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18 2 (2012 ): 197-220

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry
Bo-mi Jeon

1. Introduction
In the prologue of her book Carol Ann Duffy , Deryn Rees-Jones adequately characterizes Carol Ann Duffys works as intelligent without being exclusive (4). Duffys double achievement of combining accessibility and authority is, however, not only the result of her brilliant use of ordinary eloquence and her ability of handling the high and the popular, humor and lyricism, and the conventional forms and radical attitudes at the same time. It is, as several scholars have also noted, rather the poets insightful understanding of quotidian experience as a political reality that has completed her unique poetics (and politics) of everyday. Through portraying the quasi-spontaneous moment of daily harmony, her poetry provides the reader with an uncanny realization of how false ideologies have been naturalized and institutionalized. Thus, while Duffy situates various individuals in a rather ordinary time and space, her real concern goes beyond the narrow circumstances. As if signaling her own marginalized identity as a Scottish, female, and lesbian poet, her works mainly reveal the inherent violence in the gendered power relationship. In this context, this paper examines how the poet indirectly criticizes the publicly accepted


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ideas especially that of masculinized constructions of British nationality through her brilliant use of irony and humor. The cult of masculinity in the British national discourse is not a new story. Yet the ideal images of English nationality and masculinity within the imperial history cannot be disregarded concerning their persistent resonance in the contemporary English culture. Particularly, the 1980s, when Duffy was about to begin her career as a full-fledged poet, was the time during which Englishness had been increasingly identified with the masculine. Facing the economic crisis of the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher, Britains prime minister from 1979 to 1990, strongly advocated a return to Victorian values, which included laissez-faire free-market capitalism, individualism, belligerent nationalism, and even imperial ideologies. 1) Conjuring up the past glory of the 19th century British Empire, Thatchers government offered images of British national masculinity that not only had superior physical strength but was financially more competitive and successful than the feminine ones. In addition, Duffy was well aware of the certain role of the national media and educational curricula, whose language was representatively used to spread these gendered national ideas. However, what Duffy problematized was less the masculinized language itself than the way it constructed the imagined nation reproducing too many marginalized others. In their analysis of Duffys poetry, many scholars tend to agree that a large part of the poets project is to criticize her contemporary English society while offering alternative voices through monologues spoken by marginalized people such as women and immigrants. A few critics have studied the intersection of English nationality and other identity categories in Duffys poetry. Linda Kinnahan notes that Duffys criticism of national discourse is inextricably
1) Nigel Lawson, who served as Thatchers Chancellor of the from 1983 to 1989, listed the Thatcherian ideals as: Free markets, financial discipline, firm control over public expenditure, tax cuts, nationalism, Victorian values (of the Samuel Smiles self-help variety), privatization and a dash of populism (qtd. in Berlinski 115).

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


linked with her employing the conventional form (Convention 247-48; Rhetoric 133). She argues that for Duffy, the use of traditional poetic devices such as the lyrical self and the dramatic monologue works as a distinctive rhetoric of the self. According to her, these conventions enable the poet to investigate more complex vocabularies of contemporary England as she gives a voice to the outsiders interconnected with different discourses of national and cultural identity (Immigration 209). Angelica Michelis, in her essays about gender and national identity, discusses how Duffys language of otherness, alienation and displacement, or the language of the feminine, influences the construction of national identity (Me not know 95-96; A country 69). Hyun-Sook Huh also explores how Duffy called the English into question during Thatcherian times. Regarding Duffys poetry as a translation of contemporary England, Huh contends that in her poems, the voice of foreigners and immigrants develops a troubled but conscious self that is able to articulate their desire for individuality within the English society (Translating 112, 119; Monologues 811-12). Providing that the previous studies have mainly concentrated on the possibility of feminine or foreign voices in Duffys poems, which can participate in a broader national narrative, the scope of the present study is to explore how the poet rather directly represents the vulnerability of the overwhelmingly constructed English manhood in the last decades of the twentieth century. It is probably Duffys keen eye for the absurdities evident in ordinary lives and a deft poetic technique that have certainly qualified her to capture the subtle moments when the structure of the national order opens up its fissures and cracks. In particular, her skillful use of dramatic monologue and a touch of comic relief to the serious issues significantly contribute to her unique portrayal of everyday discourse. Where Duffy touches on a little part of quotidian life, the ordinary experience no longer remain ordinary; the implicit stereotypes about Britains national identity and masculinity ideals expose their own crises, often with violent emptiness.


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2. Over-determined English Culture and Its Oddly Insecure Masculinity

Duffys poetry is a continuous attempt to configure images of the English nation embedded in everyday discourse. She especially observes how her contemporary society identifies its desire with male desire, normalizing national ideals through public institutions such as the media, print capitalism, and public schools. More often than not, Englishness has been described with gendered characteristics including power, competitiveness, wealth, assertiveness, and ambition, even as the subject of English citizenship has been supposed to be white, Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking male. Furthermore, these gendered notions of Englishness are most likely shaped at the intersection where the conservative value system of the contemporary government and a secret desire shared by many English people to retain their former imperial glory meet. Duffys personal response to this phenomenon is, however, not amicable. While criticizing that this successful nation-building was always based on exclusion and selection criteria, she makes sharp comments on the fundamental contradictions and instability inherent in the construction of the unified English self. One thing to note is that Duffys dramatic monologue here allows the poet to render her criticism possible without mentioning her own beliefs, since the first-person narrative voice dramatically exhibits the symptoms of anxieties about claiming any kind of subject position (Rees-Jones 17).2) In Translating the English 1989, the readers encounter a typical male

2) Here, subject position refers to a discursive voice (or persona) in the poem, which, in Western literary tradition, is usually assumed to be singular, unchanging, and authoritative. However, Rees-Jones suggests Duffys use of monologues destabilizes this internal coherence of the self, thereby keeping a critical distance from the persona who speaks (50).

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


travel guide who proudly boasts of the dynamicity of the English culture. The opening of the poem is full of masculine confidence: Welcome to my country! (72). Starting with a brief introduction of the countrys famous national newspaper and weather, the self-assertive voice continues to build an imposing image of nationhood by giving an account of Englands inspired male authors, Wordsworth and Shakespeare. Throughout the poem, the speaker continuously stresses the authenticity of the national culture, saying that there will be much excitement surrounding something genuinely English. A tour of our wonderful capital city is not to be missed, he pronounces. The collage of multiple references such as the Princess Di, football hooligan, Charles Dickens, and Terry Wogan (a famous show host) also works as a series of cultural codes that appears to have shaped the collective identity of the English we. In many cases, these references, along with the mans exaggerated tone, contain flashy and ostentatious features, sometimes reminding the reader of another superlative list of Englands canonical male poets in The Laughter of Stafford Girls High: John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Rowe, Laurence Eusden, Colley Cibber, William Whitehead (237). However, the speaker in the poem finally divulges the fragility of his seemingly coherent national image as the pastiche of his conceited language reveals its hidden cruelty and violence:
Many thrills and high interest rates for own good. Muggers. Much lead in petrol. Filth. Rule Britannia and child abuse. Electronic tagging, Boss, ten pints and plenty rape. Queen Mum. Channel Tunnel. You get here fast no problem to my country my country my country welcome welcome welcome. (72)

By allowing the speaker to express freely his masculine desire for grandiose Englishness, Duffy watches for the unguarded point at which the speaker cannot but disclose the most undesirable aspects within the English national discourse. In fact, it is also plausible to say there is a presence of another


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voice that, in a very sneaky and indifferent manner, infiltrates into, and thus intervenes in, the narrative of the monologue.3) This second voice deliberately adds a plain social fact such as muggers and filth after each reference the speaker provides, and by doing so, it indirectly remarks upon the contradictoriness of the egocentric English self. High interest rates, which may have helped Thatcherian Britain achieve financial glory simultaneously resulted in an increase in crime rates, and the economic efficacy of leaded petrol ultimately resulted in a deleterious effect on the English environment. The speaker then points out that high interest rates, which may have helped Thatcherian Britain achieve the financial glory, cannot be thought apart from the increase in crime rates, and the economic efficacy of leaded petrol always has something to do with the detrimental effect on the natural environment. Whether intended or not, the juxtaposition of clashing words such as Rule Britannia and child abuse, and Queen Mum and plenty rape also significantly reflects the poets tacit intervention to exhibit the lack of unity among English subjects. Here, the poem tells of the superior male power, which once ruled the great British Empire, still existing in the domestic area, maltreating weaker ones including its children.4) The position of the Queens mother as a symbol of royal dignity also becomes more or less ambiguous facing the commonly practiced violence in English society.5) In this sense, the
3) Reese-Jones also notes that Duffys dramatic monologues often include a slippage between the voice of the monologist and the voice of another presence which interferes or seeps into the narrative (46). 4) As Kinnahan rightly notes, patriotism represented in this poem is consist of the most unpleasant discourses economic disparity, misogyny, colonization and child abuse which are ironically proven to be intersect and even interdependent each other (Look For 255). 5) Queen mum is the name adopted by the press to describe Elizabeth Sr., Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother(1900-2002). Throughout her life, she had been enduringly beloved by England and unlike other members of the royal family, she rarely mocked by the tabloids. She personified an ideal (grand) mother figure who had not only

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


repetition of my country and welcome is no more than a resonance of hollow language exhibiting the speakers obsession with unity and unfragmented wholeness for the English national self. Poet for Our Times even more openly shows Duffys skeptical attitude toward the construction of stable Englishness that the contemporary English society aims at. As an extension of Translating the English 1989, Duffys peculiar use of dramatic monologue in this poem leads to a revelation of the speakers real character, a representative of Thatcherian English identity. The monologue in this poem is spoken by a reporter from Britains best-selling national newspaper The Sun , who regards himself as a talented, influential figure in the national narrative. In the first stanza, he, introducing his occupation of writing headlines, expresses how much he is proud of the knack [he was] born with (74). Obviously, the speakers self-esteem cannot be separated from his own achieved masculinity. It seems that this newspaper reporters main interest is solely how to prove his ability to convey the masculine quality of the English identity in a certain manly style. He declares all he has to do is Just [to] bang the words down like theyre screaming Fire! while comparing his simple headlines to punchy haiku poetry. What is more, from the speakers extensive use of slang for men like Squire, mate, or GENTS, the reader can conclude that the targeted newspaper readership as well as the listener of his monologue is exclusively limited to a specific group of English men. Nevertheless, although the speaker seems to possess a certain degree of public authority, and his articles and headlines certainly handle some prominent national issues, his position as a sort of poet / for our times appears not quite acceptable to the audience (74). It is shown that what he regards as national is too violent and his language too ugly to be either poetic or formal.

wisdom to carry out tradition but also courage with which she could remain in London during the World War (OReilly 336-37).


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For instance, in his headlines, the choice of vulgar terms like EYETIE and FROG, each referring to Italians and the French, indicates more than enough Englands prejudice and offensive racial stereotypes. Likewise, women are merely reduced to the sexual body parts in a rather obscene way: their GIGANTIC breasts on PAGE 3 are only meant to please gentlemens eyes. Here, the monologue gives an uncanny effect as the poet blurts out what has been secretly agreed as a desired national identity by her contemporaries. As the voice of this public writer grows more exaggerative in nature, readers are compelled to face an uncomfortable reality as their everyday experiences of institutional discourses and national events become even more perceivable, as well as objectifiable. In this way, the last stanza becomes the locus where Duffy puts her criticism of the empty national discourse into perspective:
And, yet, I have a dream make that a scotch, ta that kids will know my headlines off by heart. IMMIGRANTS FLOOD IN CLAIMS HEATHROW WATCHER. GREEN PARTY WOMAN IS A NIGHTCLUB TART. The poems of the decades . . . Stuff em! Gotcha! The instant tits and bottom line of art. (75)

Again, the speakers aggressive language refers to his inability to see Englishness in anything but the most conventional, biased, and sensational terms. As the phrase IMMIGRANTS FLOOD IN suggests, his mention of foreigners is already related to threatening forces from outside, while he continues to rudely dishonor a leftwing female politician by labeling her A NIGHTCLUB TART, slang for prostitute. Stuff em, and Gotcha! similarly demonstrate the jingoistic and destructive nature inherent in his language.6) As
6) Gotcha is a famous front-page headline from The Sun in 1982 when the General Belgrano, an Argentine ship, was sunk in the Falklands War by a British submarine (Berlinski 174-75). This clearly summed up the jingoistic fervor in England around the war.

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


such, the way Duffy lets this public man of excessive machismo betray his linguistic coarseness and violent character, in fact reinforces the audiences suspicion that the public nationality they have believed legitimate may be grounded upon something valueless. In this context, the last line of the poem is necessarily suggestive as another voice suddenly breaks in; his art, which has led him to success at the top of the national newspaper, now only ranks at the bottom of artistic authority, merely fulfilling the instant male desire for womens breasts and buttocks (75). A subtle but no less intense anxiety of English subjecthood is also observed in Head of English. Set in a typical secondary school in England, the poem offers an interesting moment where the head of English, who aligns himself with the canonical male poetic tradition, encounters a poet of the new generation. The teachers imperative language that comprises a list of dos and donts, and his emphasis on traditional conventions of English poetry for example, assonance and rhymepresent the speaker more visible as a central figure in an authoritative school institution. In this sense, the teachers observable rudeness toward this young, free-verse poet can be interpreted as an expression of his masculine arrogance and disregard for the illegitimate culture-shifting: Remember the lesson on assonance, for not all poems, sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind (9). After all, its rather a materialistic reasonthat the school is paying him forty pounds that stands behind his accepting this less authentic English poet. In the third stanza, his personal offense at other cultures comes into view more clearly:
Those of you with English Second Language, see me after break. Were fortunate to have this person in our midst. Season of mists and so on and so forth. Ive written quite a bit of poetry myself, am doing Kipling with the Lower Fourth. (9)


Bo-mi Jeon

The teachers use of the term English Second Language makes rather impersonal and disrespectful reference to children from other linguistic backgrounds. While Keatss verse (season of mists) quoted by the speaker is marked as his own cultural self-affirmation, his mentioning of teaching Kipling, who was not just a master of traditional poetic form but a champion of British imperialism and an opponent of multicultural society, further highlights the teachers biased view on cultural diversity. Yet, despite these entire attempts to distinguish his canonical self from peripheral cultures, the poem uncovers an intense cultural anxiety underlying this forceful self-image. Duffys technique of dramatic monologue once more maximizes an effective objectification of the speakers nuanced psychological change. By saying that he does not want winds of change, a famous phrase made by a former prime minister, Harold Macmillan, when the African colonies tried to break away from the British Empire, the teacher unconsciously expresses his fear about the new poet who might change the pupils view on what really constitutes the English. This kind of nervousness perceptibly echoes Duffys own view on the non-essential and fluid quality of national identity. Thus when the teacher challenges the poet, saying convince us that theres something we dont know in a somewhat exaggerated tone, the reader may notice that there is something about English and English literature that he has tried to conceal from his pupils (9). The teachers verbal defense mechanism of avoidance continues to the end of the poem as he hurries to rush off (Unfortunately / I have to dash) from the room after dispersing the girls (10). Now, there is an obvious relief in his voice that he fortunately does not have to talk about the outside view of the poet any more (10).

3. (Un)victimized Individuals in the Formation of the English National Identity

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


In preceding poems, Duffy casts doubt on the coherence or stability of the public national narrative. In other poems, on the other hand, she also tries to gain access to the English identities woven into peoples imaginative private lives so as to depict the myriad and dynamic ways in which the English national identity is produced. While keeping in mind that the personal experiences of national identity nonetheless cannot be totally disconnected from the influence of the public experience, she captures quite a number of individuals who are, either consciously or unconsciously, forced by the stereotypical and conservative notion of Englishness. One interesting point is that Duffy seems to regard both insiders and outsiders of the mainstream English society as victims of oppression and marginalization by the national discourse. Still, it must be also noted that even though these victims encounter an inescapable national (un)reality, whether they are contained by it or not depends upon their own capacity to see through the fabricated tale of the national subject. For Duffy, the identity of a progressive and virile nation cannot be an absolute reality since it has always been constructed by juxtaposing English characters against its randomly designated inferior other. Yet in many cases, this institutionalized male English character manifests its pervasive power in the form of personal or communal violence. So when the little girl in Originally tells of the memory of big boys who ate worms and shouted obscene words, England is mirrored as a hostile, masculine world (69). Englishness with a more exclusive and racialized definition again appears in Foreign, where a sympathetic persona witnesses the actual experience of seeing racist graffiti: you saw a name for yourself sprayed in red against a brick wall (58). Here, what is good and what is English are always formed against the hate name of otherness, and the phrase Red like blood with the capital R adds the violent nature of Englands nationalist ideas of the time. To the alienated groups who cannot participate in this collective fantasy of the English nation, England itself becomes the other country. In this country, one cannot but


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desire an alternative space, as in In Your Mind. In the opening stanza, the speaker, having difficulties in her life in England, imagines herself travelling to another place in the middle of work. In this place, whether anticipated of half-remembered, ones language can be freely articulated without being muffled, and one does not have to suffer from the harsh reality comparable to a bleak English autumn (101). Instead of viewing the outside reality, the speaker conjures up a series of imaginary moments in which people are not yet obsessed with scientific progress or selfish individualism, but a sense of idyllic freedom can be detected:
Then suddenly you are lost but not lost, dawdling on the blue bridge, watching six swans vanish under your feet. The certainty of a place turns on the lights all over town, turns up the scent on the air. For a moment you are there, in the other country, knowing its name. And then a desk. A newspaper. A window. English rain. (101)

Despite the relative abstractness of the imaginary place, it is remarkable to note that the speaker gradually gets the feeling of certainty about what she imagines. It is a kind of immediacy of life, which makes her presence valued much more than before, but as the second person pronoun you suggests, this immediacy does not mean the speaker takes her past memory and imagination as something controllable; neither does it mean that she indulges in escapist fantasies. By calling her other self in an imaginary space you, the speaker instead informs the reader that she is able to put some distance between her questionable present reality and the imaginary place, while she can also lead her everyday life at a conscious level. The other country within her imagination, to some extent, is playing a role not only as a refuge, but also as a half-political place where the speaker can glimpse her own creative subjectivity.7) Thus, although the vision cannot be sustained for long, and the speakers helplessness and frustration within the inescapable reality is to be

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


continued, the conclusion cannot be always regarded as too pessimistic. As the last lines four fragmented sentences indicate, the indifferently listed nouns clearly contrast the tender, organic images of her imagined country, emphasizing the uncertainty of the present Englishness. The ephemeral and momentary nature of the given materials, a desk, a newspaper, and English rain, further implies the illusory and fleeting quality of the reality of the English nation. Yet it is the speakers critical imagination that, by stemming defeat, finally enables her to confront and overcome the cold reality. If the speaker in In Your Mind is able to position and reposition her flexible subjectivity to deal with the imposing national reality, the male monologist in The Captain of the 1964: Top of the Form Team is, in contrast, a character who is stuck between two images of Englishness: one as the embodiment of a heroic past, and another as an insipid, vapid routine of the English middle class. Even though the speaker is a man who has experienced what it is like to be a legitimate member of the English and still thinks of himself within the boundary of Englishness, he at all times fixes his personal reality on the nostalgic past, thus understanding his identity in idealized, even deluded ways. As the first stanza directly presents, the personas fizzing hopes, like the popularity of the Beatles as well as the optimistic mood in the mid-1960s, reached their peak. The first three stanzas contain a great deal of memories to describe the young speakers successful past. Certainly, he was a boy on a roll. He gradually developed his own masculine image as he contrasted himself with convent girls and mimicked Mick Jagger, a vocalist of Rolling Stones, as a male role model. In school, his academic achievement as a model English middle-class boy was again conspicuous. Well adjusting himself in an established national curriculum for geography (the Nile rises in April; I
7) This kind of subjectivity corresponds to the idea of Micheliss Otherness that inhabits an identity as a constantly present alterity without allowing closure or certainty (Me Not Know 96).


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knew the capitals), zoology (hummingbirds song), and English history (the Kings and Queens, the dates), he feels great self-confidence in his ability to give correct answers in class (105). Above all, after his participating in a TV quiz show, he even integrates his personal past into Englands national narrative:
Dave Dee Dozy...Try me. Come on. My mother kept my mascot Gonk on the TV set for a year. And the photograph. I look so brainy youd think Id just had a bath. The blazer. The badge. The tie. The first chord of A Hard Days Night loud in my head. I ran to the Spinney in my prize shoes, up Churchill Way, up Nelson Drive, over pink pavements that girls chalked on, in a blue evening, and I stamped the pawprints of badgers and skunks in the mud. My country. (105)

Here, the mascot Gonk seems rather similar to a trophy than a toy, and the photograph, a medal. The shabbily dressed speaker with his badge brings up the image of a full-dressed general in his uniform. In this way, his nostalgic ideal of a personal (and national) past is overwhelmingly masculine. Running with excitement, he metaphorically follows the path of conventional heroic figures such as Churchill and Nelson, and all of his glorious experience is summed up in one significant word, my country. In his sense of history, girls business does not count. Their traces represented by chalk lines seem much fragile and hazy than the powerful pawprints his shoes stamp. Nevertheless, the last stanza of the poem shows the ultimate failure of his nostalgia. As a typical dramatic monologist, he unconsciously exposes his own tactics of self-delusion in disguising his particular feelings of loss.8) It is quite
8) It has been defined that one essential feature of dramatic monologue is the speakers unintentional revelation of her or his temperament or character (Abrams 70; Shaw 442).

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


obvious that the speakers obssessiveness about his heroic past serves no real purpose other than to provide him an empty consolation. His state of loss is most clearly observed from the meaningless questions he continuously asks people around him. Likewise, his discontent with the present, routinized reality is also indirectly represented by his description of his family, stale wife and my thick kids. For him, the past never exists as the past, but his entire life is equated with the memory of his heyday, being the captain of his Top of the Form team. This might be Duffys implicit criticism of the Thatcherian governments anachronistic philosophy that aims to return to the leading position of the British Empire.9) Yet in the most profound sense, he is a man of half-victim, half-accomplice, trapped in a publicly fantasized masculinity as his mirrored image of self, partly recalling Althussers conception of subjected subject, signifies no less the speakers condition of being governed than his individual agency.

4. The Politics of Laughter in The Laughter of Stafford Girls High

In The Laughter of Stafford Girls High, Duffy adopts a subversive gesture of laughter in an attempt to develop a further critical stance toward the

9) In his study of Margaret Thatchers conservatism, Stuart Hall has described its ideological project as a form of regressive modernization: [Thatcherisms ideological] reworking of these different repertoires of Englishness constantly repositions both individual subjects and the people as a whole . . . contesting space in terms of shifting social, sexual, and ethnic identities, against the background of a crisis of national identity and culture precipitated by the unresolved psychic trauma of the end of empire. Culturally, the project of Thatcherism is defined as a form of regressive modernization the attempt to educate and discipline the society into a particularly regressive version of modernity by, paradoxically, dragging backwards through an equally regressive version of the past. (2)


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man-made public narratives and their conservative national values. As the title of the poem intimates, the laughter here exists as a counterculture against the dominant language upon which the English national culture, here represented as a public school, was founded. In Duffys detailed representation of a typical English school, it seems clear that she tries to question what kind of rational and legal authority this modern state institution relies on, and how firmly its authority is established. Still, rather than to express unqualified doubt on the idea of public education itself, her main concern is to go beyond the often serious but hollow rhetoric of the English institution so that she can give a hilarious insight into what it is to be English in her own time. Duffy opens up the poem with skillfully arranged lists of kings and queens of England, the canonical writers, and geographical facts. At this point, she successfully demonstrates the exclusive and inflexible nature of the English national curriculum, which has long been dictated by a heterosexual, patriarchal order. For example, the rivers of England listed in Ms. Dunns class suggestively show the way English nationality is geographically, and thus rationally, defined: Brathay, Coquet, Crake, Dee, Don, Goyt, / Rothay, Tyne, Swale, Tees, Wear, Wharfe (234). Listed in alphabetical order, the names of the rivers here metaphorically work as a fixed geographical demarcation that defines English national territory and sovereignty. It is more like a codified norm, which by learning schoolchildren can join in the construction of the national discourse. Then, there is a sudden burst of laughter that interrupts and erodes the petrified discourse within the school curriculum. The unstoppable mirth spreads so quickly that it sweeps through the entire school in less than an hour. Where the girlish hilarity and giggling has passed by, all the national values and the glorified past have also faded away. The Beaufort scale of wind speed, which has been used to fulfill the English Royal Navys imperialistic purposes, and the list of Poet Laureates are no exception. Every classroom is almost emptied by the sheer glee of unrestricted laughter. Whereas the pure, irrational laughter is offered as a strategy to release the

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


controlling mechanism of rationality in the patriarchal culture, it also creates distance from the context of nationalist sentiment in this ordinary English school. In the poem, Duffy seems to suggest that the power of laughter lies in its ability to translate everything into nonsense as it draws out the inherent absurdness of situations, even those that are supposed to be meaningful and serious within the national scheme. As such, in the scene of the Monday morning assembly, a splash of laughter begins to disrupt the most solemn and patriotic moment in which the Head of the school sings the British national anthem:
. . . Doctor Bream, determined and blind, started the mornings hymn. I vow to thee my country. . . A flushed Miss Fife started to play. All earthly things above. . .The rest of the staff joined inentire and whole and perfect, the service of my love, the love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test . . . But the girls were hysterical, watching the Head, Queen Canute, singing against the tide of their mirth . . . . (243)

Doctor Bream, the Headmistress, is apparently an authoritative figure who already possesses some characteristics of patriarchal masculinity. She, reminding the readers of Margaret Thatcher, thoroughly pursues the norms and standards that have been traditionally prescribed by the ideology of traditional institutions. When confronting the unmanageable burst of laughter, her masculinist notion of womens role in English society is at once expressed, how they could hope to grow to be the finest of Englands daughters and mothers and wives after this mornings Assemblys abysmal affair? (241). Later, even the teachers join in girly merriment and eventually discover their true selves, which they find do not fit the qualifications for teaching Englishness. At first, they are described as the woman teachers of England


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who easily become frustrated and anxious about the overwhelming laughter that has shaken the entire school (239). Yet, as time passes, the teachers, if unconsciously, begin to illuminate both the oppressiveness and the fissures in totality within this national institution. The case of Miss Batt particularly provides the reader with one of the most radical moments:
. . . Miss Batt, vacantly staring down as her class wrote out a list of the monarchs of England Egbert, Ethelwulf, Ethelbald, Ethelbert, Ethelred, Alfred, Edward, Athelstan, Edmund, Eadred, Eadwig, Edgar. . . noticed the snowball, huge and alone on the hockey pitch, startlingly white in the pencilly grey of the light, and thought of desire, of piano scales slowing, slowing, breasts. She moaned aloud, forgetful of where she was. Francesca Eve echoed the moan. The class roared. (242)

The scene become quite humorous as Ms. Batt, looking out through the window at the winter snow, associates the big white snowballs with the breasts of her secret female lover and moans aloud with desire. This brought additional shared laughter to the site. At this point, the poet invites the reader to take a step back and enjoy the obscene fantasy of a school teacher. Yet it is still more striking to see how the poet parallels Miss Batts homosexual desire with the names of the English monarchs, the defender of patriarchal hierarchy and heterosexual legitimacy. By interrupting the flow of the list of the Kings and Queens of England, Miss Batt and her expressing of the taboo same-sex desire in public becomes a threat to the authority of the English monarch, as well as the patriarchal ordering they represent. Considerably, one might also argue that here the poet has created a moment in which even the reader is complicit in a plot against the monarchy as they laugh. Notwithstanding its penetrating theme of subverting the naturalized power, the overall mood of the poem is nevertheless hilarious. According to the poets

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


delicate descriptions, the sound of the girls laughter is liquid, flowering, or bird-like than coercive and aggressive. Due to the joyful mood it creates, laughter is even thought to be on the curriculum (247). In this way, the idealized model of national identity and the public institution that consolidates so-called Englishness again reveal their own instability, exposing that they are not able to tolerate even the weightless weight of laughter. Likewise, the closing of the school in the later scenes evidently indicates that sometimes the most illogical and unpredictable means of self-expression probably including artistic onescan in fact collapse old national doxa.

5. Conclusion
In a broad sense, Duffys whole work is an implied protest against the nations abstract totality that both obscures violence class division, sexual/racial discrimination, and even imperial nationalism and justifies other unjust political realities. Duffy has learned that the English nation has been represented as a unified ideal but in it, there are too many different lifestyles and interests to standardize. To the poet, this often masculinized national ideal is no more than a concealed conflict and displacement which has already started to fester. Her criticism of the normative national ideology, however, appeared by lightly adding humor to a particular scene rather than by directly attacking the government or a certain ruling figure. Notably, laughter is something that is neither cruel nor harsh; it is, if anything, an social expression of the point of view of the whole world, as Mikhail Bakhtin says (12), creating distances from the well-hidden familiar moments of our lives and then teasing the official statement forced by the national government.10) After carefully

10) Bakhtin regards the culture of carnival laughter as one of the most radical forms of dialogue. The ambivalence it creates is marked by the suspension of ordinary hierarchy, while also signifying the symbolic destruction of the official authority:


Bo-mi Jeon

endowing a concrete voice to the deep-rooted narrative of the dominant Englishness, she waits until this casual, unintended voice inadvertently utters the potential violence behind the daily discursive practices, which no longer makes it possible to conceal the accustomed suppressions and restraints. In Duffys poetry, laughter not only works as a useful stylistic device that gives pleasure to the reader but sometimes even functions as an agency as it leads us to doubt what has been believed to be a solid reality. It aims at social change by giving the reader a chance not to deal with the serious too seriously. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the poet merely overlooks the important relationship between the nation and individual identities. One must understand her attempt in terms of searching for other possibilities to maintain a more dialogical and flexible relationship between the two. In other words, the new English identity she is eager to express in her poetry mainly involves a relaxing type of humanistic sentiment that, like laughter, allows for tolerance and generosity, detached from the stiffness and conservatism of the traditional Englishness. (Yonsei Univ.)

Rabelais tore off the sacred symbolic robes of number and uncrowned them. He profaned them. But this is not a nihilistic act: it is a gay carnivalesque gesture that regenerates the numbers and renews them(463).

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


Works Cited
. : [Translating England] 8.1 (2002): 99-121. [Monologues ______.

of the Alienated] 51.4 (2005): 809-35. Abrams, M. H. Glossary of Literary Terms . 7th ed. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1999. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. H. Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Berlinski, Claire. There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters . New York: Basic Books, 2008. Duffy, Carol Ann. New Selected Poems, 1984-2004 . London: Picador, 2011. Hall, Stuart. The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left . London: Verso, 1988. Kinnahan, Linda A. Look for the Doing Words: Carol Ann Duffy and Questions of Convention. Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism . Ed. James Acheson and Romana Huk. SUNY P, 1996: 245-68. ______. Now I Am Alien: Immigration and the Discourse of Nation in the Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy. Contemporary Womens Poetry. Ed. Alison Mark and Deryn Rees-Jones. Macmillan P, 2000: 208-25. ______. The Rhetoric of Self, Nation, and Economics: A Poetics of Public Discourse in Carol Ann Duffy. Lyric Interventions: Feminism, Experimental Poetry, and Contemporary Discourse . Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2004. 132-79. Michelis, Angelica. A Country of Ones Own? Gender and National Identity in Contemporary Womens Poetry. European Journal of English Studies 6.1 (2002): 61-69.


Bo-mi Jeon

______. Me not Know What These People Mean: Gender and National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry. The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: Choosing Tough Words . Ed. Angelica Michelis and Antony Rowland. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003: 77-98. ______, and Antony Rowland. Introduction. The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: Choosing Tough Words . Ed. Angelica Michelis and Antony Rowland. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003: 1-32. OReilly, Andrea, ed. Elizabeth, Queen Mother. Encyclopedia of Motherhood . 1st vol. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2010. 336-38 Rees-Jones, Deryn. Carol Ann Duffy. Plymouth: Northcote House, 2002. Shaw, W. David. Masks of the Unconscious: Bad Faith and Casuistry in the Dramatic Monologue. ELH 66.2 (1999): 439-60.

Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry


Interrogating Iconized Masculinity and English National Identity in Carol Ann Duffys Poetry
Abstract Bo-mi Jeon (Yonsei Univ.)

This paper attempts to investigate the dynamic relationship between English nationality and masculinity represented in Carol Ann Duffys poetry, arguing that Duffys unique portrayal of everyday discourses reveals the often-violent emptiness of implicit stereotypes about Britains national identity and masculinity ideals. One of Duffys main concerns in her poetry was the construction of Englands nationality during the 1980s, when Thatchers government brought a number of economic and political changes. At the time of drastic social change, what the national discourse offered was a powerful vision of a strong England that pursued the most masculine and heroic virtues. However, Duffy was rather skeptical toward the public attempt to make a coherent English identity since she observed the fundamental contradictions and instability inherent in the construction of Englishness vis--vis heroic masculinity. While keenly observing how the hegemonic English nationality was being developed within everyday discourse, she shrewdly creates a social satire, utilizing the chance to criticize the publicly accepted gendered prescriptions of Englishness. Here, the poets use of laughter as a key element of her social criticism is worthy of attention since its universal and ambivalent character allows the readers to gain instant access to the counterculture. Key words: English nationality, Thatcherian England, masculinity, everyday politics, subversive laughter


Bo-mi Jeon
: 2012 09 24 : 2012 11 02 : 2012 11 02

E-mail: bomi@yonsei.ac.kr