Reading a poem can challenge you. It can take you away from the certainties associated with your understanding. and this can be uncomfortable and exasperating. What is the point you may say?Sometimes however, although students find poetry more difficult than other genres once they ‘tackle’ a poem, they often find the experience very rewarding and the brevity and intensity of the experience proves even exciting!
One tip I always suggest to students as Easter Revision and exam season beckons is about feeling awkward or uncomfortable and making these feelings HELP YOU.
What do you do when you feel uncomfortable or awkward? You usually adjust your position or find something different to do.
So take for example Carol Ann Duffy’s Hour poem from her T.S.Eliot prize winning collection, Rapture. Find the moment of difficulty or awkwardness for YOU.
For me, there are two ‘clanging’ moments perhaps more, but two will do!
The first phrase I find odd is the refererence to the ‘grass ditch.’ all the words before suggest pleasure and preciousness,the exhilaration of spening any moments with the beloved.
Yet the word ‘ditch’ seems clunky. It brings the sense down and is an anti climax. Why is it in the poem? What is the point? This poetic technique is called ‘bathos.’
But we need to think about this awkwardness, this ‘bathetic’ moment to get the point of it. There is NO POINT AT ALL in merely listing techniques WITHOUT EXPLAINING THEIR IMPORTANCE to the poem.
Does this use of bathos show that their love is such that the ‘ditch’ is irrelevant? Do they need to meet outside, away from the crowds in order to express their love? Is it a furtive kind of love? Would others disapprove? Why?
Does the word ditch make their love comical in a way? Is its secrecy part of the appeal and is it likely to survive? The bathos seems IRONIC and brings their love into a GRITTIER perspective. They may be all ‘loved up’ to coin a current phrase but their love makes for uncomfortable physical positions and probably stains their clothing!
The second oddity for me is the word ‘Midas’.
Midas was the mythical King who was so in love with gold that he prayed that everything he touched should turn to gold. This proved humanly costly and rather isolating.
Carol Ann Duffy herself wrote a dramatic monologue about poor old Mrs Midas in her popular collection, The World’s Wife. Mrs Midas sees Midas as a selfish, greedy partner whose craving for gold ignores her own physical need for contact. unsurprisingly she moves out!
Here I cannot help but feel that the reference to Midas DOOMS their love. Perhaps it is a foreshadowing of the greed of the lover, an ironic anticipation of her preoccuptation with wealth. The gaze of the poet upon the beloved whom I assume is female( look at references to hair in the collection for justification) contains within it an intuitive recognition of their fate. I even feel Midas may invite thoughts about vanity and narcissism.
Of course the entire collection also charts the course of the relationship and so the end is known ironically, from the beginning of the collection .
So here just thinking about oddity and asking WHY does this stand out, why is it ODD can help you a great deal…if you don’t understand, SAY WHY and you will get marks.
Some poems are hard and so SO OBSCURE that saying ‘this is difficult’ may be the most HONEST and ACADEMICALLY HONEST and CRITICALLY HONEST act you carry out.
Say this is difficult and WHY THIS WORD OR PHRASE IS DIFFICULT AND THAT IS EXCITING, THOUGHTFUL WRITING.
Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,
bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.
We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers
or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.
For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair
like treasure on the ground; the Midas light
turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here
we are millonaires, backhanding the night
so nothing dark will end our shining hour,
no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit
hung from the blade of grass at your ear,
no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit
than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,
but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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