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Edexcel- Poems of the Decade- Overviews
Terms in this set (28)
Eat Me- Patience Agbabi
Key themes- food, cannibalism, temptation, relationships
A large woman is being fed by her husband, she is often referred to by him as "fruit", she ends up squashing him (kills him?) and the final line suggests she may have ate him.
Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass- Simon Armitage
Key themes- masculine v feminine, destruction, man v nature, idea of nature prevailing
A man attempts to cut down some pampas grass using a chainsaw, the chainsaw is representative of men and the pampas grass represents women (each are personified) the chainsaw is presented as rage-filled and eventually fails in cutting down the pampas grass as the blade becomes "fouled with weeds" whereas the grass just grows back, also showing nature prevailing over man.
Material- Ros Barber
Key themes- death, motherhood, childhood, nostalgia, past v present
An elegy about her mother's death, relating particularly to her handkerchief which raises nostalgic feelings about her childhood. She then returns to the present and questions her own methods of raising her children- rather than the permanence of "material handkerchiefs" she is left with "tissues and uncertainty"
Inheritance- Eavan Boland
Key themes- values, knowledge, religion, physicality, personality, opinions
The poet is asking herself what she can give her daughters as inheritance, she talks about tangible and intangible forms of inheritance ("silver" or "the view"), she also realised she cannot pass on skills ("crafts I never had") but upon reflection when she successfully treated her first child when sick, she realises she can pass on knowledge.
A Leisure Centre Is Also a Temple of Learning- Sue Boyle
Key themes- beauty, vanity, religion, perfection
Boyle describes a "honey coloured girl" who is self-absorbed and interested only in her appearance as she takes a shower after a morning swim. She is compared to nature ("willow","waterfall"), and food which makes how sound appealing, however in the final three lines the volte face suggests she is too caught up in her appearance with the "twelve" perhaps referencing the disciples and religion; the final line giving a sense of foreboding.
History- John Burnside
Key themes- death, tragedy (set straight after 9/11), childhood, nature
This poem links an outing to the beach with his son with the 9/11 tragedy, with each action symbolising an element of the disaster ("finding evidence of life in all this driftwork"), and realises that only man could've made these horrible things happen the poem ends with the poet wanting to hold on to the purity and innocence of childhood. The staggered structure also plays a key role in that it creates a physical representation of the destruction.
The War Correspondent- Ciaran Carson
Key themes- war, culture, an outsider's perspective
This poem presents an account of two different wars (out of a set of 7) from the perspective of a war correspondent. It introduces a mix of different nationalities that comes about with war (repetition of "take" creates idea of melting pot) and references each nation's well-known industry and lifestyle. It's over-descriptiveness allows the reader to picture themselves in the war correspondent's shoes. "Balaklava" focuses more on the soldiers and the suffering on the battlefield, based in the Crimean War, and creates imagery of death and decay.
An Easy Passage- Julia Copus
Key themes- child to womanhood, puberty, youth, rebelling, beauty
A young girl in her early teens is sneaking out through her bedroom window to meet her friend who is waiting for her. The girls are described using imagery of adolescence ("tiny breasts", "pale calf", "thirteen if she's a day") which acts to highlight the transition from childhood into adulthood and the excitement of escaping and sense of anticipation. Her eventual success in "dropping gracefully into the shade of the house" symbolises how she is no longer shielded by the safety of childhood and is unprotected.
The Deliverer- Tishani Doshi
Key themes- birth, adoption, abandonment
The poet talks about her parents adopting a child from an orphanage. It describes the background of the babies who were mistreated ("covered in garbage, stuffed in bags, abandoned at their doorstep"), however this particular baby her parents collect was "dug up by a dog" highlighting the extent of abandonment- the significance of this is addressed in the fifth stanza- in terms of psychological effects. It then goes on to address the women who give birth to these babies and their situation, referencing the idea of subservience (shown in the final line) and the irrelevance of the babies to them.
The Map-Woman- Carol Ann Duffy
Key themes- the journey of life, memories, experiences, the body
The Map-Woman is an extended metaphor for how we cannot escape the past, and how our life and life-decisions will always be with us. Literally, the Map-Woman is imprinted with all the places she's lived and been, and the people who she's known and has been influenced by over the years. These are all places on different parts of her body ("Over her breast was the heart of the town,"). The map is under her clothes meaning it's hidden from everyone else and highlighting the personal value it holds. By the tenth stanza the map is personified further showing the attachment of the map and the woman- as though it controls her decisions. In the twelfth stanza the map sheds from her skin "like a snake's" which suggests a guise of freedom from her past, however the final stanza shows the map starting to reform "Deep in the bone" symbolising how you can never truly escape your past.
The Lammas Hireling- Ian Duhig
Key themes- boundaries, blurred lines between: the real and supernatural, man and animal, male and female, sanity and madness, guilt and innocence
A tale of confession, based on a traditional festival in which a farmer hires a hireling to help with the harvest, and the hireling is initially very successful. However, the farmer is "disturbed from dreams of [his] dear late wife" and mistakes the naked hireling, who is caught in a fox trap, for his wife. The farmer then accuses the hireling of being a warlock and then recalls the hireling transforming into a hare as he carried him in a sack and "dropped him from a bridge". As a result his harvest is then cursed with bad luck. The poem ends with the farmer in confession, having only "been an hour since [his] last confession" suggesting the poem is not a true story of events and rather the farmer is easing his guilt.
To My Nine-Year-Old Self- Helen Dunmore
Key themes- nostalgia, childhood v adulthood, freedom
This poem is written as a one-sided conversation between the poet and her 9yo self (her 9yo self has a physical presence but does not actually speak). Dunmore describes the freedom of childhood and the jealousy of her 9yo self in that she can no longer be as active as she used to be, and that she no longer has the dreams she once aspired to do. The volta comes in the fourth stanza when she realises they "have nothing in common" and knows that she cannot keep her 9yo self's attention for much longer; by the end of the poem her 9yo self is "peeling a ripe scab" showing she is completely disinterested in conversation at this point.
A Minor Role- UA Fanthorpe
Key themes- life, the monotony of the everyday
The poets recalls her life on the stage, and the idea that her role was a minor one but monotonous. Whilst her body is on stage her heart is in reality.
The Gun- Vicki Feaver
Key themes- house v home, killing, life v death
The poet states "Bringing a gun into a house changes it" introducing the idea that the gun changes the house into just a house rather than a home. The poem then addresses the use of the gun: it goes from practising on "tins" to "a rabbit shot clean through the head". This death is then brought into the house as the rabbit is cooked.
There are clear juxta-positions of life and death throughout: "A gun brings a house alive", "black mouth sprouting golden crocuses", "fridge fills with creatures"
The Furthest Distances I've Travelled- Leontia Flynn
Key themes- travelling, distance, relationships
The poet introduces the idea of the start of a long journey with a heavy rucksack, and mentions places she's been eg "Krakow" and "Zagreb" and the many airports she's been to. The volte face occurs at the start of the fifth stanza, where she is brought back to the present and the monotony of life- the "post office with a handful of bills" thus giving the reader the impression of a sense of boredom or lack of freedom. The final two stanzas create the sense of nostalgia as she looks back at the memories of her trips that she finds "amid bottom drawers" and comes to the conclusion that the journey hasn't ended but is now more emotional rather than physical.
Giuseppe- Roderick Ford
Key themes- flaws of the human race, guilt, magical realism, hardships of war
The poem is a story told by his uncle about World War Two- the first stanza introduces magical realism with "the only captive mermaid". This could be seen as an extended metaphor for a soldier who was eaten by other soldiers for their survival. It goes on to describe the mermaid being brutally killed- having been dehumanised by being "only a fish", and having a "ripe golden roe" suggesting the idea of a foetus. When people tried to take the wedding ring they were stopped suggesting an attempt at retaining the last shred of their humanity. The rest of the "mermaid" was then cooked, and the final stanza conveys the guilt of these soldiers as told by the uncle.
Out of the Bag- Seamus Heaney
Key themes- secrets, birth, origins of life
1: The poet states that he used to believe "Doctor Kerlin" brought them and thus introduces the idea of magic and mythology associated with birth from a child's point of view. He describes the surgical instruments, the disinfectant and the warm water, and his perspective of the birth through "two peepholes to the locked room"
2,3: focuses more on the Greek mythology and Greek doctor's practices, and advances in health, poet relates Doctor Kerlin to this and recalls him drawing pictures on a steamed up window. He then thinks to the temple of Asclepius and the goddess Hygeia.
4: poet realises Doctor Kerlin is not a God and is brought back to reality, his mother is asleep and she sees him as a baby- the poet has gone back to being a child.
Effects- Alan Jenkins
Key themes- roles of women in household, death, guilt
Jenkins is recalling how his mother used to be when he was young, and what she used to do around the house: stewing meat, scrubbing saucepans etc. He then returns to the present and realises the nurses (or undertakers) have "taken off her rings" (her effects). He then remembers her watch, her watching "soaps and game shows", drinking scotch and being in the same routine. He then goes on to talk about the psychiatric ward where she "took her pills and blinked and stared". Finally, he is looking at her after death, with "a thick rubber band" effectively dehumanising her, and the poet expresses guilt in that in her last moments she asked him not to leave and he did, and the last line is the nurse bringing "the little bag of her effects".
The Fox in the National Museum of Wales- Robert Minhinnick
Key themes- time, history of the world
Literally a fox in the national museum of wales: as the fox walks through the museum it passes through different periods of time. "He has made their acquaintance on previous occasions" suggests fox has been here more than once. The fox also visits nature- gets across the message of the harm being done to nature. Poet is chasing the fox through the museum and describes the fox as "the future", the final line "closing the iron doors" could symbolise the end of history (extinction?)
Genetics- Sinéad Morrissey
Key themes- marriage/divorce, family, love, biblical reference, perhaps abandonment
"My father's in my fingers, but my mother's in my palms"; the poet is linking parts of her body to her parents using a metaphor. The poet presents the idea that whilst her parents are divorced, they are still friends and are together through her ("where fingers link to palms"). She then shapes a chapel and re-enacts her parents' marriage, with her body as the marriage register. The final stanza is the poet addressing the reader and telling us that we all have our parents in our hands.
The poem could also be a conceit regarding genes and the continuation of family lineage.
From the Journal of a Disappointed Man- Andrew Motion
Key themes- physical strength v mental strength, different types of masculinity
The poet is observing the workers "driving a new pile into the pier" (this could be seen as an assertion of their physical strength), he then notes the lack of eloquence in their speech, and the fact that they don't seem to care about their work, he watches them for "at least an hour", he then watches them on their break and observes one of them spitting. Finally he sees them leave: "That left the pile still in mid-air, and me of course." Suggesting a sense of failure.
Look We Have Coming to Dover!- Daljit Nagra
Key themes- immigration, colloquialisms, the English language
The poet presents the idea of the immigration from India to Britain, and them coming on a boat to Dover. He then references the British weather ("yobbish rain") using colloquialisms to further highlight the difference in cultures. In the final stanza he references cultures joining together- "babbling our lingoes".
Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright- Sean O'Brien
Key themes- music, miners and the economy, James Wright= political activist, the past
This elegy introduces the miners in the North and their profession; a reference to Britain in 1980s and Thatcher. It references their struggles but is also a celebration of their life. It uses technical mining language ("guttering cap-lamps"), and tells of how the miners descend underground with "their black-braided banners aloft" showing they're announcing who they are, disgustingly but happily. It mentions the "spent economies" and "explosions" and "thud of iron doors" suggesting the end of the profession. The final stanza shows the poet talking about the reader in third person.
Please Hold- Ciaran O'Driscoll
Key themes- dystopian view of the future, life, human relationships
His wife opens the poem by telling the poet that "this is the future" and repeats this throughout. The poet has been put on hold by a robot on the answerphone, and the poet has to give all his details to this robot. The poet also has heavy sarcasm and irony throughout, and he is angered by the time the reader is at the final 3 line stanza; his wife sounds like a robot and the final 3 lines hint at what the future could be like. (Repetition)
You, Shiva and My Mum- Ruth Padel
Key themes- family, marriage, the experience of new cultures
Padel is directing her poem to her brother, who was getting married to someone called Shiva, and her mother goes to India to see her son get married. Her mother is Indian but hasn't been there in a while, and she experiences all the traditions of India while she's there. However she also rides a motorbike and is very adventurous; she "hates all the frills" but was still willing to experience the traditions. The poet then directly addresses her brother once again when he laughed at the poet for her pride in her mother.
Song- George Szirtes
Key themes- break of oppression, people coming together to make a change, weight
The poem is dedicated to Helen Suzman (a South African white liberal activist who fought against apartheid) and is a statement to make an impact and get across the message that together people can change things. The weight and heavy imagery gets across his message that they are oppressed unless everyone comes together to lift the weight. The final stanza addresses the changes that an happen if everyone comes together.
On Her Blindness- Adam Thorpe
Key themes- blindness, family, death
The poet is telling the story of his mother and her blindness- how she can't "bear being blind" and how her struggle has an effect on the family. She tells the poet at a Paris restaurant that she would kill herself if she "gave up hope of a cure". The poet's father jokes about his mother bumping into walls "like a dodgem". His mother smiled at the children's drawings she couldn't see and would appreciate everything "while looking the wrong way". She eventually dies and the poet likes to think that she's watching over them in death.
Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn- Tim Turnbull
Key themes- gang culture, STD's, deprived estates, youth
The poet uses direct address- the poem is an updated version of Keates' Ode on a Grecian Urn which engages a contemporary audience and references modern day youth and lifestyle. Turnbull describes "louts" driving cars around "crap estates" and the girls that go around with them- how they stay out late, do drugs, and catch STDs through unsafe sex. He then mentions the parents who "telephone the cops to plead for quiet" and in the final stanza talks directly to the urn.
THIS SET IS OFTEN IN FOLDERS WITH...
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Poems of the Decade
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Poems of the Decade
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