Within ‘Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail’ the poet uses a humorous and sarcastic tone to create an upbeat but in the end contemplative, mood. The poem speaks on themes of technology and family life.
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The poem takes the reader through an event in the speaker’s life. His wife came into their house, demanded the TV be turned off and when it wasn’t, threw her shoe through the screen. She was eventually sent to jail for this act and condemned for doubting the goodness of the television in a family household.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail’ by Paul Durcan is a twenty-six line narrative poem that’s contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is structured in the form of a sensational newspaper headline and the body of the article. The text comes from the husband’s perspective as he comments on what his wife did.
The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are instances of half-rhyme, as well as full internal rhyme and end rhyme within the poem. Internal rhyme is not constrained to the end of the lines but can appear anywhere. For example, “dame,” “same,” and “name” in line eight and “preference” and “violence” in line twenty-five. There is also an example of full rhyme appearing at the end of lines as poetry readers are most accustomed to at the ends of lines twenty-three and twenty-four.
Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For instance, “television” and “dustbin” in line fifteen and “remember” and “moment” in line seven.
Durcan makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail’. These include alliteration, enjambment, caesura, and anaphora. The latter, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, the word “I” begins lines six, seven, and eleven.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. For example, a reader can look at lines nine and twenty-six. The latter reads: “Jail was the only place for them. Leave to appeal was refused”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “turn” and “television” in line four and “disappeared” and “down” in line twenty-one.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines three and four and eight and nine.
‘She came home, my Lord, and smashed-in the television;
She’d put her boot through the screen;
In the first lines of this piece the husband, who is quoted speaking about his wife, begins by describing what happened as soon as she got home. He uses the phrase “my Lord” to express his surprise and wonder, even now, at what she did. She “smashed-in the television”. Before this happened, he and his kids were watching the American TV show Kojack about an NYPD detective. This goes hand in hand with her being taken off to jail, as the title alludes to.
The violence came as a shock to the husband and the children. Their “peace” is contrasted with her sudden destruction of the TV. But, it turns out in the next two lines that it wasn’t quite so sudden. She gave them a chance, to turn off the TV or she was going to “put her boot through the screen”.
I didn’t turn it off, so instead she turned it off –
I had to bring the kids round to my mother’s place;
True to her word, the wife turned off the TV instead. The speaker compares the moment in his real-life to what was going on on tv when it occurred. The scenes match up strangely well, with even the wife’s name appearing on the TV show. Caesura is used in the ninth line and allows some of the dialogue from the television show to make its way into the poem.
We got there just before the finish of Kojak;
(My mother has a fondness for Kojak, my Lord);
We’d be much better off all down in the pub talking
Or playing bar-billiards –
In the next lines of ‘Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail,’ the speaker describes how he took the kids out of the house. He brings the television show Kojak back into the poem two more times, inserting it as a running symbol of the status quo and comfort.
When the speaker goes back home his wife has a chance to explain herself. She describes her frustration at the amount of time the kids and her husband spend in front of the TV. She threw away the bits that were left of it and declare that she “didn’t get married to a television”. Her anger, which once seemed out of place, is now understandable. She’d hit her breaking point when it came to the contemporary importance of the TV in a family household.
She goes on, angrily and frustratedly expressing her opinion that “they,” the whole family, would benefit more from spending time at the pub or playing billiards.
Whereupon she disappeared off back down again to the pub.’
Justice O’Brádaigh said wives who preferred bar-billiards to family television
And when as in this case wives expressed their preference in forms of violence
Jail was the only place for them. Leave to appeal was refused.
In the last lines of the poem the speaker changes. The husband’s story is over and now a few comments are added from the writer of this make-believe news article. The “Justice” in this case said that the wife posed a danger to the family for thinking that the television was a “threat to the family”. These lines are multilayered and meant, through their sarcastic tone, but genuine delivery by the justice, to convey the opposite sentiment. Obviously, the poet is saying, television is an issue in the modern world.
The justice’s comments continue. They add that “Jail” is the “only place” for wives who believe that the television is harming their family’s lives. At this point, the story catches up to the title of the poem. The final line is a great, concise example of caesura as well as what altering the length of lines can accomplish. “Leave for appeal was refused” the poet concludes. This expresses the seriousness of the offence in the justice’s eyes.