Reflections after seeing manuscripts for “Oslo”

The manuscripts on the poem Oslo were very limited unlike the manuscripts available for Little Red Cap. The draft I saw for Oslo was as a composed complete poem. There were only a few revisions in the draft. Either Duffy had a very clear and distinct vision for the poem Oslo, or it was her filler poem, or it came out almost exactly as she wanted it on her first writing, or we don’t have all of Duffy’s drafts for the poem, or I was not thorough enough. I have a feeling the last two options are the most likely. Out of the revisions many were simply omissions of extra phrases. Unfortunately to be completely honest, I could not decipher all of her revisions due to her handwriting. [I would be a terrible teacher for that reason alone]. For ones that I could make out they were simple substitutions of words such as across to over. I am guessing that Duffy feels that the latter word expresses what she intends better than before. The most interesting part of the manuscript was the top margin. Duffy was doing some basic arithmetic. She divided 50 by 4, multiplied 20 by 30, and multiplied 80 by 30. I do not know what meaning that might hold but literary scholars should try to find out. It seems it would be one of those cool House of Leaves-esque factoid. Overall the poem was pretty close to the one we have in our edition of Mean Time. Another thing I found interesting was how Duffy would go in and out of writing poems and writing seemingly meaningless sentences really sloppily in certain sections of her notebook. After Oslo there was a good section where she wrote things like “This is a really nice pen” or wrote one or two stanzas of poetry at best. This makes me think that she was either really busy, procrastinating, or had writer’s block. It leads me to further solidify my belief that Oslo was a filler poem since it was just before these scribbles. To know if this is true or not, call her.


3 Comments on “Reflections after seeing manuscripts for “Oslo””

  1. Tim Webber says:

    I share your observation that some of the poems almost seemed to appear on the page in a fully-formed, or nearly fully formed state. I honestly think that the original versions were lost to time, perhaps scrawled on a napkin or a post-it note, then transferred to the notebook after at least one round of editing. Once something was in a notebook, I wouldn’t be surprised if she simply threw the original away. While the majority of the poem could have come to her in a dream or something, I think the truth is far more pedestrian.

  2. Daniel Crispino says:

    I was honestly surprised at how neatly written most of the poems were in the manuscripts, at least the ones that I observed. I occasionally write poetry in notebooks or on various scraps of paper, but my notes are barely legible and borderline incomprehensible in terms of handwriting and overall organization. I guess I’m not as meticulous as Duffy is, but perhaps I simply had unrealistic expectations about other people’s tidiness!

  3. Brian Croxall says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Tim here. I’m betting that the very first drafts of these poems–many of them, at least–were on some other document and that we don’t have them. It’s a pity, of course. But perhaps she had changed her process by the time she got to TWW, which is why we see more restructuring of her work there.