One of the problems C grade candidates have is in selecting quotes. To a C grade candidate, everything is important! One of the ways you can move up the grades is by identifying which quotes are important to you and thinking about why.
A good way to do this is by thinking about which words stand out to you. Wordle is one way of looking at the words and beginning to prioritise.
For instance, when I do this, patterns start to emerge. Look at all the words in the poem to do with ‘looking’: glanced, twice in the fourth stanza; looked, twice in the fifth stanza; stared, twice in the sixth stanza. Then that final ‘look at me now’ in the last line, standing on its own. So much of this is to do with looking and seeing, and you can really see those words intensify. It starts with ‘glanced’, a casual look, ‘brief and hurried’ according to the Oxford Dictionary – fleeting and brief, which then becomes more intense: ‘looked’ before building up to ‘stared’ – intense, prolonged and fixed.
And the final line of the poem is an instruction, a command: ‘Look at me now’. It’s moved to the present tense, too. Separated into its own stanza, four short monosyllabic words, which make it simple, brief, powerful – there are lots of ways that Duffy makes this line the most important one in the poem.
I like the way Wordle put the word ‘shit’ in the middle of it all. It’s such a brutal word, like other brutal descriptions in the poem. ‘A heap of shit’. It’s a vulgar profanity – a swear word, a curse. She could have used other words, ‘dung’ for instance, but they just wouldn’t have the same impact. Everything she looks at turns to something terrible.
It makes me think of Midas, the King who turned everything he touched to gold. She’s kind of the opposite. Everything she looks at turns to stone. But how sad they both are. Incidentally, Duffy wrote ‘Mrs Midas’ as part of this ‘World’s Wife’ collection – because turning stuff to gold is actually no better than turning it to stone – both are cold, unloving, brutal. And whilst it might seem great to have the ‘Midas Touch’, not being able to touch your loved ones, to touch your daughter’s cheek, to smooth your wife’s hair – it must be horrifying. Imagine not being able to look at anything – especially ‘Mr Perfect’ in case you turn him to stone.
It reminds me a bit of Rogue in The X-Men as she absorbs the energy and memory of the person she touches. But you CAN help touching things – hard as it might be. Rogue wears gloves all the time to stop herself touching things directly. But how do you stop yourself looking at things, unless you blind or blinker yourself?
And how can you possibly have a relationship with someone when you can’t look or touch them?
See what re-arranging the words can do? It can draw out connections you haven’t seen before; it gives you fresh eyes to look it over. It allows them to stand out in new ways.
And the more you think about the words and their power, the better you will understand the poems!
All of this ‘look at me now’ business makes me think of two things. The first is Geri Halliwell’s song ‘Look at me’ in which she’s essentially asking people to look at her as some form of attention-seeking. Is that what Medusa wants? Some attention from Perseus? Or does she really want to turn him to stone?
There are lots of reasons she might want him to look at her, and that’s your choice. There are no right answers, only those you can justify. I think this is where you look to other bits of the text.
Does she want him to see how she’s doing now?
Sometimes we want our exes, our twisted loves to see that we’re fine without them. A kind of ‘I’m doing fine now’ thing.
But she’s not doing fine, is she?
So just she want him to see, to acknowledge what he’s done to her? To see her falling apart? Sometimes we do this to our exes or our twisted loves because we want one of several outcomes, like ‘pity me’ – so does she want him to feel sorry for her, to come and make her feel better. I’m a mess without you, kind of thing?
Or does she want him to see what he’s done and take some responsibility, to face up to his part in this? Kind of ‘look what you have done to me!’
Or does she just want him to die, to be turned to stone?
And if she does, why is that?
Perhaps because she hates him. But the poem says ‘it’s you I love’ – so it’s not hatred.
But if he’s turned to stone, his eyes can only look on her. She can possess him. He can’t stray.
She used to love him, but she had to kill him. She knew she’d miss him, so she had to keep him. He drove her nuts, and she’d be happier with him dead, but close to her so he can no longer leave her.
But I think the one I like best is this interpretation:
It’s Phil Collins and it really puts a whole different spin on the poem. Think about how this person – in the midst of losing someone – begs them to ‘take a look at me now’, saying ‘I’m just an empty space’. He’s the only one who really knew her at all. Maybe she means ‘REALLY look at me – see past my eyes.’
Because in fact, she kills with HER looks – she doesn’t need to look at him. He can look on her, in THIS poem (though not in real life) without turning to stone. She wants him – implores him – orders him – begs him – to look at her.
If you want to read more about the AQA poetry anthology contemporary poetry, you can find my ebook here. Remember, you don’t need a kindle or e-reader to read it; just download the ‘Kindle for PC’ software. If you want an hour’s lesson with me (or even half an hour!) you can find all my details on my website. One hour via skype is £10.00 only! By the end, I promise you will OWN the poems!!