Musings on the Manuscript for “The Suicide”

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?

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.

“The Windows”

In January 1992, between “Room” and “Nostalgia,” Carol Ann Duffy wrote “The Windows.” When I read the poem for the first time, it struck me as a very lonely poem. The only other people in the poem besides the narrator (a child or a lover) are seemingly imagined. The second thing about the poem that struck me was the reference to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an iconic Christmastime movie. Duffy’s manuscripts indicate that she wrote “The Windows” on January 15, 1992. It seems that Duffy was inspired by recent events. After further inspection of the poem, I wondered if it was about somebody who lost a family member or friend and subsequently his or her life. The first three stanzas of the poem is in present time, while the last two stanzas seem to be a memory of the narrator’s past life. Hyacinths are flowers that bloom in spring (between March and April) which contradicts the earlier reference to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I was intrigued when I saw that the poem was written in January. I wondered if the narrator is Duffy, what was going on in Duffy’s life at the time, and what was going on in the world that might have inspired her to write this poem. I attempted to do further research which seems fruitless at present.

My trip to MARBL inspired me to do more research on my own about the poem. Even though I wasn’t able to easily identify any connections between Duffy’s life and the poem, it was good that I was interested enough to do research for something not assigned in class. I think that this assignment helped me to respect poetry more in general because I was able to see the amount creativity required to write a poem that people can connect to. Even a simple phrase like “steaming casseroles and red wine” can elicit memories in many people. “The Windows” is clearly another outpouring of Duffy’s emotions; there are few edits and no notes or organizational tools before she writes the poem and simply re-writes the poem before moving on to the next poem, “Nostalgia.”


On “Moments of Grace”

The revision process for “Moments of Grace” from the collection Mean Time was certainly more rigorous than that of “Eurydice” in The World’s Wife.  The poem required over ten drafts and took a much longer time to complete than most of Duffy’s other work.  In this case Duffy seemed to really scrutinize each word, putting a lot thought into the connotations of each word choice as well as the overall theme of the poem.  The drafts definitely display this meticulous word selection as they are full of cross-outs and rewrites as Duffy searches for the right diction.  One interesting aspect of the revision process for this poem is that even the title underwent several different drafts.  The first entry for the poem consists of several different title choices, including “Calling In” which presumably relates to the line “The chimes of mothers calling in children/ at dusk” (11-12).  I found this particularly interesting in that when I first read the poem, I had grazed over this line without thinking it was very important in the scheme of the poem.  However, given that the entire poem was almost named in reference to this one line, I had to attribute more importance to it, and reread the poem with this in mind.

The fourth stanza of the poem underwent the most rewrites of any other.  This also forced me to modify my reading of the final product in that it made me read the stanza with more emphasis, and look for some underlying themes.  I was surprised that I had not picked up on it in earlier readings, but I realized that this stanza is characterized by linguistic terminology.  The speaker states that “These days/ we are adjectives, nouns. In moments of grace we were verbs, the secret of poems, talented” (16-18).  The last line of the stanza also refers the speaker’s search “for the doing words” (20), another literary reference.  After rereading the stanza it is clear that Duffy is drawing a deliberate connection between literature and the “moments of grace” that she talks about.  The stanza suggests that it is literary talent that really constitutes the happiness that characterize these moments.

Another interesting aspect of Duffy’s writing process in this case was the amount of thought she gave to the ordering of the poem.  After she was satisfied with the word choice and overall diction of the poem, she set about considering if everything was structured in the most rewarding order.  This is the only poem I saw in which order was such a crucial factor of the revision process.  In some of the earlier drafts the order of the second and third stanzas is reversed.  Also, the line “Now I smell you peeling an orange in the other room” (21), is originally the first line of the poem, although it later becomes the first line of the last stanza.  Furthermore, the line “Passing, you kiss the back of my neck” (25) is originally the first line of the last stanza, but is eventually made the concluding line of the poem, and none of the other original lines from this stanza appear in the final version.  All of these alterations in the line order are made in order to develop the progression of the poem.  I think that moving the orange peeling line to the last stanza was a particularly good choice in that the anaphora of “Now” in the first two lines of that stanza really solidify the reader and the narrator in the present.  It moves the reader from the speaker’s recollection of these “moments of grace” into the “now” as the speaker seems to be in the midst of one of these moments as she writes the poem.  I thought this was a really strong shift in the poem’s emotional geography.

Eurydice Unfolds

Going through the various drafts of Duffy’s poems was definitely interesting, especially when comparing the different writing techniques she used in her different books.  I also thought that seeing how the poems developed draft by draft helped to progress my understanding of the final versions.  I started to look at those stanzas that Duffy had rewritten several times, to see if perhaps they held particular importance to the poem as a whole in order to warrant such attention.  Witnessing the revision process can often afford the reader new insights as to where the main themes of the poem really lie, and what it is that the author wants us to take away from the poem.

Duffy’s poem “Eurydice,” actually unfolded relatively quickly, especially in comparison to the laborious writing process of some of the other poems.  In the initial notes for the poem, dated July 8th of 1996, Duffy lays out the general idea for the poem to reverse the myth it is based on.  That is that Eurydice wants to be in the Underworld as it is the only true escape from her overbearing lover, who manages to follow her even there.  When I initially read “Eurydice” I thought it was an interesting technique to direct the poem at an audience labeled, “Girls,” as the speaker constantly prefaces her sentences with this address.  I wondered if this was Duffy’s plan right off the bat, or if this was something she had decided to add later on.  After reading the drafts I found out that this was, in fact, always a part of the poem though I had thought it may have been an additive of the revision process.  I also found it interesting to see what lines were taken out of the poem.  Among these were “Who could complain?/ Him./ Who could show up on Death’s door/ demanding me back?/ He could,” which Duffy had written near the beginning of the poem.  After reading the final version, I think it was a rewarding decision to cut these lines, and Duffy displayed good restraint in doing so.  While the tone of the poem overall is certainly resentful, I think that these lines are overly sardonic, and would change the speaker’s voice from  bitter to almost bratty.  This, among other decisions Duffy made certainly benefited the poem as a whole.

But as I said, I was surprised by how quickly the poem developed as it took Duffy much fewer drafts than the poem I researched from her other collection, Mean Time.  I was at first extremely impressed by this considering the array of word plays and complicated rhyme scheme at work in the poem.  Duffy uses slant rhymes throughout the poem and also echoes certain sounds such as “Eternal Repose” and “writing poems” on lines fifteen and nineteen respectively.  While I was shocked at first at how quickly Duffy was able to write the poem with these elements, I began to wonder if perhaps this word play is what allowed the poem to be written so quickly.  This is to say that Duffy allowed the rhyme scheme to direct the poem and dictate the path it would take.  Whereas the free verse poems in Mean Time rely solely on content to capture the reader, “Eurydice” and other poems in The World’s Wife use rhyme scheme and word play as a sort of gimmick, which can sometime be distracting from the actual themes of the poems.  Thus, I came to think that perhaps Duffy was able to write this poem in so few drafts because she allowed the rhyme scheme to carry the poem as opposed to scrutinizing every word to make sure it conveyed the appropriate theme.

The draft versus the published introduction in “Penelope”

One of the interesting things that I found in MARBL on the poem “Penelope” was an entirely different introductory verse. Although some portions of the draft exist in the published version of the poem I think that examining what the poem would have gained versuses lost will help readers understand more about Duffy’s writing style and the poem. The drafted introductory verse that is written inside of Duffy’s notebook reads as follows:

For twenty years I sewed my tapestry by day

at night unpicked it.

I knew which hour of the dark the moon

Would start to fray,

I stitched it.

Blue threads and green

Followed my needle’s leaping fish to form a river that would never reach the sea.

I tricked it.

I thought that this was an extraordinary introduction and I question why Duffy decided not to use it in her published version. I thought that maybe her editing drafts were thoughts of what came to mind. For instance, if anyone can recall the story of the Odyssey you are aware that it took 20 years for Odysseus to return home. So maybe Duffy began with the basics and then expanded. Furthermore, I begin to examine why she used the draft she did more closely and what better way to start then with the published introduction.

At first, I looked along the road

hoping to see him saunter home

among the olive trees,

a whistle for the dog

who mourned him with his warm head on my knees.

Six months of this

And then I noticed whole days had passed

Without my noticing.

I sorted cloth and scissors, needle, thread,

After examining the two verses I could see some of the strengths in Duffy using the published verse. She already knew she was creating a “different type of volume,” so if she would have kept the original verse it might have been more cliché. However, the published version really allows the reader to understand Penelope’s hope for her husband to return as opposed to making a poem out of the story the readers are familiar with. By doing so Duffy creates a more emotional and personal image of Penelope. Other than this revision there were few revisions in “Penelope.” Once again, I am left with the conclusion that Duffy is a very careful and skilled thinker which reflects in her writings.


On Anne Hathaway

Never in my life have I written a poem for a reason other than a class assignment; admittedly, most of those poems look and read like prose except I made the paragraphs look like stanzas. My brain just doesn’t seem to work when it comes to writing (or analyzing) poetry. This is why it was so startling to me when I perused Duffy’s journals how the poems seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Do you remember those concrete poem outlines from elementary school? They were lines made to look like a specific shape (circle, diamond, Christmas tree) and the instruction was to write a poem on the lines about what the shape could be. So, for instance, you might write a poem about baseball on a diamond shaped outline. I think this is how I would have to write a sonnet. I would have to have fourteen lines with the rhyme scheme written out to the side and it would probably take me days to figure out how to write in pentameter.

The only words about Duffy’s sonnet, “Anne Hathaway,” before the actual poem are a note to check Shakespeare’s will to see what it says about the second best bed to Anne Hathaway. Then on the next page, the poem is written in full. There are minor edits; Duffy changes “swear” to “dream” on the seventh line, “dreaming” to “dribbling” on the twelfth line, and “his timeless” to “my lover’s” on the third line.

These minor edits make the poem slightly better in my opinion, but they don’t change any part of the poem dramatically. So, in essence, on November 30, 1998 (thirteen years ago today), Carol Ann Duffy wrote “Anne Hathaway” as it is published today.

Now that I have had a chance to examine and analyze Duffy’s manuscripts, I respect her creative mind much more. I go about writing poetry in a very mathematical way; it appears that Duffy’s poems flow from her mind to the paper with no intermediary.

the Devil’s gay?

The thing I found most striking about “Mrs. Faust” in the manuscript actually turned out to be my mistake.  I repeatedly misread “the Devil’s boy” for “the Devil’s gay” in the manuscript.  I thought this would be a really funny twist to the story of Dr. Faustus, seeing as he was almost obsessed with the devil and then sold himself to the devil.

Aside from that, I was surprise to see so little on “Mrs. Faust” in the manuscripts because its one of the longer poems.  I only found the last stanzas (11th-15th), and I saw that Duffy wrote the last portion of the poem over and over with a few edits here and there. Looking back at the poem, this seems to make sense because the end of the poem is the kicker, and Duffy would want to word it just right. I also found in another portion of the manuscripts, that Duffy scribbled, “Mrs. Faust – he had no soul,” before she began writing the poem.  I thought it was interesting that Duffy actually started the poem with the end, which is the most ironic and clever line.

Duffy repeated most the 11th stanza, the part about Helen of Troy.  I thought it was intriguing that Duffy wanted to perfect this stanza the most out of the rest because this reveals that Dr. Faust cheats on Mrs. Faust and where she is most wronged.  Perhaps this further justifies Mrs. Faust’s lack of love for her husband and her apathy later when he is dragged to hell.

Furthermore, I noticed that the rest of the poem was written with few edits and adjustments, showing that perhaps the rest of the poem flowed easily to Duffy.  I find this very impressive given the amount of vivid imagery portrayed through the diction in lines like, “I heard/ a serpents hiss,/ tasted evil/ knew its smell,/ as scaly devil hands.”

I wondered if Duffy added the other parts of the poem at the last minute.  Although the end of the poem is the most interesting and sinister, the beginning and middle of the poem is essential too because it relates the story of Dr. Faustus to the everyday person in today’s society.


The Nooooo in “Havisham”

After completing the necessary paperwork to take pictures In MARBL I was ready to uncover some cool things about Duffy’s poem “Havisham.” One of the things that I noticed was the different formations of the word “no” that appeared throughout the edits. For clarification purposes the word “no” occurs in the following line: “Whole days / in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall” (5-6).

In one of her drafts Duffy wrote the word “no” as no no no. She then transitioned to forming the word as no-no-no. Lastly she scratches out no-no-no and uses the word nooooo, which I think has a valuable impact on her poem.

The word “no” serves in multiple ways. In the previous quote the word nooooo is used to emphasize feelings from both Duffy and Miss Havisham’s perspective. Duffy could have meant for the word to mean simply no in the context of creating the poem—as in, “No, this formatting has to change,” which is why she edits her drafts multiple times. Additionally the word could have been used from Miss Havisham’s perspective of , “No, why is this happening to me I don’t deserve this?”

I also think that the final version’s use of the word “no” is as equally important as the edits. For instance, the word “No” is capitalized and it has an extra o’s really place more emphasis and the word, which adds to the speaker’s feelings of distress, anger, etc.

Overall, I believe that Duffy is purposely crafting her use of the word” no“. It may have started as a word with the original intention of serving as just an ordinary word in the poem, however my discoveries have lead me to believe that the word means so much more. This is important because it shows how skilled of a writer Duffy is and that she plays extremely close attention to what may be viewed as minor details.

Duffy’s no Shakespeare or Spenser

I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with my title and of course I’m being facetious.  However, after reading Duffy’s drafts of “Prayer,” a part of me wished she had followed through with all the conventions of a Shakespeare sonnet.  Yes, she’s a poet laureate and must be a literary genius, but I didn’t see much mastery in her meter or rhyme.  I thought that if she wanted to use the form of the sonnet, she should do it well and follow through with it.

Maybe Duffy didn’t want to be restricted by the sonnet form and perhaps wanted to put her own spin on the sonnet and modernize it, but I would’ve been more impressed by the poem if she showed that she could still convey the message she wanted within the confines of a Shakespearean sonnet.  I’ve written numerous sonnets (both Shakespeare and Spenserian) and each one was extremely time consuming and sometimes frustrating to write (mostly because of following iambic pentameter perfectly is a bitch.)  However, whenever I complete my sonnets, I’m proud because it’s a difficult task that requires discipline and a strong command of language.

I saw in the manuscripts that Duffy had written a first version of “Prayer” that was COMPLETELY different from the final published version.  Then when she changed the poem to more like the one we’ve read, I saw that she attempted to write in iambs by the stressed marks above the first line of poetry.  However, after the first line there’s no established meter, and to me it seems like Duffy just gave up on it.  I saw that there were very few edits in terms of her meter and structure but more for her diction.  This showed me that Duffy cared more about presenting her own words and message than following the conventions, but I believe the best poets are stylistically versatile.  Duffy’s other works usually lack rhyme and meter.  In “Prayer” she could’ve demonstrated that she can write within conventions and do it brilliantly.