Duffy’s “World’s Wife”

by Mr. Quale on November 6, 2009

in Class Extensions

As we’ve begun to experience some of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry as a class–both from her collection titled The World’s Wife and from her other books–I am curious about the connections that we can make between the poems that we looked at in groups last week: “Medusa,” “Salome,” and “Demeter.

In a review of The World’s Wife for The Independent, Duffy was quoted as saying:

I wanted to use history and myth and popular culture and elements from cinema and literature, but also to anchor it in a deeply personal soil and make an entertainment. It was fun to juggle around with and there were times when I sat laughing as I was writing.

This leads me to some questions that my class can select to respond to below:  What is Duffy doing with these different perspectives of women?  How does the title of her collection fit in?  What is stylistically unique about Duffy’s work?  How does her poetry relate to Whitman’s?  And why is she laughing?  If you want to incorporate the review, you could also comment on whether or not you agree with The Independent’s review of her collection, based on the poems you’ve read so far?

As always, please try to offer a new idea, and respond to or expand upon another classmate’s comment.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jordan November 8, 2009 at 21:47

Duffy is unique in her style of writing from the poems that we have read of “Medusa”, “Salome” and “Demeter”. These are all women from history and myth, but she has given them all a modern touch and more relatable character. My group studied “Salome” and we were able to perceive that Salome was first portrayed as the “grab-life-by-the-balls” person. She lived life to an extent were she would regret what she had done. “Never Again!/ I needed to clean up my act,/ get fitter/ Cut out the booze and the fags and the sex” (Lines 24-27). Duffy as given Salome a more modern approach to her character, and it is understandable to why Caroline Duffy began laughing during her writings, because she could have compared some people that she knew to Salome, or even herself. It also gives Salome a more human feel, because she says she will “clean up her act”, but she successfully ends the poem with “his head on a platter”. This refers to the story that originally was Salome, but it also represents that Duffy’s Salome has no selfcontrol and that she had fallen back into life’s old dirty habits.

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Elizabeth November 9, 2009 at 20:16

Duffy is basically re-inventing the women on whom she centers her work around. For example, she takes the story of “Salome” and brings it into an entirely new context. She makes it more relevant to today’s readers, and adds a touch of dark humour. As Jordan said, “These are all women from history and myth, but she has given them all a modern touch and more relatable character.”
The title of Duffy’s collection, “The World’s Wife’, could possibly have many different connotations. The majority of Duffy’s characters in her poems are female. The title could be implying something about the relationship between these women and the world. Several of her characters are wives already, and this could also potentially be reflected in the title. Although most of Duffy’s characters are either fictional or historical, they could also be portraying women in today’s society- the average woman, or the “World’s Wife”.
Duffy’s poems are stylistically unique mainly because of her interesting attention to detail. In the poem “Demeter”, the tone of the first paragraphs (when Demeter’s daughter Persephone is in the underworld) is gloomy and cold. Duffy utilizes many fricative consonants in those first paragraphs to further enhance Demeter’s agony. Then, halfway through the poem (when Persphone returns), the lines suddenly become much more flowing and graceful. This is evidence of Duffy’s way of subtly creating and changing the mood of the poem.

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Andrea November 9, 2009 at 20:18

In class we have read three of Duffy’s poems. All three relate to women but in every single one she manages to talk about religion and myths. This connects well with the title The World’s wife. Most of her poems talk about women or relate to women, therefore the use of the word wife. I think she uses the word World because her poems don’t relate to single religions but to general beliefs: Salome mentions John Baptist’s head on a platter while the other to poems mentions goddesses from Greek mythology (Medusa and Demeter).
Duffy’s poetry is unique because it is a blend of modern (as seen in Salome) and past (the use of Greek goddesses is a great example).
Her poetry is somewhat similar to that of Walt Whitman because both try to show the goodness of humanity and not just our mean/bad side. I really appreciated being able to read more of Caroline Duffy’s poetry so that I could compare it to Whitman but also other works we studied and will study in class.

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Naia November 10, 2009 at 21:05

Duffy manages to use the old myths and bring then back into the present by using post modern language. She manages to bring in humour as well (or dark humour as Elizabeth said) such as in the poem Salome she talks about how Salome is going to put behind her all the things she used to do and start new then it says, “and ain’t life a bitch-/ was his head on a platter.” This is funny as just as she thought things were going to be better she gets brought the head on a platter. Also in the poem Medusa she ends with the line “Look at me now.” which is funny because if anyone were to look at her now then they would turn to stone. The way that Duffy manages to put it in modern language makes the females seem like they exist now which gives you a closer connection to them.

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Declan November 11, 2009 at 12:24

Duffy’s poetry creates this unique style of blending the old with the new. What Naia mentioned above, Duffy manages to interpret old mythology and bring it to modern standards through the way of some women today would think and act. Duffy relies heavily on irony and sarcasm in her poetry. More with the examples that Naia gave, “and ain’t life a bitch- / was his head on a platter. (Salome) and “look at me now” (Medusa), show a good demonstration of irony between the poems and the mythology.

I would like to point out how Duffy poetry has a similar basis with the poetry of Whitman because they both demonstrate the realities, not necesarily the brutal realities but the humanely realities, more than the fictional realities, that you would see in the likes of the mythology that Duffy centres her poems around.

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Abdul-Razzaq A. Aqrawi November 11, 2009 at 13:11

it seems that we all have understood her poems in the same way, that she uses women from history and myths to compare to women today. I truly appreciate the way she uses these mythical and historical people in her poem, because the contrast is incredible. my group concentrated on the poem “Medusa” and we noticed that even though Medusa herself was a type of villain in the original story, at the end of the poem you start to feel sorry for her. though the poem might be a bit ghastly at parts, it still is very a powerful and vivid poem.

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Larry Jude November 11, 2009 at 23:08

I agree with abdul. duffy writes about women in a struggle and how they have won in their struggle. in the poem “Medusa”, it says that she is in love with someone but she messes up and then one god makes her hair into snakes. she also turns people into stone when she looks at them..
but the onlii thing wrong with this poem is that she dies in the end. this is the onlii poem that i read so far where the female dies…

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Ceris November 17, 2009 at 19:30

Through her poems Duffy comes across as quite a feminist. Though none of her characters have particularely feministic views, I got this impression because she makes the characters seem not all that ‘ladylike’, but also intelligent. It’s not that they weren’t that bright to begin with, but more that this side of them hasn’t so much been shown before, as the focus has always been more on the men in legend and history. The way the poems are worded make the various personas seem sharp witted, and seem to speak with a certain conviction, and, as in the example that everyone else seems to have used (“and ain’t life a bitch”), they don’t seem particularely ladylike.

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