Pages and pages and pages of “Mean Time” manuscriptPosted: November 29, 2011
I always found it really intriguing when, during a movie, film, etc., a character says the actual title of the piece. Sometimes it’s thanks to a shitty screenwriter attempting to be witty, but sometimes it gives the title new, valuable meaning. I was immediately curious as to which experience the poem “Mean Time” would bring.
Luckily, “Mean Time” turned out to be very insightful and characteristic of the overall collection, Mean Time. The poem is very straightforward, at least compared to a lot of feminist poetry bordering between modernism and post-modernism, i.e. the rest of the collection. Duffy, with artistic brevity, captures the timeless feeling of hindsight, regret, and mortality. I think that simplicity is a better word to describe Duffy’s style here. The words are powerful, far from inscrutable, and reminiscent of an artistic intuition that could never be evoked through complexity.
I really looked forward to seeing the type of creative elbow grease that must have gone into constructing such a lucid yet powerful poem and eagerly withdrew the ancient manuscript from its cryptic, folderous rest place. What was inside? Well, to start, there weren’t endless pages of edits, theme outlines, structural guidelines, rhyming words, or even annotations leading up to a final, polished, publishable piece. In fact there was nothing leading at all. No train of thought, outlines of artistic thinking, or even slight corrections to crack open the door to Duffy’s artistic mind. All that stood on the sole page dedicated to this poem was the poem itself, clean as a whistle. There wasn’t a single word changed or crossed off; only the first and final draft of “Mean Time” lay on the page.
After coping with the initial disappointment of finding nothing new (literally, the poem in the notebook was, word for word, identical to the copy in the book), I tried to connect the simplicity of the poem to the apparent ease with which it was composed. To me, it seems that Duffy had very little trouble making profound generalizations. The overall message in “Mean Time” is much more broad than others in the collection as it deals with time itself, yet Duffy seems to create this message with ease. Conversely, in less general poems such as “Mrs. Sisyphus” (in which Duffy relates matrimonial tensions and unnoticed marital conflict), Duffy seems to have more difficulty composing her thoughts (marked by the pages of notes leading up to the final draft).
In the end, however, I don’t think this is specific to Duffy but is rather a generalization in itself. After my experience researching this poem, Duffy has me believing that broad, far-reaching assertions, even if profound, are much simpler and attainable than those regarding specific, real-world situations. The collection, Mean Time, is Duffy’s attempt to describe the specific, drawn together by generalizations such as time and love. Duffy does a good job of showing that life is easy to observe from the outside, but not so much from within.