Human Interest by Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy is a noted female, Scottish poet who wrote the poem Human Interest. Achieving huge recognition for her work including receiving the status of poet laureate which is just about the biggest honour a poet can receive. Her work is occasionally controversial and often deals with contemporary issues told from the perspective of a person who might not always be particularly heroic, for instance writing from the perspective of a jealous wife, or a robber. In this case she writes from the perspective of somebody who killed their partner.

 

Human Interest Form and Tone

As you would probably expect, given the topic of this poem, it is a pretty bleak and dark piece of poetry. It follows the rhyming pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet ABBAABBACDCDCD. Which is an interesting choice given the nature of the poem, sonnets are normally associated with love and romance. It is separated into four stanzas these are four lines long, three lines long, four lines long and then three once more. This is unusual for a Petrarchan sonnet. This poem does not address the characters partner and is more like the character thinking out loud. Almost like a character might do  in a play.

 

Human Interest Analysis

First stanza

The first two lines of this poem, which can be read in full here, are really interesting. It’s almost as if the narrator is suggesting that the punishment is too severe for the crime that was committed. Perhaps he thinks it was justified? On the next two lines he describes briefly the event and how he felt about it. He doesn’t spend a lot of the poem dwelling on this description. Perhaps he is trying to “gloss over it”? In fact in terms of the description of the act itself the narrator uses just two sentences and only five words to describe the deed. The heat he describes is probably that agitated feeling that you get when you lose your temper. For anyone that’s ever had a terrible argument or heated discussion you will be familiar with this feeling of getting hot under the collar. In the last line he states that the feeling stayed until reason had died. This is significant in two ways. Firstly the use of the word died, throughout the poem Duffy uses words associated with death and gloom to help create a dismal tone but more importantly the narrator suggests he has (or had?) a sense of reason to begin with. This is the first hint in the poem that he believes he is a decent person.

 

Second stanza

In this second Stanza the narrator, once again develops his own character. He talks of being hard-working and puts the point across that he did that for his partner. He paints his significant other in quite a negative light. Saying she stank of deceit. This is quite a strong verb. It’s also interesting that he describes the other man as a prick. This is not an example of a strong swear word. Which I think intimates that the narrator clearly feels his partner was to blame for the indiscretions, whilst he clearly doesn’t have pleasant feelings for the man involved you get the sense that he feels that the person she cheated with could have been pretty much anybody and is almost insignificant. Prick is also a word you would associate with stabbing somebody and is a clever play on words. The use of the word guts is also clever and evokes an image of entrails could this be another double entendre?

 

Third stanza

Clearly he felt strongly about his former partner. He says he loved her. The use of the past tense is quite revealing here. It seems from the next line that it was the denial that “tore him(me) apart.” This is interesting, perhaps the real betrayal wasn’t that she had been with another guy, but that she hadn’t been honest about it. Perhaps it is easier to see a future with someone if at very least they can be honest with you but because of the denial he could no longer see that future and became destructive. The last two lines of the stanza reminds me of a friend of mine who has recently gone through a break up. Now they have separated she sees that the signs were there and bemoans her partner’s new relationship. That is how I interpret this, as he has progressed he has uncovered more of her secrets.

 

Fourth stanza

This first line very well be considered another turn of phrase. The use of the word choke. One would initially assume he meant “choke up” as in cry and as it happens the end of the enjambment line reveals that is what he means but I think it runs onto the next line deliberately to leave a moment of ambiguity. The final two sentences are really thought-provoking and in my opinion really strike at the heart of what the poem is about. A classic Volta in many ways (this is a term to describe the turn at the end of a sonnet.) the man reveals that his partner wasn’t that sort of a person. She wasn’t a “tart” and yet she did something uncharacteristic. He then, once more, pleads his own innocence by saying he wouldn’t hurt a fly. The suggestion here is that good people can do bad things. That both his and his partners actions were uncharacteristic.

 

Summary

Once again Duffy shows her mastery of her craft using a plethora of bleak and horrid adjectives to create a grim picture. This expert imagery is a calling card of her poetry and is evident in spades in Human Interest. She allows us to sympathise with the character, who killed his wife. The poem explores the notion of whether one action committed in the heat of the moment defines are person’s character. It is a very interesting debate when good people do bad things (and the opposite of this can happen too!) The use of rhyme is an interesting device in this poem as rhyme often gives poetry a nice flow and a slightly comic appeal and neither of those sit well within the context of this poem. Duffy is far too clever to not know this and so this device is probably employed deliberately. Perhaps to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the narrator themselves? If this is the case then the last two words of the poem “no joke” are an interesting choice. Read in isolation one would assume this is just the narrator trying to emphasise their point. But perhaps not. Is the narrator’s views reliable? It is hard to gauge. Once again Duffy leaves us with more questions than answers.

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