Carol Ann Duffy Litany and Stafford Afternoon

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Explore Duffy’s presentation of memories in “Litany” and “Stafford Afternoon”.

In the poem Litany the memories are presented in the form of a young girl (which could possibly be Carol Ann Duffy, as there is no evidence that it is not) remembering catalogue evening/afternoons her mother used to hold, where the women would look through catalogues, drink tea/coffee, eat tea cakes and gossip.  However the women wouldn’t say any embarrassing words aloud (e.g. sex, cancer and affair) instead they would spell them out. The speaker tells us that no-one could have leukaemia, as the women couldn’t spell the word.  In this poem the young girl remembers and describes the women as artificial, stiff-haired, red smiles, polyester and American Tan stockings (all artificial materials, also hinting that their marriages are artificial) the way the women are described is always in a negative light.  Everything in the poem has its place and everything seems to be perfect, except for the ladder running up Mrs Barr’s stocking which is described as “a sly rumour” which shows that something is out of place and would be quite shameful for her.  

The title of the poem “Litany” which means chant or prayer that is recited which drones on, which is used to describe the women looking through the catalogue lists the objects they like or wish to purchase.  This suggests to us that these meetings have been held before and is done over and over again.  The poem shows the power of language how words can silence a room and draw everyone’s attention to a single person, like in the 6th stanza where the child tells her mother and the other wives that “a boy in the playground” told her to “fuck off” this immediately shocks everyone and then her “mothers muted shame”.  She was made to apologise to the other women, however I think the young girl did not say this to shame her mother but wanted to be a part of what they were doing as she was old enough to realise what they were talking about and wanted the attention as a child would.

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The poem has six stanzas and enjambment is used a lot as the means of the lines are often carried over.  There is a lot of alliteration used to describe the women using b’s and c’s to show the harshness of the women using words such as bristle, bright, biscuits and crackled.  The poem also shows how women were stereotyped and also that they could only do certain things as that is what it was like in those days, the women were expected to get married and give up there jobs, so these afternoons were all they could do its ...

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