Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gobsmacked! Carol Ann Duffy's Brilliant Retort

A regular brouhaha has been stirring in the British poetry world over the removal of Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Education for Leisure" from a curriculum anthology because of the mention of a knife. Ms. Duffy, a poet from the tip of her toes to the top of her laurels, replied almost instantly upon the news:

Mrs. Scofield's GCSE

You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare's Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt's death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark - do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.

Upon reading this poem,
Mrs. Scofield, the instigator of said censorship, observed that she felt "gobsmacked." Well, hmn, maybe, yeah. To describe the poem, however, as weird is, well, weird for a teacher, particularly a teacher of poetry. Ms. Duffy has been ever so kind to supply numerous instances of the Bard flashing the cutlery in a few less than obscure plays and this is weird?

Hell, it seems more like a lesson plan to me. Here's the original offending poem for perusal:

Education for Leisure Today

I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets

I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was
in another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.

I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don't appreciate my autograph.

There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he's talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

The irony is so thick here it could be cut with ... well, you know.



Charles Gramlich said...

It's such a shame that events like Columbine and others have made folks so hypersensitive to any hint of violence, either ironic or otherwise. A sad day.

Greg Schwartz said...

i agree with Charles... it IS a shame. everyone's so quick to cover up words and phrases that might just offend one person who interprets them wrong.

i thought Britain was doing a better job than the US of brushing aside attempts at censorship. guess not.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles and Greg, yes, indeed, it really is quite a shame, especially since people don't seem to read the work they censor and, in this case, to try and understand what it's doing: the original poem is actually addressing the very fears that the censor is trying to come to grips with by censoring.

Had heard about Duffy but not read her. I was impressed, will have to look into her further.


Ed Baker said...

I never knew a girl (or boy) who was ruined by
one of my poems/books or drawings/sculpts or by any-boddhi else's.

grh said...

Touching a knife :: a day without inspiration until then

(with apologies to Carol Ann Duffy)


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I think there is a poem in there somewhere, Ed,

Ruined by poetry -
the cherry blossom reattaches
to the branch.

Though I can't speak for Ms. Duffy, g, you have nothing to apologize for ...