Puzzling out Duffy’s Poetry


As we saw in a letter to her publisher, Carol Ann Duffy felt that her fifth book, The World’s Wife (TWW), “is not a ‘normal’ poetry collection by me—it’s close to popular entertainment.” Here, then, is a real research question: is she right?

The Nitty Gritty

You will write a six-page (or more!) paper that examines TWW in relation to Duffy’s third collection, The Other Country (TOC). In a sense, your argument will be to agree or disagree with Duffy’s assessment: are TWW and TOC similar to one another or are they radically different? Either is an equally valid choice. To orient your writing, you could think of this as a “compare and contrast” paper. Make sure that you do not simply summarize the poems’ plots; instead, focus on one theme or aspect of the two books.

It is important to remember that you are making an argument, something that you will need to persuasively demonstrate. You should draw your evidence for this argument from “close reading,” an analysis of the language and techniques present within the poems and volumes. You are required to not simply look at the overarching themes or organization of the two volumes, but to examine the language of at least one poem from each volume. These details will comprise your evidence for your argument.

You not only need an appropriate amount of evidence but also to spend an appropriate amount of time demonstrating and explaining how your evidence adds up to your interpretation. Help your reader understand how the dots connect in your argument. What this means is that when you use quotations from the text (and you must), you must also take the time to make clear how that quotation relates to your larger argument. This is not as simple as it sounds.

You are not required to use external sources for this assignment, although you may do so if you would like. Whether or not you use external sources or not, you will need to create a Works Cited page in correct MLA style. Feel free to use EasyBib to make this process easier.

Papers must be emailed to me as PDFs by the beginning of class on Monday, 17 March. Please name files in the following format: Last Name-Duffy.pdf. The papers must be in 12-point Times New Roman font and double-spaced. It must have a title and have 1” margins on all sides.


I will grade these papers simply with letter grades. A+ = 100; A= 95; A- = 92; B+= 88; etc. I will focus on a few discreet things in grading:

  • Appropriateness of scope: Here, I am looking to see that you understand what can be persuasively covered in the page limits. A topic that is too big (e.g. the role of women in Duffy’s poetry) may result in a poorly developed essay. Something more manageable (e.g. the role of mothers in Duffy’s poetry) allows you more room to build an argument.
  • The thesis for the essay should state an argument, not just a topic. This – “My essay will consider the roles of mothers in Duffy’s poetry.” – is a topic. This – “Although Duffy believes her poetry to have changed from The Other Country to The World’s Wife, her depiction of mothers within both texts leads the reader to doubt the poet’s claim.” – is an argument. One way to determine whether you are presenting a topic or an argument is to ask yourself, “Could a person reasonably argue against what I am saying?” If the answer is “no,” then you probably don’t have an argument. Demonstrating the validity of your thesis should be the goal of the paper and thus, each paragraph
  • Use of evidence: It’s not a persuasive argument if you don’t have evidence to prove it. This essay should consist of a series of close readings of the poetry, the analysis of which builds to prove your argument. You can’t do this without substantially quoting the text. The quotations you use should be smoothly introduced by and integrated into your own prose. Furthermore, you should clearly and effectively provide analysis of the quotations, tracing for the reader how the language of the text connects to your larger thesis (A → B → C → D). Finally, your paper should make correct use of the MLA style.
  • Prose and organizational effectiveness: This is a writing class and a writing assignment, so the quality of your writing is at stake. The mechanics of your paper should be flawless, and it should be possible for the reader to see why your paper is organized in the way that it is and that this organization contributes to the rhetorical power of your argument.


This assignment was designed by Brian Croxall and is licensed with a Creative Commons BY license.