Trivial PursuitsPosted: November 30, 2011
In one of her older notebooks, Carol Ann Duffy made an interesting note on the top margin of one of the many pages dedicated to rewriting “The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team.” She faintly wrote the phrase “Trivial Pursuit.” The phrase is not mentioned anywhere else on that page or on subsequent pages in that notebook. From its position on the page, it appears to be a briefly considered alternate title, or perhaps a title for another poem that dealt with similar themes as this one. As an alternate title, “Trivial Pursuit” works, considering the fairly large number of somewhat obscure pop culture references from Duffy’s youth that fill the poem and the title’s allusion to a game.
After seeing that phrase, I can’t help but wonder how Duffy thought about all of those pieces of pop culture (and academic) trivia in the piece. She obviously puts some kind of value on such things since mentions them, but I wonder if it’s necessarily a positive one, outside of the context of the poem.
And if Duffy even begins to consider the idea that such popular things are trivial, then that casts her work in The World’s Wife in a very interesting light. If that’s her popular work, does she think that it’s trivial too?
In her notes for one of the poems in The World’s Wife, “The Kray Sisters,” Duffy summarizes the entire poem with one phrase, “Sado-feminist lesbian gangsters.” These words appear in her notebook before any of the poem’s actual text. The fact that Duffy is able to essentially boil her high concept for the poem to one short phrase is a strong testament to the popular, easily accessible nature of the work. That said, I feel very unsure about how Duffy considers The World’s Wife in retrospect. Even though it was designed as a popular collection that could easily shift units, I wonder if she actually believes that the collection has literary merit, or simply tolerates its place in her bibliography.