He is still romanticised, to some extent, through his own description of his actions; “I don’t talk much. I swing up beside them and do it with my eyes. Brando. ” By alluding to such a well known actor, the reader again questions their own opinion on the speaker – how can this “Psychopath” be just that, but also comparable to Marlon Brando, “Jimmy Dean” and “a king”? The identity of the character comes through a construct of others’, none of his own traits are apparent, only a mixture of various other identities. Although the character describes himself as “crystal”, the image is blurred by the “breath” on the mirror.
Mirrors and reflections play a large part in Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry, especially in ‘Psychopath’. The contradiction of ‘crystal clear’ and the steamed mirror gives the impression of a lack of reflection – you cannot see yourself when the mirror is misted up. Without a reflection, then, can there really be a character in the first place? He appears to be clear, yet unclear, real yet unreal – even the words he speaks are given to him by the poet. At the end of the poem however, the speaker does identify with his reflection, yet does not refer to it as himself; “Here’s looking at you”.
These words, again not his own, are from the film ‘Casablanca’ in which Humphrey Bogart plays a bad character who is redeemed. Here, however, the character is not redeemed and yet again the speaker is comparing himself to something, rather than being an individual. This is apparent through many of Duffy’s poems; simile and metaphor are often used as description, comparing to a similar thing, not describing exactly or definitively. Therefore, we are only ever given a list of what something is like, rather than what it actually is.
These comparisons are of course subjective, so what we gain is an opinion, a description through vague ideas of similarity. What we are left with then, is just a silhouette, an outline, a dummy of what is really being described. For the character, is appears almost a sense of delusion, as Gregson argued; “These [literary] tactics allow [Duffy]to suggest how overpoweringly right and reasonable sexist attitudes can appear to those who hold them, and how wrong and aggressive their consequences are for their victims” (Gregson 1996 : 106-7)
In a sense, it could be seen that using a series of similes, comparisons and also stereotypes, the characters of Duffy’s poems are hiding their identity, perhaps from themselves; it is easier to say ‘I am like him and like her’ than accept, or even understand, your own personal identity. ‘Poet for our Times’ for example, shows a series of truly British caricatures – Eastenders sex stories, MP’s misbehaving and page three models – which “satirises the way that British culture obsessively caricatures itself in it’s concern not to take itself too seriously” (Gregson 1996 : 104).
The same can be seen in ‘Model Village’ (Selected Poems : 37) where everything is just how it should be; “Grass is green / and the pillar-box is red”. The speaker then adds, “Wouldn’t it be strange if grass were red? ” ‘Hard to Say’ (The Other Country : 45 ) looks at “tired clichi?? s” used in reference to love, but this is also applicable to the hiding of identity in Duffy’s poems. It is as if this could be any other couple, in any other time, any other place. The words become plain, the same and meaningless.
‘Words, Wide Night’ (The Other Country : 47) is another poem about love, which muses on how words cannot represent the feeling between two people. Does then, trying to represent love, take away the power of it, lessen it and make it mundane; a dummy of what it really is? Or rather, use the “lazy” words of ‘Hard to Say’ to become just the same as everybody else. Unique identity seems undesirable and Carol Ann Duffy seems to want to highly that the quest for acceptance places a large part in people’s everyday lives – this can be seen from the minority voices that Duffy tries to represent.
By subverting identity through a series of other images and stereotypes, it is easy to ‘blend in’, become a dummy, just as the ones that the “Psychopath” sees through the shop windows (Selected Poems : 43). Ironic perhaps, that the “good-looking girl” makes the air sing “Johnny, Remember Me”, as she will not remember anything more after her encounter with the “Psychopath” and neither will he, as he adds, “Tomorrow / will find me elsewhere, with a loss of memory”. It seems therefore, that we have come full circle; erasing memory will take away identity, leaving a blank, a dummy, which the poet cannot represent.
In conclusion, it must be remembered that representation is just that – an attempt to represent a concept, an idea or a character, but not the actual thing itself. Every person will interpret that notion or persona in a different light and so putting this into words will also therefore be subjective. This is more extreme in the case of Carol Ann Duffy, due to her radical choice of subject matter and the people she chooses to represent in her poetry. In essence then, of course representation creates dummies, models or imitations of the reality when seen by a wide readership.
To Duffy, these representations will be more accurate – they are her perceptions of the world and of the characters she has created. However, the reader must accept these perceptions and opinion as, after all, this is what is written; there is no second opinion. Ultimately, the acceptance of these words makes us dummies, with no choice but to accept, attempt to interpret and try to understand, and enjoy Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry.
Word Count : 2013 Primary Texts Duffy, Carol Ann. , 1985. Standing Female Nude. Anvil Press : London Duffy, Carol Ann. , 1987. Selling Manhattan. Anvil Press : London Duffy, Carol Ann. , 1990.
The Other Country. Anvil Press : London. Duffy, Carol Ann. , 1993. Mean Time. Anvil Press : London Duffy, Carol Ann. , 1994. Selected Poems. Penguin : London. Duffy, Carol Ann. , 1999. The World’s Wife. Picador : London Secondary Texts Bakhtin, M. M. , 1981. Holquist, M. ed. , Emerson, C. , trans. The Dialogic Imagination. University of Texas Press : Austin Connell, P. E. , 2005. Raising the subject : Indeterminacy in the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy. University of Hull : Kingston-Upon-Hull Freud, S. , 1948 (1901). The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Ernst Benn : London Gregson, I. , 1996. Comtemporary Poetry and Postmodernism.
Macmillan : Basingstoke Kenigan, J. , 2004. Notes from the Home Front : Contemporary British Poetry. Essays In Critcism. (54,2) Michelis & Rowland. , 2005. The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy : Choosing tough words. Years Work of English Studies, (84,1) pp. 764-853 Porter, E. , 1999. “What like is it? Landscape and Language in Carol Ann Duffy’s Love Poetry. Neohelicon, (26, 1) pp. 79-80 Robinson, A. , 1988. Instabilities in Contemporary British Poetry. Macmillan : Basingstoke Thomas, J. E. , 1998-9. The intolerable wrestle with words: Carol Ann Duffy. Bete Noire, (6) pp. 78-88 1 Alfred Hitchcock – Source unknown.