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March | 2015 | Brandon Pownall

Monthly Archives: March, 2015

Mrs Darwin’s Evolution

La Democracia - Repulsive Spider Monkey

In my earlier post, “Stealing” Notebooks, I went over what enlightening information I uncovered in MARBL’s collection of Carol Ann Duffy’s notebooks. Along with the Selling Manhattan notebooks, I also looked at The World’s Wife, focusing on the four line poem, “Mrs Darwin”.

The World’s Wife notebooks were not as content rich as Selling Manhattan, possibly reflecting a change in Duffy’s process or that she jotted down thoughts elsewhere. She has four rewrites of the poem, which is double the amount present for “Stealing,” but the length of this poem is considerably shorter.

The first unusual thing I noticed about the drafts of “Mrs Darwin” was the date she wrote them. She writes her first draft on the 16th of December, 1993, while The World’s Wife was published 6 years later in 1999. I even stumbled upon a letter to a publisher about including that poem in what would later be a preview of The World’s Wife in 1994’s Selected Poems. Duffy clearly deliberated on the concept and content of the collection for quite a while.

The drafts themselves were written over a period of 3 weeks, the first only three lines long, missing the first line, “7 April 1852”. Within that first entry Duffy rewrote the poem, this time with the idea of including a date to make it seem like a diary entry of sorts, but left the specifics blank to be filled in later. She ended up choosing “It was the 3rd of April 1852” as the first line of the draft. Stylistically, Duffy decided to use chimpanzee instead of chimp in the second draft as well, which could be because she uses the same ‘z’ sound in “Zoo”.

The following week, the draft reflects a change of heart as she modified the first line to just “7th April 1852”, dropping the extra language and changing “3rd” to “7th”. The “th” is dropped from “7th” in the final draft.  She decides to shorten the second line too, instead of “We’d been to the Zoo”, she goes with “Went to the Zoo”. Another stylistic change, she goes with a capital ‘H’ in “Him” instead of lower case, which could have various interpretations. Undoubtedly it better matches the capital ‘Z’ in “Zoo” on the line before and connects him to the capital C “Chimpanzee”.

Finally, she rewrites “Mrs Darwin” a week later as it appears in The World’s Wife. The drafts take up only a short front and back of a page in her notebook. The nature of her notebooks makes me wonder what else it took to generate her poetry. Does she write ideas and first drafts on scraps and transfer near complete work over to her notebooks?  What can be inferred from the notebooks reflects the care for her craft but leaves me wanting to know even more.


Photo Source: https://flic.kr/p/qBhvKd

“Stealing” Notebooks


I recently visited Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) to view some of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry notebooks. While the collection spans decades of her career, I focused on her Selling Manhattan and The World’s Wife notebooks. This post will cover what I uncovered from notes on the poem “Stealing” from Selling Manhattan.

Her notes for “Stealing” begin on the 14th of January, 1987 with the line, “All over this island the children are building snowmen”. The children that are mentioned only as a thought in the poem are emphasized with this line.  It is not clear if this was intended to be the first line of a poem or possibly her source of inspiration, but the winter date suggests she could be capturing an aspect of her everyday life.

Duffy leaves a few lines blank and goes on to write out one of the two drafts of “Stealing” contained in the MARBL collection. The first draft of the poem lacks the poem’s final stanza. She forms the final stanza on the back of the first draft, beginning with the rhetorical question from the missing last stanza, “you don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” Duffy builds the last stanza around that disconnecting final line. With the last line completed she works out what the first line of the final stanza will say, crossing out the despairing lines, “what’s always bother me is What’s the point?” and “what’s always bothered me is boredom, ticking off the days”, settling for the published version’s line, “Boredom. Mostly, I’m so bored I could eat myself”. It’s interesting to see the original phrasing of that thought and how she works it into the speaker’s voice through rewriting.

The second draft includes the final stanza, but she makes an interesting change to the third line: She crosses out, “I nicked a nude bronze once” and changes it to “I nicked a bust of Shakespeare once,” referring to the master of the tradition she is working with. “A bust of Shakespeare” alludes to both art and literature, which adds a dimension to the character, as the narrator alludes to music in the previous line when they admit to stealing a “guitar”.

In the final version of the poem the ambiguous narrator wants a snowman as a “mate,” however both drafts in the notebook have “brother” instead of “mate.” The reason behind this change could be the word “mute” ends the previous line and “mate” sounds better as the next ending word (they are only one letter from being the same word). Though a change in the next stanza could be related, as “clasped to my chest” is crossed out and changed to “hugged to my chest” in the second draft. “Hugged” and “mate” from “clasped” and “brother” have different connotations, suggesting a more endearing, romantic rather than fraternal relationship, at least to my ears. “Mate” could also just be an inclusion of colloquial dialect, as Duffy uses slang like “nicked” and “flogged” as well.

Seeing the changes adds a new layer of understanding to previous interpretations. It also may interest you that “Stealing” was a late addition to the collection, not included on many of her lists for what ended up being Selling Manhattan. The notebook entries reflect Duffy’s deliberation to ensure the right message got across to the reader in the right voice.

Photo Source: https://flic.kr/p/9iaVfS

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