Education for Leisure
Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy
Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.
I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.
There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.
Top exam board asks schools to destroy book containing knife poem
Britain's biggest exam board has been accused of censorship after it removed a poem containing references to knife crime from the [General Certificate of Secondary Education] syllabus.
Officials at the [Assessment and Qualifications Alliance] board said their request that schools destroy the anthology containing the Carol Ann Duffy poem Education for Leisure had been triggered by concerns in two schools about references to knives. A spokeswoman confirmed the decision had been made in the context of the current spate of knife-related murders.
But poets yesterday condemned the move, saying such "censorship" fundamentally missed the point of the poem, which they said could help children debate the causes of street violence.
The poem starts: "Today I am going to kill something. Anything./I have had enough of being ignored and today/I am going to play God." It describes a youth's yearning for attention and a journey to sign on for the dole, and makes references to the killing of a goldfish. It ends ominously with the youth walking the streets armed with a bread knife.
Duffy, widely considered a front-runner to be the next [British] poet laureate, yesterday declined to comment. But her literary agent, Peter Strauss, said: "It's a pro-education, anti-violence poem written in the mid-1980s when Thatcher was in power and there were rising social problems and crime. It was written as a plea for education. How, 20 years later, it had been turned on itself and presented to mean the opposite I don't know. You can't say that it celebrates knife crime. What it does is the opposite."
Michael Rosen, the children's laureate, said: "By this same logic we would be banning Romeo and Juliet. That's about a group of sexually attractive males strutting round the streets, getting off with girls and stabbing each other.
"Carol Ann is an easy target because she's a modern poet." He added: "Of course we want children to be talking about knife crime and poems like these are a terrific way of helping that happen. Blanket condemnation and censorship of something never works."
A spokeswoman for AQA confirmed there had been three complaints, two referring to knife crime and a third about the description of a goldfish being flushed down the toilet. The first complaint about knives was made in 2004. The second, made in the summer by an exams officer, was then taken up by an MP.
The most recent complaint was made by Lutterworth grammar school's exams invigilator, Pat Schofield, who welcomed the board's decision and said: "I think it is absolutely horrendous - what sort of message is that to give to kids who are reading it as part of their GCSE syllabus?"
The AQA spokeswoman said: "The decision to withdraw the poem was not taken lightly and only after due consideration of the issues involved. We believe the decision underlines the often difficult balance that exists between encouraging and facilitating young people to think critically about difficult but important topics and the need to do this in a way which is sensitive to social issues and public concern."
Poet, playwright and freelance writer Carol Ann Duffy was born on 23 December 1955 in Glasgow and read philosophy at Liverpool University. She is a former editor of the poetry magazine Ambit and is a regular reviewer and broadcaster. She moved from London to Manchester in 1996 and began to lecture in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her papers were acquired by the Robert W. Woodruff Library of Emory University in 1999, and in October 2000 she was awarded a grant of £75,000 over a five-year period by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
Her adult poetry collections are Standing Female Nude (1985), winner of a Scottish Arts Council Award; Selling Manhattan (1987), which won a Somerset Maugham Award; The Other Country (1990); Mean Time (1993), which won the Whitbread Poetry Award and the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year); The World's Wife (1999); Feminine Gospels (2002), a celebration of the female condition; and Rapture (2005), winner of the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize. Her children's poems are collected in New & Collected Poems for Children (2009).
She also writes picture books for children, and these include Underwater Farmyard (2002); Doris the Giant (2004); Moon Zoo (2005); The Tear Thief (2007); and The Princess's Blankets (2009).
Anthologies edited by Carol Ann Duffy include Out of Fashion (2004), in which she creates a vital dialogue between classic and contemporary poets over the two arts of poetry and fashion; Answering Back (2007); and To The Moon: An Anthology of Lunar Poems (2009).
Carol Ann Duffy is also an acclaimed playwright, and has had plays performed at the Liverpool Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre in London. Her plays include Take My Husband (1982), Cavern of Dreams (1984), Little Women, Big Boys (1986) and Loss (1986), a radio play.
She received an Eric Gregory Award in 1984 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1992 from the Society of Authors, the Dylan Thomas Award from the Poetry Society in 1989 and a Lannan Literary Award from the Lannan Foundation (USA) in 1995. She was awarded an OBE in 1995, a CBE in 2001 and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.
Carol Ann Duffy lives in Manchester and is Creative Director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. She became Poet Laureate in 2009, succeeding Andrew Motion.