Carol Ann Duffy is a famous Scottish poet who was born in Glasgow but raised in England. She developed a love of poetry from a very young age. She likes to write poems about contemporary issues using a strong narrative and normally in the first person, effectively putting the reader as the person the narrator is addressing. Her work is widely studied in higher and further education. ‘Quickdraw’ is from the poetry collection entitled Rapture and is about the good and bad parts of a relationship, likening it to gunslingers like the ones portrayed in old spaghetti western movies.
Carol Ann Duffy leaves a lot of ambiguity in this poem. The gender of the narrator and their love interest, whether they are still together or not – the mention of the last chance saloon suggests that they are but it is never stated explicitly. The metaphor of the Wild West for a relationship is a good fit and creates an amusing poem that is pleasant to read and fun to analyse. Duffy has put a sexual undertone to the poem that reverberates throughout and suggests heightened levels of passion between the couple which would explain why their relationship can be so torrid at times. Why this passion exists is unclear and could be because the relationship is in fact an adulterous one. The idea of secrecy is hinted at certain points during the poem by the multiple phones. Phones and by extension, words, are used as metaphorical weapons throughout this poem. I think the entire poem mirrors a back and forth argument where a couple frequently hurts one another and the last stanza, being so ambiguous, represents how an argument can result at the end of a relationship or a passionate interlude.
Form and Tone
‘Quickdraw’ is written in free verse with no rhyming pattern (although rhyme is used a couple of times in the poem) It is playful and humorous in tone, drawing comparisons between a gunslinger in the wild west and two, perhaps three people in a relationship. It is divided into four stanzas each one is four lines long. Duffy uses a mixture of short and longer sentences (often forming enjambment lines) to symbolize the ups and downs of a modern relationship. The gender of the narrator is left ambiguous. I read the poem in the voice of a woman, but perhaps that is because I know that Duffy herself is female.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I wear the two, the mobile and the landline phones,
in my ear, and hear me groan.
From the start of the poem, which can be read in full here, Duffy sets the scene beautifully. She begins by comparing phones to the guns that a gunslinger might have worn around their waist in “wild west” This is q metaphor that continues throughout the poem. The end of the second line is a short enjambment sentence where the word alone is left widowed on the following line, making the word appear to be alone! This is a technique Duffy has employed in a couple of her poems including Stealing. She likens receiving a phone call to a gun being drawn. The choice of the verb groan is interesting as it can have slight sexual connotations, although Freud may have something to say about my interpretation of that!
You’ve wounded me.
You choose your spot, then blast me
The opening line refers to how the narrator’s words have wounded them emotionally rather than referring to a physical wound. This is a powerful statement, not least of all because an admission of being wounded by somebody’s words suggests a vulnerability. You can’t be affected strongly by somebody’s words unless you care about them. Maybe this line suggests a level of intimacy or maybe it is the narrator trying to make their significant other feel guilty? Perhaps this is their way of “firing back?” You can almost imagine the words in this poem being read by a gunslinger and that is a testament to Duffy’s skill as a poet. The line “I twirl the phone, then squeeze the trigger of my tongue” is basically talking about the verbal sparring that occasionally is emblematic of a relationship. However, clearly, the narrator feels they are losing this verbal joust as their comments is deemed by themselves to be “wide of the mark” and then their partner “blasts them” it would seem that in their “jockeying for position” the narrator is currently being outwitted by their partner.
through the heart.
to the sheriff; in my boot, another one’s
It is interesting how Duffy uses a sentence that runs on into the next stanza. I think this gives the impression of a stuttering, wounded cowboy gasping to get his/her last words out. The narrator then proceeds to describe their relationship, using a tricolon of western-themed words/phrases to push the metaphor emphatically. The metaphor expands to say that the narrator shows the phone (gun) to the sheriff. Who is the sheriff? Their identity is left ambiguous. Perhaps they are a neutral friend? Acting like a go-between for the couple. Or maybe something else?
concealed. You text them both at once. I reel.
and this … and this … and this … and this …
Again in this stanza, a sentence runs on from the previous stanza. Interestingly the word left on its own here is concealed. One would assume this is to emphasize this word. What is it that is being concealed, could this have a double meaning? I think it suggests secrecy. Why would the narrator have so many phones? Why would their lover have access to their “concealed phone”? Unless the lover in question is not their only partner? Perhaps the aforementioned sheriff isn’t a friend after all, rather their long-term partner? This would explain why the relationship between the narrator and their subject is so “fiery” The use of the word fumble is telling here I believe, throughout there are words with sexual undertones “fumble”, “down on my knees” whether or not the couple that are the subject of this poem are still together or not is unclear, however, I think what is clear is that the narrator very much sexualizes their partner – the subject of ‘Quickdraw’. Duffy uses the oxymoron “silver bullets of your kiss” the kiss can be considered a good thing but in this instance, it’s made to seem like a weapon.
The final line could have very different interpretations, it is not uncommon for Duffy to end her poems in such a way. Having just referred to their lover’s kiss it’s easy to assume that the narrator saying “take this” is their way of saying take my kiss. Another interpretation is of somebody shooting their rival multiple times. Perhaps this is the narrator taking revenge for losing in the previous war of words. Perhaps this line is them dealing the killer blows?
‘Quickdraw’, one of the best Carol Ann Duffy poems, presents an angry woman’s voice, deceived or dejected in love. Here is a list of poems that similarly present the themes of anger and frustration.
- A Poison Tree By William Blake – In this poem, William Blake, one of the well-known British poets, expresses his anger towards his friend as well as his foe.
- Beauty by Edward Thomas – In this poem, one of the famous British war poets, Edward Thomas expresses his frustration for the lack of beauty in the modern world. This poem is also taken as one of Edward Thomas’s best poems.
- Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Adrienne Rich – In this one of her best poems, Adrienne Rich talks about an unnamed person going through a similar kind of mental frustration.
- Nothing’s Changed by Tatmkhulu Afrika – In this poem, Tatmkhulu Afrika, one of the famous African poets, depicts the Apartheid system in South Africa and the frustration of indigenous people living there.
You can read about 10 Things I Hate About You Poem here.