Monday, 22 September 2008

WARNING!- Banned Poem!

Education for Leisure

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.
I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
For signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.
There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

Carol Ann Duffy

This poem was banned by an examination board in England, after three complaints.

"A spokeswoman for AQA confirmed there had been three complaints, two referring to knife crime and a third about the description of a goldfish being flushed down the toilet. The first complaint about knives was made in 2004. The second, made in the summer by an exams officer, was then taken up by an MP.

The most recent complaint was made by Lutterworth grammar school’s exams invigilator, Pat Schofield, who welcomed the board’s decision and said: “I think it is absolutely horrendous - what sort of message is that to give to kids who are reading it as part of their GCSE syllabus?”

The AQA spokeswoman said: “The decision to withdraw the poem was not taken lightly and only after due consideration of the issues involved. We believe the decision underlines the often difficult balance that exists between encouraging and facilitating young people to think critically about difficult but important topics and the need to do this in a way which is sensitive to social issues and public concern.”

*(GCSE, "general certificate of secondary education, exams taken by 16 yr olds)

This sparked a fierce debate.... Okay, not much of a debate at all really. In Britain our kids are not very likely to decide to take a gun into school, although... in some inner city areas.. but, knives. Knives are in our minds following several fatal stabbings amongst school-age children-and not just the boys. So the subject is indeed delicate. I can, to some extent see the aforementioned Ms Schofield's point of view.
Should poems and other literature taught in school be devoid of violence for fear that pupils will copy?

The poet herself provides a balancing riposte.

Mrs Schofield's GCSE -by Carol Anne Duffy

You must prepare your bosom for his knife,

said Portia to Antonio in which

of Shakespeare's Comedies? Who killed his wife,

insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch

knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said

Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?

Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt's death?

To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark - do you

know what this means? Explain how poetry

pursues the human like the smitten moon

above the weeping, laughing earth; how we

make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:

speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.

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  1. What a thought-provoking post. I know you didn't intend to provoke thoughts, but you did. Thoughts of deranged minds and kids going through metal detectors at school. Thoughts of Shylock and his pound of flesh, and of Brutus finishing off his friend and mentor. But also, among the jumbled images of wingless flies in the window and panicking goldfish...also the vision of piles of books on fire.

    A long time ago, an American with a rather scary mind by the name of Ray Bradbury wrote a book called Fahrenheit 451. What an odd title.

    That is the exact temperature (supposedly - I've never tested it) that paper bursts into flame.

    Good post, my friend.

  2. Pay no attention to the above Yummy. He is only a philosopher and a rambler. Nothing good ever comes of that.

    Me? I am looking for pictures of Whitby.

    How are you today?

  3. Yes, Ms Duffy should be flushed in bog style, along with the cheating, lying, suicidal, incestuous, homicidal ramblings of our great bard.

    I am not looking for pictures of Whitby.

  4. Banning poetry or expression in any form is bound to have reprecussions. Will banning a poem stop the knife crime or violence by students?

    I am sure more students are going to look for this poem and well, read it.


    P.S- I hope its ok with you if i link to this post on my poetry blog. This is just too good.


  5. I must be so un-PC I loved the banned poem. Shit, I'm going to memorize it, even.

  6. I JUST WATCHED tITUS,(excuse me) w/ Anthiony hopkins. I loved the part where he feeds Demetrius and Chiron? to Tamora.

  7. Hands Off Poetry! is a petition against AQA’s censoring of Education for Leisure

    For more information, see my post on the Manifesto Club website.

    Michele Ledda

  8. Thank you all for your comments.
    Max, Yummy has a good point or two there.
    Minx, Flushing goldfish is one thing, but Ms Duffy and the bard would most certainly block up the pipework. Poet-flushing should be done only after careful assessment of the risks.
    Nothingman, yes, certainly, I have no objection to a link, maybe more people will tell the exam board what nonsense their action is.
    Handmaiden: be careful... if you memorise it you're almost certain to turn into a blood-spattered stabber.
    I refused to learn about the battle of Hastings, 1066, and all that, in case I became obsessed with shooting arrows into the sky, and piercing kings called Harald through the eye.
    Unfortunately, I did learn about The War of Jenkins' Ear (1739 to 1748.) thus, persons mamed jenkins re well advised to steer clear of me. And it's all my school's fault.
    Bulletholes, that's far too intellectual for me. Who's Tamora?
    Michele, Have been and have signed. Doubt they'll listen, though.

  9. I don't see why the poem was banned. If anything, you think it would have been a mandatory read. People need to read poems that are not all about love and romance and running through fields...that's not the reality that the majority of us live through therefore it's hard to relate it.


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