Struggling to write “Circe” (TWW)

Looking at Duffy’s manuscripts for The World’s Wife and Mean Time in MARBL, it was intriguing to see her drafting process and how much remodeling each poem took before it achieved publishing. Duffy edited and rewrote material for The World’s Wife a lot more than in her preparations for Mean Time. Duffy used thirteen pages in her journals to work through The World’s Wife’s poem “Circe” versus a mere three for “First Love” in Mean Time.

Duffy’s thoughts seemed to flow more naturally when writing Mean Time. In her first draft of “First Love”, Duffy fluently inscribed the majority of the poem. Her draft seemed smooth and effortless. Even from the very beginning of her brainstorming, Duffy’s appears confident in her writing, and she seems to have a strong foundation for her story and how it should flow. When I looked at Duffy’s Mean Time manuscripts I noticed that generally Duffy did not struggle with her lines until she neared the end of her poems; she spent a lot more time and paper on the last stanza. Additionally, when Duffy was editing in Mean Time, she was only editing small words to enhance her poem’s theme.  I think Duffy used this editing to better portray a theme she had pre-determined.

The editing process seen in Duffy’s manuscripts for The World’s Wife is very different from that in Mean Time. When Duffy began her writing for many poems for The World’s Wife she seemed to lack the strong sense of direction she previously had established when writing for Mean Time. I believe Duffy developed a list of women she wanted to write about, and then set out to create a story for each. Duffy’s brainstorming in The World’s Wife does not give the impression she has clear intentions for the organization or content of the developing poem, whereas in Mean Time Duffy appears especially grounded at least in her opening stanzas.

Duffy made similar small-scale editing on both volumes; however, she omitted considerably more full lines and stanzas in The World’s Wife. For example, the very first entry for “Circe” began with, “Nereids and nymphs, listen up. Today/we have what to do with a pig./ Firstly, identify.“ This thought however, this was scrapped along with the later line, “we are talking Pig with a capital P.” More importantly, as Duffy fostered her ideas for “Circe” she originally began with entirely different poem:

I was the kind of Goddess, middle-aged… who wanted to talent and use it well- poetry, pottery, painting/ maybe the novel. /I was celibate now…consulting Thesaurus one day/ to see how the language defined me- she-devil, harpy, virago, bitch– displease/ I came across witch./ Soon after that, I started to dabble in herbs.”

Duffy originally intended to portray Circe in a significantly different light. Interestingly, Duffy wrote a note, seemingly to herself, on that original draft of “Circe”; she said, “No– get physically into every aspect of the pig- including butchering and eating”. In her next entry Duffy began writing the form of “Circe” readers know today.

5 Comments on “Struggling to write “Circe” (TWW)”

  1. Jordan Lewis says:

    I agree that as a whole it looks like she had a harder time writing the poems in The World’s Wife. The manuscripts made them look more…constructed. Contrived might even be a good word for it, even though I don’t mean it in a derogatory way. I saw that “flow” that you speak of much more prominently in the manuscripts for Mean Time.

  2. Joe Dixon says:

    I definitely noticed this too, especially in Circe, where Duffy changes the words waste deep to breast deep, and adds “I slipped out of my dress”. It really makes you wonder what her actual reasoning was behind all these changes. We can all speculate but in the end I really wish she had written down her intentions.

  3. Ani Deshpande says:

    Do you think Duffy had a weaker sense of direction in drafting “The World’s Wife” because she was simply motivated by money? Since Duffy only had monetary motivations her process could have been more contrived and not as organic as an artist drawing from inspiration.

    • Brian Croxall says:

      I don’t know if we can say up front that she was motivated by money. The letter that we see from her to her publisher was written after TWW was completed. She might only have seen it as a different sort of thing ex post facto.

  4. Candice Bang says:

    I believe Duffy had to make her writing more constructed in The World’s Wife because she’s speaking through other famous females. I would think it’s easier to write quality works if you’re inspired from your own experiences. Because Duffy is writing about stories of other women, she perhaps had to try harder to capture their perspective and voice.