Musings on the Manuscript for “The Suicide”Posted: December 1, 2011
Compared to what I saw for “Mrs. Sisyphus,” the manuscript for Duffy’s poem “The Suicide” from Mean Time is much closer to what I expected a poet’s manuscript would look like. There was no grid of rhyming words waiting to be put together like a puzzle. The poem was written out much like it was published, and there were strike-throughs and sprinkled throughout. The most intriguing thing to me, though, was that at the very top of the page, Duffy wrote “This will kill my folks.” Above my, she wrote “the” as well, but she obviously stuck with “my.” Before even writing down that title and any of the other lines, she wrote out the line that became the final one. When I first read “The Suicide,” that line stuck out for me. It made me think of the consequences of a suicide and the way that it affects those left behind. Seeing this manuscript reinforced my view that “This will kill my folks” is one of the key lines. Given its placement at the top of the manuscript page, it appears Duffy also found it important. Perhaps this is the first line she came up with. The line’s placement in the final version of the poem is also significant, I think. It’s the very last line. It’s also the only sentence that has a stanza to itself. Duffy clearly wanted to set the line apart and made sure that they were the last words of the poem that the reader would see. I would guess this is largely due to the way that it would strike readers.
I also noticed that she had an idea for a line that I thought would have been an improvement over the final version. In the first draft, she wrote “The horrid smiling mouths / pout on the wallpaper.” This is what was published. In a second draft, though, she wrote and marked out “The horrid smiling mouths / pout to wallpaper rosebuds in electric light.” Maybe I’m alone in this, but I really really like that.
She also considered calling the poem “Suicide” instead of “The Suicide.” I think the latter title is more fitting. The poem is not about the practice of suicide as much as it’s about one person’s experience with suicide. “The Suicide” also conveys so much more finality and certainty compared with the more imprecise “Suicide.” How many other poems did she consider titling differently?