Creating a Voice in Poetry

Creating a Voice in Poetry

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Creating a Voice in Poetry

Discuss how the poets create voices in their work. Write about
Reports and one other poem.

The poem 'Reports' focuses on one teachers cynical approach on writing
school reports. This didactic poem take full advantage of using the
imperative and pragmatics, as well as manipulating graphological
features, such as the use of italics to indicate quotations. The poem
is also written as a monologue, showing one side of a conversation,
allowing the reader to focus on the opinions and character of an
individual... in this case the school teacher. Similarly, this method
is used in Carol Ann Duffy's poem 'Head of English', taken from 'Standing
Female Nude.' The poem 'Head of English' makes good use of written
language, creating the tone of a pompous school teacher but also uses
punctuation to give the reader an idea about the character portrayed.

'Head of English' shows one characters disdain for another, however
the reader is only meant to visualise the seemingly over confident
Head of English. Duffy uses a monologue style to allow the reader to
engage with the teacher in question and allows the reader to empathise
(although not sympathise) with the voice in the poem. The poem opens
with the line;

"Today we have a poet in the class."

On a surface read through this opening line could be intended to
enthuse the pupils, however in my opinion this remark shows subtle
hints of sarcasm, however unintentional or subconscious these may be.
Grammatically the sentence structure suggests that the teacher is to
the point, there is no indication of a break between "Today" and "we"
although, the reader would expect a teacher to be taking her time and
would at least expect to see a comma. As well as this the full stop at
the end of the line adds emphasis to the sentence and brings it to an
abrupt end, almost definitely a purposeful move on the part of the
poet, to suggest to the reader that the character in the poem is
abrupt. The hints of sarcasm are then backed up between lines three
and five, when the teacher says;

" Perhaps

we're going to witness verse hot from the press.

Who knows."

The first sentence suggests that the teacher is testing the poet. On
the surface it seems as if she is trying to enthuse the pupils,
although the pragmatics suggest that she is testing the poet, almost
challenging the poet. Then the second sentence, "Who knows.", backs up
the readers thoughts of the teacher. Intriguingly the poet has
manipulated the language again by using a full stop to end a sentence
that would normally be a question.

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I feel that this has been done to
express the character of the teacher. It is not intended to be a
question because the teacher has no intention for an answer, in fact
the reader doubts if she ever intends for answers. We cannot determine
if the statement is directed towards the poet or the pupils, either
way the Head of English is trying to show her superiority (in her

The poem continues to lay out the teachers values and attitudes to
pupils, schools and more importantly modern poetry. In the second
stanza the voice, shows a discontent for modern poetry. We see the
first example of the teacher trying to show off her knowledge of
English in line eight. She uses the word "assonance" to try and link
the visit to previous English lessons, however the pragmatics suggest
that the teacher is showing off her ability to use the English
language and trying to impress (or even subtly trying to degrade)
either colleagues, students or indeed the visitor. The reader also
gets to see the teachers opinion on modern poetry.

" ...not all poems,

sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind."

The neutral sentence would have been 'not all poems rhyme these days'
however, the use, and indeed positioning, of the word "sadly" suggests
that the teacher feels a degree of negativity towards the contrast in
the poetry of her generation and the poetry that has come about over
more recent years. This could be read as another dig at the poet in
the teachers company, as Duffy makes little attempt to use rhyme in
her poem, possibly to act as a contrast to the opinions of the
character in the stanza's. The reader could draw the conclusion that
the Head of English disregards modern poetry and as it doesn't match
her values when it comes to 'good' poetry, it isn't worth studying.
The stanza ends by confirming to the reader the teachers opinion of
the visit. Line twelve shows the reader that the teacher feels
aggrieved that she has had to pay out of her budget for the services
of the poet. The reader can really imagine and sense the phonetics of
the sentence, and can imagine the teacher saying it. It also relays
the message that the teacher wants to get everything she can from the
poet, she wants to get her money's worth.

Stanza four shows off the capabilities of the English teacher as far
as manipulating the language is concerned. She opens the verse by
showing her disregard of those who haven't learnt English as a first
tongue and shows that her priorities come first... she wants her
break. She then emphasises the fact of how 'lucky' the students are to
be in the presence of the poet, almost appearing to the reader to be
too keen to prove their luck and in doing so creating another air of
sarcasm. The use of repetition (of the 'mis' sound in "midst" and
"mists") has been placed to show the reader of the poetic competence
of the teacher in my opinion. This has been repeated in line sixteen,
when the teacher quotes Keats, although tries to pass of the quotation
as her own, this is displayed by the poet, who doesn't use quotation
marks to separate the phrase. The teacher is in fact trying to pull
the wool over the eyes of those around her.

The penultimate stanza continues the teachers lecture, using short
sentences and displaying an advanced knowledge of her subject, this
obviously has the same effect as it has done in previous lines. There
are however two points in the stanza that are worth commenting on. The
first is a second quote, used by the teacher, has, however, much more
advanced pragmatics.

" We don't

want winds of change about the place."

...suggests that the teacher feels threatened by the presence of the
poet. The Head of English is obviously concerned that the poet may go
on to talk about something the English teacher had not considered or
implied to her students, therefore showing the teacher up in front of
colleagues and students alike. The line actually holds a Harold
Macmillan quote, 'winds of change', which was used by Macmillan when
the colonies of the British Empire first started breaking away. The
reader of the poem questions whether the use of this quotation was
intentional or indeed sub-conscious, it could be a surface remark,
suggesting the teacher doesn't want wind in the assembly, however it
could mean, and in my opinion is more likely to refer to, the teachers
nervousness about the poet 'corrupting' and reforming the pupils views
towards poetry and English. The second noticeable suggestion in the
stanza comes in line twenty four. The Head of English directly
challenges the poet, saying;

"Convince us there's something we don't know."

If there were any doubts in the readers mind, this put them to rest.
The teacher implies that she feels threatened and possibly even
trapped by the poet, to combat this the teacher is setting up an 'over
confident' defence mechanism. The reader is left questioning if this
is a one off experience and character fluctuation on behalf of the
English tutor, or if this is her day to day character... if I had to
hazard a guess I would say probably the second one.

The closing stanza is a summation of all the previous ideas and
exploits the teachers obvious unease at the situation. The opening
sentences are both monosyllabic; "Well. Really." This could show the
reader that the poet has informed the pupils of her interpretations of
certain works and has contradicted the English teacher, This has, in
turn, made the Head of English realise her failures. The teacher
ushers the "girls" out of the room (suggesting that the teacher is in
a single sex establishment, possibly a grammar school), without
seeming to give them a chance to ask questions. The final stanza uses
very short sentences, those that would typically be used by someone
who is showing symptoms of anguish. The 'thanks' seem very blunt and
again display signs of sarcasm and the poem finishes with the Head of
English walking away from the poet, signifying to the reader that she
feels ultimately embarrassed and humiliated by the visitor. Whilst
this is going on, the reader feels a sense of satisfaction that this
teacher has had her comeuppance.

I feel that Duffy has created this character to express how she feels
when she enters school on visits. I think Duffy was going through a
period of disillusion in school talks when she wrote this poem, and
felt as though, although students appreciated her in whatever capacity
they could, the teachers felt as if Duffy was inferior to them, with
this in mind I think the poem could be perceived as being persuasive,
especially in terms of treatment of school visitors... it is almost a
subtle protest, which allows Duffy to vent some of her built up
frustration. I think that the voice in the poem suggests that certain
teachers feel further up a hierarchy that other teachers, students and
members of the education lifestyle and see themselves about others for
various, undefined reasons.

The poem 'Reports', taken from U.A. Fanthorpe's 'Standing To', holds
many of the same character qualities as 'Head of English.' The voice
in 'Reports' is delivered as a monologue, as it is done in 'Head of
English', both characters seem over-confident in what they are saying
and both seem to look down on other individuals or other institutions.
The voice in 'Reports' adopts a teacher-ly tone, and the reader
perceives the character to be a teacher with experience, adopting a
didactic style and manipulating pragmatics when talking to a less
experienced colleague.

The poem opens with eye catching use of graphology, which the reader
later realises signifies a direct quotation from a report. This link
is established by the use of a report type lexis, although all italic
quotes have a negative air about them. The opening stanza also shows
the use of the imperative, a theme which runs throughout the poem.
Line four;

"Don't give them anything"

...acts as an imperative command, and whilst it may be seen as
friendly advice from one colleague to another, it adopts a very
negative tone. The use of the word "them", in the same line, also
begins to separate the teachers from others who may receive this
report, and starts to build the security barriers the voice obviously
feels need to be in place. The reader establishes the fact that the
teacher wants to distant herself from people like the parents, other
senior teachers and of course the pupils, her experiences in writing
reports and possibly from previous errors, have given her a sound
knowledge to base future reports on.

The second and third stanza's can be grouped together, they deal with
the 'well behaved' students in the groups. The teacher seems to have
nothing positive to say, possibly due to the lack of attention the
good students receive... therefore in this teachers mind there is a
lack of things to say about them? This dismissive tone continues in
line ten, which offers the listener examples of easily utilised
phrases. The cynical tone is continued in lines twelve and thirteen;

"By meaning nothing,

Apply to all."

...displaying the disregard the teacher has for the pupils and how she
views the process of writing reports.

Stanza four opens with a defensive warning;

"Be on your guard;"

This signifies to the reader that the experienced teacher is very wary
of 'them' ('them' being anyone who may criticise the report). The term
also has militaristic connotations, 'on guard'... possibly signifying
that the teacher sees reports as a weapon to attack students, but also
as a weapon that can harm them, a theme that is continued in line
sixteen; "cuts both ways." In my opinion, the theme of acquitting the
teachers, in line eighteen, shows the reader clearly that the teacher
talking fears report writing, as the teacher in 'Head of English'
feared being shown up by her visitor. Both teachers want recognition
for what they are doing and have done and wish to receive due credit,
without suffering put backs in the forms of criticism or complaint.

The fifth stanza draws an almost comical reference to religious texts.
The reader instantly associates the line; "Parent, child, head," with
the Holy Trinity; 'Father, Son, Holy Ghost.' This play on words
engages the reader and makes them think about what is going on, whilst
showing a play on words, similar to the play on quotations in Duffy's
'Head of English'. These themes are continued with the antonym "Unholy
trinity" in line twenty one.

Stanza six opens with a hint of sarcasm, yet a subtle one, similar to
those found in 'Head of English'. In my opinion,

"Remember your high calling:"

...could make reference to a vocational element, however the fact that
it is followed by the line;

"School is the world."

This signifies that either the teacher truly believes that her job is
all that matters, or that she is mocking the system... in my opinion
the reader would associate more with the second. Both the sixth and
seventh stanza's act as a conclusion to the poem, a form that
Fanthorpe has used to show a clear conclusion to her work, a method
often used by those writing essays or delivering speeches (as in this
instance). This conclusion could be seen as a metaphor for life, and I
feel that this was the intention of the poet. The sixth stanza calls
on the italic phrases from previous lines in the poem, summarising
them into six lines. I think that the reader is left pondering the
question of whether life can be summed up in six lines, and I think
Fanthorpe has found a way to persuade the reader that the answer can
be 'yes'.

The final stanza is to the point, a clear conclusion it personifies a
tombstone theme, with references to a "final instructor," (that being
an epitaph) and moving from the indicative to one final closing
comment in the imperative,

"Rest in peace."

I feel U. A. Fanthorpe wrote this poem for one main reasons, that
being that she wanted to point out the strain teachers went through
when writing reports, not directly, but by placing the subtle message
of the dangers of reports deep within the semantics. She wanted to
underline the implications that one word, be it as subtle as a
pro-noun or as direct as "oaf", can have on a career.

Although both 'Reports' and 'Head of English' have different meanings,
I feel that the voices within the lines, and the attitudes of the
voices are very similar. Both are teachers, who feel threatened by an
outside entity, both try to show off their understanding of the
English language and both play on words and quotations. Both voices
seem to hold high opinions of themselves a fact that is pointed out by
the poets' decision to use monologue, and both poets try to create a
certain hostility between the reader and the voices in the poems. The
reader is captivated in an enthralling display of grammar, graphology,
didactics, the imperative and semantics. Enthused by both poets to
read on, discover the faults and frictions of these voices and decide
for themselves, am I with 'them, or us'?
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