Discuss how Carol Ann Duffy and Sheenagh Pugh explore - Sample Essay
The concept of ‘journey’ is one which pervades much of both Carol Ann Duffy’s and Sheenagh Pugh’s poetry, in literal and allegorical terms. Various devices and imagery are used in order to convey this concept, having varying effects on the reader, which will be analysed in the subsequent paragraphs. The theme of travelling is present in ‘Originally’ by Duffy, in which physical translocation (specifically emigration) is depicted through such nouns as “country,” “emigration,” and “accent,” and such verbs as “rushed back,” “fell through,” and “leaving you standing.”
The latter phrase features two present continuous verbs, suggesting a sense of progression which contradicts the actual meaning of the verb ‘standing’, which functions as an adjective, communicating a lack of movement. This dichotomy reflects Duffy’s own unease regarding her own relocation during her childhood, in which she moved from Glasgow, Scotland to Stafford, England when she was six years old. This had a profound effect on her poetry, with references to travel palpable not only in the current poem but also in others like ‘In Mrs Tilscher’s Class’ (“You ran through the gates, impatient to be grown”), ‘Who Loves You’ (“travelling in those mystical machines”,) ‘River’ (“At the turn of the river the language changes”), ‘The Way My Mother Speaks’ (The train this slow evening / goes down England”), and ‘In Your Mind’ (“The other country”).
Moreover, enjambment is utilised throughout the poem; for example, “Do I only / think / I lost a river, culture, speech” in order to visually represent flow, reflecting the physical sense of movement in a journey. However, use of enjambment (often followed by caesura) also interrupts the meaning of the lines since the words are not contained on one line therefore their meanings are spread across multiple lines, forming another dichotomy like the aforementioned one.
These two dualities convey to the reader that there are two sides to every journey: the positivity and optimism of a new journey, and the negativity and regret of leaving one’s past behind. The reader responds to this by perceiving the emotional qualities of the concept of journey and perhaps relate Duffy’s experiences onto their own, thus they begin to identify more with Duffy’s poetic explorations of journey; because, as has been stated, Duffy features journey in her work often, the reader’s identification with the concept makes her considerably more accessible, and so her non-journey-related social commentaries are more likely to be read and explored by the reader.
There are several references to travelling in ‘In Mrs. Tilscher’s Class’, including “You could travel up the Blue Nile,” which features the modal verb ‘could’ to demonstrate the vast array of possibilities individuals have appertaining travel in the modern world. This builds an aura of wonder and mental fantasy as the reader imagines where they could travel, reflecting the wonder children experience whilst learning in school. Proper nouns, namely,
“Tana. Ethiopia. Khartoum. Aswan” also convey this sense of endless potential voyages. However, as is often the case with her work, Duffy intentionally limits this effect by only referring to locations in Africa, since Tana is in Ethiopia, Khartoum in Sudan, and Aswan in Egypt. This makes the reader reconsider whether travel is really worthwhile; this is of course poignant bearing in mind Duffy’s own experience with travel, because, at such a young age, moving miles away from home is an anxious event, thus Duffy is warning readers to truly evaluate relocation due to its potential psychologically traumatic effects.
A somewhat inverted sentiment is expressed in Pugh’s ‘Birmingham Navigation graffiti’, in which she includes adjectives like “smoke-blackened,” “lurid,” “jaundiced” and “gangrenous” to depict the dilapidated state of Birmingham. Pugh does so to communicate her disdain for Birmingham, where she grew up but later moved away from. Unlike Duffy who warns against relocation, Pugh is positive that she moved away from her birthplace; for example, the fact that the noun “graffiti” is in lower-case is intended to chastise the overly prominent visual pollution, which no doubt galvanised Pugh’s strong dislike for big cities. While Duffy expresses a rather mono-faceted opinion of travel, Pugh’s is more ambiguous; she is in favour of counter-urban (that is, rural) travel, but not urban travel.
In the second stanza, “You see” precedes space, followed by a new line, suggesting that visitors to Birmingham struggle to find anything aesthetically worthwhile to comment on. Pugh then completes the sentence, with “towns’ backsides” which portrays the view of industrialised towns highly negatively, since the noun ‘backside’ is usually associated with faeces. This evocative imagery makes the reader picture the forsaken state of the city, so they are more likely to align with Pugh’s disdainful view.
The concept of physical journey is typical in many of Pugh’s poems, for example she includes Scandanavian proper nouns often in the collection, ‘What a Place to Grow Flowers’ in the titles of such poems as ‘Men growing flowers: Hveragerdi’, ‘Ingthor the chanter’, ‘The flute-playing at Skalholt’ and ‘Going back to Hlidarendi’ and also refers to travel in the ‘Earth Studies’ collection in such poems as ‘After I came back from Iceland’ (“When I got back to Heathrow”) and ‘Harbours’ (“over the glittering road you should have gone to your true harbour”). Disillusion with the aesthetically disappointing state of Britain during the highly-industrialised, Thatcher-run ’80s influenced Pugh to travel abroad and write about the liberating effects of foreign journey, and her evocative language and simile such as “how breathing was like drinking cold water” encourages readers to travel abroad to enjoy these experiences.
In “In Mrs. Tilscher’s Class” the number of travel-related ideas diminishes as the poem progresses, conveying, in her eyes, the lack of imagination and exploration the children in the poem face as they grow up. This links strongly to the theme of maturity. Running parallel to the theme of physical journey is that of journey from innocence and youth to knowledge and maturity, which is explored in ‘Religion 1’, wherein the transition from nescience to knowledge is depicted through the subtle sexual reference of, “some thing / well-shaped; uncommon; fashioned to their liking.” Needless to say, this is a reference to temptation in the Garden of Eden in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, and the use of the nonspecific adverb ‘some’ suggests lack of knowledge, which is antithetical to the subsequent knowledge they experience; the verb ‘know’ (present in the subsequent poem in ‘Selected Poems’, ‘History 1’) can mean, in a Biblical sense, ‘copulate’, thus this is a subtle reference to sexual maturity and discovery.
Unlike in many of her earlier works, predominantly those in Standing Female Nude such as ‘Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer’ and ‘Girlfriends’, Duffy similarly uses subtle references to sexual maturity in ‘In Mrs. Tilscher’s Class’ in which she mentions “inky tadpoles” which can be interpreted as a metaphor for sperm cells, which resemble tadpoles. This symbolism conveys the growing children’s sexual maturity, and in the context of the poem which intends to paint a picture of every reader’s experience of growing up and school-life through use of the generic second-person pronoun, “you”, how sexual maturity is an integral part of growing up.
Dissimilar to in ‘Originally’, this poem uses less enjambment and more full-stops and commas at the ends of lines; this is significant since the former poem is primarily about a literal journey, and the latter a figurative journey, therefore the diminished presence of enjambment suggests that growing up is a less smooth-flowing journey than relocation. This makes reader more likely to identify with this poem because everyone experiences adolescence but not everyone relocation, so Duffy’s work is more appreciated and, as has been mentioned, her social messages are reached by a wider audience.