Anon by Carol Ann Duffy discusses female anonymity throughout history, especially in regards to the canon of literature. Duffy suggests that women have been forgotten throughout history, their talents going unnoticed and shortened to ‘Anon’. This poem gives a voice to those forgotten women, Duffy stating that although their names are lost, the tradition of female writing has passed down the generations because of them.
Anon by Carol Ann Duffy begins by focusing on the women who have been forgotten in history, suggesting that perhaps even they would not recognize their own anonymous work. Duffy is suggesting that women’s writing goes back so incredibly far that it would be difficult for even the writer to remember their craft. There is a sense of cohesion amongst women that Duffy creates within the poem, representing all women in her story. Duffy uses allusions within her poem to connect with great works of literature, Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Hamlet’ both being referenced. The voicelessness of death has stolen women’s voices, but Duffy tries to give some agency back to these forgotten women within this poem. There have always been extraordinary women, with Duffy suggesting this pathway of passing down these traits and ideas will not come to an end. Although, there is an element of uncertainty within the poem, Duffy acknowledging that the problem of not valuing women writers is still something that has not been completely changed.
Form and Structure
Duffy’s Anon spans over four unequal stanzas, each stanza measuring between 6 and 9 lines. The variance in structure could reflect how women have been undervalued within society in many aspects of their lives, not just relating to literature and writing. In using different line lengths, Duffy could be tapping into that variance, displaying it using the changing structure of her poem. There is no continual rhyme scheme within the poem, although there are moments of rhyme. These flashes of rhyme could represent the few female writers that were allowed to exist within a canon that has always been engineered to remember white men, Duffy rebelling against this exclusion.
You can read the full poem Anon here.
If she were here
Among the first two lines of the poem, Duffy repeats the female pronoun ‘she’ three times. This triple repetition of the female article demonstrates the constant presence of females, Duffy representing their presence within history through this technique.
The employment of the conditional tense within the first line, ‘If’ demonstrates that this poem will be fictional, Duffy creating a scenario. This allows Duffy to remember the lost female voices of the past, while also
representing how they are not properly remembered in modern society – often only classified as ‘lost’ or ‘anon’.
The three professions that Duffy selects in this first paragraph relate to positions of education within society. In fact, in early England, a ‘nun’ was the only profession that was taught to write, Duffy making a connection with the lost literary history which was partly carried by these nuns. The consonance of ’n’ across the professions creates a sense of cohesion within the poem, emblematic of the female presence and community that Duffy champions in her collection.
A girl I met
for a life in the sun.
The arrival of rhyme schedule across the first four lines of the first stanza, in an AABB form, could signal how there have been elements of female writing passed down over time. Indeed, the cohesion that the slight rhyme scheme provides echoes the connection of women across generations, Duffy using structure to emphasize her ideas.
A woman I knew
to get off its chest.
The ‘skull/on a shelf’ is polysemous within the third stanza. On one hand, it acts as a mechanism to show the voiceless nature of women, with the empty skull having no tongue to speak with. This is then furthered by the attempt to ‘clear its throat’, never actually delivering what it had to say. The female voice has been destroyed, lost to history, and now only present in skeletal remains. Yet, the ‘skull’ could also be understood as a reference to ‘Hamlet’, the iconic symbol being prominent in Shakespeare’s play. Similarly, within the fourth stanza, Duffy could be connecting with iconic feats of literature to suggest that female work is just as important.
The fact it is simply ‘her skull’, without a specific name attached to it, could suggest that this image is acting as a representation of all women. The use of the female pronoun ‘her’ suggests the remnants are female, yet the lack of specificity allows the image to come to represent all women.
But I know best –
Duffy creates a slight change within the fourth stanza, focusing instead on her own opinions. Of course, as a wildly successful female writer herself, Duffy ‘knows best’ about the female voice. Indeed, she represents a woman that has used her voice to discuss issues, both modern and based within history. Due to this, Duffy makes a connection from herself, and she ‘passed on her pen’, representing all of the female writers who came before her. The culmination of these historically lost voices culminates in modern women, like Duffy, which use their voice to the maximum – something once taken from them. The use of the semantics of sport in ‘baton’ bears a connection to another one of Duffy’s poems which emphasizes the exclusion of female voices, Sub.
Duffy quotes Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ within this final stanza, ‘hey nonny’. This quote is uttered by Balthasar towards the female characters of the play, asking them to not worry about men and instead change their sighs of sadness into a glee filled ‘hey nonny’. In using this quote, Duffy is then imploring female voices to focus on themselves, stop comparing to male voices, and begin to build a new, stronger, female canon. Much Ado contains one of the strongest female characters in all of Shakespeare’s works, Beatrice – perhaps signaling she is one of the women who has passed along her ‘baton’.
The final word of the poem returns to ‘Anon’, Duffy perhaps signaling that the fight for equality is not yet over. The lost voices will never be recovered, and there are still countries all over the world in which equal rights have not been granted. Duffy fights actively against this suppression of the female voice, yet the fight is far from over.