The title of this poem is “$” and is part of Carol Ann Duffy’s fisrt collection, Standing Female Nude which was released in 1985. The title gives no hint about what the poem may be about, except for the fact that it is about money, and in particular, American money. Instead of writing the word “dollar,” she chose to use the symbol instead, meaning her poem could be one that symbolises something that affects her strongly.
Carol Ann Duffy was in her late twenties to early thirties when she wrote this poem, at the time she was beginning to be recognised as an extremely talented writer, and she had completed her first play “Take My Husband” in 1982.
At first this poem seems like a stanza of nonsense but upon closer analysis it is very complex and has many meanings. It is like a song and starts off “A one a two a one two three four -” which can be heard by many singers and musicians at the start of a song when they are counting themselves in on a beat.
The words are similar to that of jazz and scat singers from the forties who would use random vocals and gibberish to create melodies and rhythms without the use of instruments. The first sentence “Boogie woogie chou chou cha cha chatta noogie” represents the dancing associated with the music and the third sentence “da doo ron da doo run doo wop a sha na” are lyrics from the song “Da Doo Run Run” by The Crystals.
Each sentence in the poem either represents a certain song or a particular music style within the blues genre.
The last line ends with “yeah yeah yeah” which could be representive of The Beatles song “She Loves You. ” They were one of the first of their time to use “yeah yeah yeah” in a song and the British music found the phrase “yeah” controversial at the time, just like black music at first was controversial. Carol Ann Duffy grew up in The Beatles era so it may also be homage paid to her childhood. The phrase however now is common in most songs. Though the poem looks like nonsense or even another language, it does have another language – music.
The poem is very musically orientated but is titled $, so Carol Ann Duffy might be trying to put across the message about how much money the music industry makes, this could be meant in a mocking way, saying that musical artists etc get so much money for singing, sometimes singing nonsense, whilst some talented poets get hardly any recognition and nowhere near as much money. But it could also mean that musicians themselves are, in their own way, poets, and their talent is of value.
The fact that she decided to use scat and jazz music in the poem is important because it shows that sometimes musicians didn’t make music for the money, but for joy and expression and their talent for doing so is their affluence. Carol Ann Duffy has openly stated that she considers some popular music to be vey artistic and poetic, and she has wrote songs for musicals and plays herself so it is more likely that she wrote the poem to celebrate talented people, whether they are musicians or poets, or as some people consider them, both.
The poem has a lexical set of musical sounds of jazz and blues. The first line sets the image of someone about to sing or perform a piece of music and as it progresses, the onomatopoeia of the song is of percussion. The image is of someone performing either by themselves or with a crowd. The sound of this is very rhythmic, more like a song, than a poem. There is one stanza and it consists of enjambment all the way through.
It is broken up by caesura and the question mark in the fifth line adds an extra playful element to the poem as if she is asking a question, however we do not know what that question is because we don’t know what it means, if it does actually have a meaning. In the fifth line, it begins with “um,” as if the singer has forgotten their line, but it could also be part of the ‘song’ because the rest of it is also nonsense in a way.
There is a lot of alliteration which makes the poem flow easier, like “chou chou cha chatta” and “shala lala lala lala” There is also a lot of assonance and sibilance in the poem which adds to its pace which is very quick in some places, but slow in others. I think that this poem makes the reader feel cheerful and happy because Carol Ann Duffy has chosen to make her poem in the style of jazz and swing music, which has an upbeat rhythm that makes the listener feel good and want to dance.
On the surface this poem looks like a bunch of meaningless nonsense designed to make us laugh but like many of her other poems, it has a much more significant meaning about how we buy into the music industry when sometimes it’s just a bunch of nonsense designed to take our money. I think this poem encourages us to look deeper into what we do. It also encourages us to think about how black people were happy and found a way to express themselves even while they were still being oppressed, and that their wealth was their talent, something people forget about these days.