp:

[…] One saw I was alive. Loosened
his belt. My bowels opened in a ragged gape of fear.

Duffy’s more disturbing poems also include those such as ‘Education for Leisure’ (Standing Female Nude) and ‘Psychopath’ (Selling Manhattan) which are written in the voices of society’s dropouts, outsiders and villains. She gives us insight into such disturbed minds, and into the society that has let them down, without in any way condoning their wrongdoings: ‘Today I am going to kill something. Anything. / I have had enough of being ignored […]’ (‘Education for Leisure’).

In The Other Country (1990) and Mean Time (1993) Duffy began to explore memory and nostalgia, resulting in comparisons with Philip Larkin. These collections contain fewer dramatic monologues and more personal poems than her previous collections, but she continues to address political, social and philosophical issues. One of the most poignant of the personal poems is ‘Valentine’ (Mean Time). Duffy often writes about love, with heartfelt feeling but never with sentimentality, and she explores its complex nature, its pain as well as its bliss. The personal is also combined with the philosophical - ‘Valentine’ is one of many poems in which Duffy investigates the way in which meaning is constructed through language, as the speaker tries to move beyond clichés and find a more authentic way of expressing feeling and experience:

Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
[…] I am trying to be truthful.

The World’s Wife (1999) returns to the dramatic monologue with an innovative collection of poems that articulate the voices of the (imagined) wives of various historical figures, both real and fictional (titles include ‘Mrs Aesop’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’). Throughout her career, Duffy has been applauded for addressing gender issues without being one-sided or overtly political - Deryn Rees-Jones notes that she moves beyond ‘a straightforwardly feminist poetry’ and shows ‘the difficulties that patriarchy presents to both men and women’ (Rees-Jones, ref. above, p. 3).

Nonetheless, Feminine Gospels (2002), as the title suggests, is a concentration on the female point of view. It is a celebration of female experience, and it has a strong sense of magic and fairytale discourse. However, as in traditional fairytales, there is sometimes a sense of darkness as well as joy. Birth, death and the cycles and stages of life feature strongly, including menstruation, motherhood and aging. Duffy’s beloved daughter Ella was born in 1995, and her experience of motherhood has deeply influenced her poetry (as well as inspiring her to write other works for children). Poems such as 'The Cord' and 'The Light Gatherer' rejoice in new life, while ‘Death and the Moon’ mourns those who have passed on: ‘[…] I cannot say where you are. Unreachable / by prayer, even if poems are prayers. Unseeable / in the air, even if souls are stars […]’.

The next collection, Rapture, is intensely personal, emotional and elegiac, and markedly different from Duffy’s other works. The poems of Rapture, one of Duffy's most highly acclaimed works, chart a love story (thought to be based on Duffy’s relationship with Jackie Kay, which ended in 2004), from the first heady stage of falling in love (‘Falling in love / is glamorous hell’) to the end of the relationship:

[…] What do I have
to help me, without spell or prayer,
endure this hour, endless, heartless, anonymous,
the death of love? […]
(Extract from ‘Over’)

This is Duffy at her most serious - the poems are rich, beautiful and heart-rending in their exploration of the deepest recesses of human emotion, both joy and pain. These works are also her most formal - following in the tradition of Shakespeare and John Donne, Duffy’s contemporary love poems in this collection draw on the traditional sonnet and ballad forms.

In 2010, Duffy published Love Poems, a selection of poems from her earlier collections, including Rapture, as well as four poems from The Bees, a new collection which was published in its entirety in 2011. While Rapture and Love Poems concentrate exclusively on love poems, The Bees is a diverse collection demonstrating Duffy's wide range and versatility, as Liz Lochhead comments: 'Here's a mixter maxter of every kind of Duffy poem: angry, political, elegiac […] witty, nakedly honest, accessible, mysterious' (review in the Guardian, 4 November 2011). Particularly poignant are the poems about Duffy's mother, who died in 2005:

But nothing so cold as the February night I opened the door
in the Chapel of Rest where my mother lay, neither young, nor old,
where my lips, returning her kiss to her brow, knew the meaning of cold.
('Cold')

Duffy became Britain's first female Poet Laureate in 2009, a position which requires her to produce celebratory poems to commemorate national events, particularly royal occasions. In 2012, the year of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Duffy compiled Jubilee Lines: 60 Poets for 60 Years, in which sixty poets have written a poem each, one for each year of the Queen's reign. The final poem, 'The Thames, London 2012', is Duffy's own: 'A Queen sails now into the sun, / flotilla a thousand proud […].' Duffy's acceptance of the laureateship and willingness to produce this type of poetry has come as a surprise, given that she has always held strong left-wing views and, when she was passed over for the role ten years earlier, she expressed her distaste for it ('I will not write a poem for Edward and Sophie. No self-respecting poet should have to'). However, upon accepting the laureateship in 2009, Duffy claimed that her only concern was what her teenage daughter thought about it, while others have acclaimed the way in which her appointment has brought fresh blood into a traditional male role:

After 350 years of male dominance, the new royal poet is a Glaswegian lesbian […] Ten years ago she was passed over, but now her time has come.
(William Langley, Telegraph, 2 May 2009)

Elizabeth O’Reilly 2013

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