Friday, October 21, 2011

Memory in "Mean Time"

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Discuss ways in which memory is explored

“Mean time” is, in essence, a collection of poems concerned with history and memory throughout the anthology. Carol Ann Duffy uses many literary and thematic devices to explore the theme of memory such as the dramatic monologue which enables the socialisation of self who can then speak without the fear of censorship; objectivity of viewpoints. It provides disassociation for the poet from the persona in which they are speaking thus making the poetry more universal and accessible, especially due to the different personas that Carol Ann Duffy adopts. These enable her to her to incite different times of life from which memories are, for example, Captain of the 164 team” for childhood to “Adultery” for the pinnacle of adulthood and as the anthology progresses, the poetry becomes darker and less idealistic. The language highlights this; “star spangled and burst like a red balloon” to language of death throughout the later poetry. The difference of gendered and ungendered voices seems to re-negotiate the boundaries more acutely in love poetry between the lover and the beloved. Carol Ann Duffy uses personal memory with interwoven references to texts such as DH Lawrence’s “Humming Bird” in “Captain” which contexualise her poetry and add weight to its meaning.

A poem in which Duffy uses the device of evoking idealistic memory through childhood is in “Captain of the 164 Team”. She underwrites personal memories with external textual references, for example in the progression of language from babyhood to adulthood, which encapsulates the meaning of the poem itself. “Humming bird is likened to the DH Lawrence’s work of the same name citing that it is “Primeval dumb, far back” which intensifies the theme of memory.

Within the poems I am using to examine the question of memory in Mean Time, temporal progression is represented by the progression by stanza and word association in “Captain” and in “Moments of Grace” where they “look for the doing words” juxtaposed to “peeling an orange”. This temporal movement is important in the theme of memory and enhances the poems effectiveness in conveying memory through the sense of urgency or disappointment that it invokes.

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This is clearly illustrated in “Moments of Grace” where reflection is the force behind the poems effectiveness. Word association within it of “staggering” suggests disorientation further heightened by imbalanced lines and complex similes that Duffy uses to evoke remembrance. “Dusk” suggests an indistinct memory and a close to a light era juxtaposed to an italic “yes” where the voice of the present can interrupt the reverie of memory and sharpen it. The technical importance of the language is unequalled in other poems with Duffy citing verbs as the most imperative parts of poetry; verbs have the ability to further a theme as opposed to remaining static. This has the paradoxical effect of being an effective way of conveying the feeling of loss within life at never finding that “first love” by reduction of the actions to being uncontrolled by reason (they are based only in memory) in order to justify the reasoning. However, when “Moments of Grace is compared to “first love” it appears weaker at conveying the exploration of memory due to the preoccupation with the reduction in the penultimate verse whereas in First Love the themes are consistent and based on emotion which the reader can freely empathise with as it leaves room to project one’s own memory within an acceptable framework.

First love is one of the most effective poems in terms of relating memory as it talks, not just of love but also of the impact that it has upon one, thus by contrast emphasising the theme of love and memory within it. The evocative mood is created by the rhythm and equality of the stanzas showing a balanced remembrance rather than a disjointed justification of pain in adulthood, which is what is seen in both “Captain of the 164 Team” and “Moments of Grace”. The intimacy of the language “close to my lips as lipstick” introduces an almost voyeuristic element into the poem; a theme that continues in the first and last stanza, pierced by a retrospective past in stanza two. The power of memory is explored in through light which can be seen in Mean Time, suggesting revelation while evoking the past in terms of theological happening in the juxtaposition of light to dark, increasing its intensity and the innocence of what it stands for.

“Such faithfulness” in the last stanza compared to a star which returns the reader to the power of loss, although this is later challenged by “unseen flowers suddenly pierce and sweeten “. This invisible scent is reminiscent of memory and the dual pleasure and pain that it invokes. The supernaturalism and invisibility of this is epitomised in “Moments of Grace” where the present haunts the past. This adds an element of fear and the inability to understand the importance and the ideals that memory contains. In “Captain of the 164 Team” Duffy allows only a simplified memory to be remembered, perhaps due to the fear of reality seen briefly at the end of the poem by which past and present are measured,

Fear is present as a judge of memory in Mean Time, the last poem to be examined in the light of memory. This poem is unique in charting absolute loss, epitomised in the title itself and the language used throughout. “Unmeasurable rain” also evokes pathetic fallacy to exacerbate the feeling of loss for the poet and her audience. “I felt my heart gnaw,” suggests her insecurity and impotence at expressing through words how she actually feels. The animal allusion by association reverts humankind to animals capable of intense feeling while being unable to articulate precisely what is felt. There is movement through Mean Time is “darkening sky” and the references to future “but we will be dead”, unique to Mean Time as the anticipation of the only certainty in life adds gravity and resignation to the tone and shows the power of memory exacerbated in “endless nights”.

Mean Time is an appropriate poem to end the chartered journey of memory throughout the anthology as especially each poem that I have chosen to look at examines a particular part of Carol Ann Duffy’s, and indeed of the audience’s life. The progression from “Captain of the 164 Team ‘s “Do Wah Diddy through “First Love, Moments of Grace and Mean Time all represent an important parts of life and experience which memory is vitally important in reliving and indeed making the present slightly more bearable. Memory is a focus for each individual poem and while Carol Ann Duffy uses language persona and form to illustrate each one’s individuality, memory links each one through its fundamental importance within the collection.

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