How do poets create the illusion of the speaking voice? Write about Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Head of English’ and one other poem from section one. In your answer show how language is used in both poems to convey attitudes and values.
‘Head of English’ by Carol Ann Duffy explores the idea of stereotypical teachers and how G.B. Shaw’s dictum, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches” may apply. Carol Ann Duffy is almost scornful towards her main character as she portrays the teacher as bitter and jealous.
The teacher had to settle for the nearest thing to being a poet, which was to teach rather than write. ‘Head of English’ uses only one voice whereas ‘Comprehensive’ uses seven different personas; Carol Ann Duffy is famous for being a ‘ventriloquist’. ‘Comprehensive’ by Carol Ann Duffy explores the different attitudes to education in schools and life in general by using different personalities, each one a stereotype. Each voice has an individual view and we can tell this by the structure of the poem and language used.
Carol Ann Duffy creates voice through her perspectives and views that she uses in ‘Head of English’. The teacher is envious of the poet, one could say almost resentful and she makes the poet feel like an outsider, as if she is not welcome, as she says ‘After all, we’re paying forty pounds’.
This insinuates that she is telling the poet that she is expecting her recital to be very impressive and that she has high standards, which must be met.
The teacher tries to prove that she has power to the poet as she continues to control every little thing her pupils do.
‘Please show your appreciation by clapping’. This line shows us that she is in control of her class; her pupils must do what she says, when she says it. However, it is almost as if she is showing off when she follows her order with ‘Not too loud’. She is controlling them down to the finest detail, trying to stop her pupils showing their admiration to the poet, the kind of admiration she knows that she cannot obtain from them herself. The teacher knows she will never get the same amount of respect the pupils feel for the guest, a successful poet, because she is herself a failed one.
The teacher’s lack of creativity appears when she says ‘Seasons of mists and so on and so forth’, instead of Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. The teacher then dares to connect her own writing with that of the guest, an expert in poetry, when she says ‘I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself’. The teacher is desperate to be seen as a talented teacher and, more importantly, a poet.
The voice Carol Ann Duffy uses in ‘Head of English’ rarely addresses the guest speaker directly when her pupils are there. She calls the poet ‘the Muse’ which is a rude way to talk to a guest, as she does not use their name, which implies she does not see any individuality.
This suggests that she is jealous of the poet as she tries to treat the guest as if they are inferior to her; denial of the fact that she knows this is sorely untrue. The only time she addresses the poet directly is when her class have gone to a lunch break. ‘Lunch in the hall? Do hang about. Unfortunately I have to dash. Tracey will show you out’.
This quote suggests several things, the first being that she has invited the guest to stay for lunch, yet she tells her that ‘Tracey’ will escort her out of the building, as if to say that she must now leave that the lesson has finished, most probably because she does not want to spend any more time necessary than someone who is more successful than her. The choice of the name “Tracey” suggests that Carol Ann Duffy is laughing at the suggestions of vulgarity that the name unfairly kindles. Carol Ann Duffy tries to give the impression that the teacher focused on in ‘Head of English’ is in an illusion of grandeur.