MARBL: “Nostalgia”Posted: November 30, 2011
While Mean Time does not emphasize a single, recurring theme to the extent that The World’s Wife does with gender and femininity, Duffy still draws attention to several motifs, including childhood, memory, and nostalgia. Thus, it is only appropriate to examine the poem “Nostalgia,” as it exemplifies Duffy’s fixation with fleeting moments in the past as they come to the surface in the present. The poem’s actual content is ambiguous – references to “early mercenaries” returning home with “a sack on [the] back” suggest a wartime theme of a soldier’s homecoming. Still, the lines about schoolteachers and old books and priests suggest a broader topic of the past, perhaps in an attempt to define and expand upon the title of “Nostalgia.”
And yet, as I read Duffy’s original MARBL manuscripts of the poem, I began to feel nostalgic myself. There is something about the effect of reading through Duffy’s old notes and annotations that gives the poem an entirely new meaning through the perspective of a writer. Throughout the five versions of the poem that existed in the MARBL collections, with the final being identical to the published version, Duffy’s progression was mostly consistent. She would write out the version of the poem she had in mind, make edits ranging from substituting “red” with “yellow” to eliminating an entire stanza, then produce the new version for further revisions.
I had quite the moment of displacement in the MARBL reading room. For just a second, I saw myself as Duffy the poet, writing verses in some old notebook, crossing out words and inserting others, and trying to come up with a final, presentable product after producing draft after draft. I can remember my own editing sessions for various work, sitting for hours upon end crossing out specific lines here and there, trying to make an acceptable final product. I doubt this impact of nostalgia was intentional, as it is unknown how deeply Duffy would have wanted her readers to look into old manuscripts. Then again, Duffy has a way about her writing that truly brings out the past into the present. I can safely say that reading the manuscripts of “Nostalgia” made me feel…well, nostalgic, more so than the actual content of the poem.