Discuss Duffy's themes and techniques in "The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team" and one other poem of your choice. You should include discussion of the poet's use of language, structure and form in your response.
Discuss Duffy’s themes and techniques in “The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team” and one other poem of your choice. You should include discussion of the poet’s use of language, structure and form in your response.
In the poem “The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team” a man is recalling his childhood memories of when he was captain of a school academic team and had all the answers. It is a dramatic monologue of a man telling possibly his friend, wife or children about a competition between schools “Top of the Form” a quiz show of the 60s. The poem is written in the first person as it is the “Captain that is speaking to someone. There are 10 stanzas in the poem all of various lengths, the structure of the poem is disjointed suggesting that this is his trail of thought and his mind works so quickly everything is rushed and not planned out. He knew all the songs in the charts and could quote lines from them he even knew the B-sides of tracks. He was an optimistic and an excited child who went to a grammar school this is suggested as he had a leather satchel and also a smart uniform. He also associates cleverness with being clean (a common idea). His mother kept his mascot on the television for a year as mothers do as a sense of pride for their child, but after a while may have got fed up of it and felt it was time for him to let go. His mascot which was on the television was called “Gonk” which was an ugly troll doll of the 60s. He didn’t get anything wrong and saw no mistakes or problems in his life there is no anticipation of any problem, the future seems guaranteed. His local and temporary fame of winning the TV quiz show seemed to lead to a guarantee of more substantial, adult fame. In the poem there are links to famous men of the time Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela (although there a number of famous people with the first/last name of Nelson that it could possibly be), this shows us he believes that is just as famous as these male figures. He is also imitating Mick which also shows us he wants to be like him when he is older; he wants everyone to know his name. He would always answer the questions in class and the image of his white sleeve saluting the teacher seems like a regimental fashion as if where his duty to answer the questions in class and get them correct. He would chant facts and information for fun and speed down hills which gives us a sense of time passing quickly when he was a child. . The theme of the poem is nostalgia for the past when he was the person others would depend on to know the answers to all the questions, he still see’s himself as that person but in reality he doesn’t have all the answers. He isn’t important anymore, he has to flatter his boss whereas in school he would have been the child with the most potential whereas it turns out he isn’t the most successful in later life. He would have used to have expectations for himself but now he feels he only has a normal job, normal life and is altogether bored with life. But earlier in the poem he does however mention that a girl “Lucille Green” who was writing his name in her notebook and he “smiled/ as wide as a child who went missing on the way home/ from school.” children who go missing have there names and pictures put on the news and posters everywhere, again this is linked to being famous which this person is obviously quite set upon being. There is also a reference to convent girls he was trying to impress them by doing his hair like Mick did, later in the poem he says girls chalked on pavements which is stereotypical of a girl in the 60s. He calls his wife stale, this is a negative way for Duffy to describe the man’s wife, it suggests that the relationship is boring and that she doesn’t appreciate that he was Captain of his schools academic team or that he was the one in charge and in control. He still tries to know it all but he feels more at home in the past and doesn’t fit into the present day, he finds that things have got more difficult with age and feels he has used up all his chances and time in life. “I want it back.” Is probably the strongest line of the poem it is short and to the point, he misses the way his life once was when he was a child who knew everything and wants it back. In the poem he is always listing things he knows, which shows us he learnt all the facts and figures and has kept them stored away as lists which he can retrieve at any time. Duffy uses the words “My country” a lot and gives them there own sentence, this could mean that he dislikes the way the country is now being run or could mean that in the past he felt like he was King and he ruled the time back when he was the captain.
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In the poem “Nostalgia” Duffy tells us about the pain of returning to a place you no longer belong, after you’ve been missing it so much it “made you ill”. The word nostalgia comes from the word nostos meaning return and algos meaning pain, the word itself means a desire to return home or a feeling of loss involving longing for the past. The first stanza of the poem sets the seen for us and tells us what is going on. The poem is about men who had to go off to war they were hired and paid, then had to leave there homes in the mountains and go down to the flat grounds of the land below. The speaker of the poem isn’t involved in what is going on as it is written in the third person. The poem has 3 stanzas, the first and second stanzas have 9 lines but the final stanza has 10. Duffy says “down, down” which suggests that the men were falling down the mountain rather than marching down it, it also emphasizes how far they had to travel. After this Duffy then repeats the word “wrong” suggesting that everything about this new and unfamiliar place is wrong,
“….the wrong taste…the wrong sounds, / the wrong smells, / the wrong light, every breath-/ wrong.”
This suggests that everything the men did felt wrong or perhaps just different but they didn’t like it, even breathing the most important thing in life seemed wrong, as if the air was somehow poisonous this is emphasized as Duffy repeats the constantly in this section of the poem. She also tells us that the men were given raw simple coins which they were all biting to make sure they were real. Then she tells us the men started to have aches and pains, “they pined, wept, grown men.” The men were calling for the doctor as they didn’t understand what was wrong with them; it didn’t have a name so people feared the “illness” and the physical effect that it appeared to have on the men. In the next stanza Duffy refers to the illness as “it” this could possibly be the way people described it as they didn’t understand the illness, but Duffy then tells us “It was given a name.” so someone somewhere decided that it should be given a proper name. “hearing tell of it / there were those who stayed put,” this could mean that people didn’t want to move away from the places they loved encase they got this illness or it could mean that some other group of men refused to join the war and also it could mean that people stayed away from the men as they were afraid tit was contagious. The men missed there homes greatly while they were away, but it hurt them to think of the homes, friends and family that they had left behind even though the memories were pleasant Duffy describes this very by saying “sweet pain in the heart;”. The rest of this stanza tells us about the sadness the men feel and the happy memories of home; however it could also be the things the people who had kept their distance due to hearing of it thought they should feel if they were experiencing it.
Duffy then tells us that if you didn’t know what the word love meant how could you experience it? Then Duffy gives us examples of people trying to relive or expand their past, this now brings in the theme of time making this illness incurable as you can not control time, she does this by saying “through the colour of leaves,” which can also refer to autumn when the leaves change colour but then die. The last part of the final stanza describes one of the mercenaries from the beginning of the poem who has now returned home. This should cure his illness but now as time plays a part it doesn’t work the physical aspects of the town are the same, but while you were away time has moved on although Duffy using spring which normally a new start and happy it is not that case in this particular poem. Also with Time there is no possibility of return, things changes, even without the action of one person.
Both these poems deal with the theme of nostalgia, missing a past time or place and they both long for “their country” in a sense.