‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Porter is a modern poem that presents a conversation between a consumer and a retailer. On one side stands the poet as a buyer and on the other, an unknown seller is waiting for feedback from his customer. Ironically, the product is “life”, the most precious yet impermanent. The deal has worked fine both for the poet and the seller. In this poem, the poet writes a reply or report about the product that he has been using throughout. Moreover, the way he presents the subject matter is interesting. It gives readers a new perspective to think about life.
Summary of A Consumer’s Report
‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Porter presents “life” as a product that the poet received from the manufacturer to use. Now, he writes about the report of how the product worked for him. Naturally, for sustaining this product, the poet has to invest in it. So, it wasn’t an economical choice while he was buying it. Moreover, the poet says, the product is tough to get rid of, and the container in which it thrives is also very costly to maintain. At some point, the poet thought to keep it aside. But, in reality, it isn’t possible for a living person. After writing a long report describing the pros and cons of the product like an educated and alert buyer, he says he’d like to buy it if the seller sends him the “competitive product” he promised.
You can read the full poem A Consumer’s Report here.
Structure of A Consumer’s Report
‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Porter is a free verse that is 51 lines long. The first three lines act as the prologue of the report and the second section contains the poet’s feedback. Moreover, the poet writes this poem from a first-person point-of-view. For this reason, it’s a lyric. Apart from that, the conversational approach in the poem, makes it an example of dramatic monologue. Here, the speaker talks with the seller who isn’t physically present in the poem. The overall poem is composed of both the iambic meter and the anapestic meter.
Literary Devices in A Consumer’s Report
‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Porter begins with a metaphor. Here, the poet compares “Life” to a product that he received from the seller. The seller of the product is no doubt, God. The third line contains irony. In the following stanza, there is a simile in the first line. Here, he compares life to a “gift”. By using the phrase, “embarrassing deposit”, the poet metaphorically refers to the memories that embarrass the poet. There is a tautology in the line, “and I have used much more than I thought”. There is also alliteration in this line. Apart from that, the poet uses enjambment throughout the poem. Moreover, in the “maker” of life, the poet uses a metaphor. Here, he refers to God. The poet also uses sarcasm, epigram, and metonymy in the poem.
Analysis of A Consumer’s Report
The name of the product I tested is Life,
I have completed the form you sent me
and understand that my answers are confidential.
‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Porter talks about the product he has tested. It is “life”. The manufacturer has sent him a report to fill and assured him of the confidentiality of his response. What the poet filled in this “form”, is the next section of the poem. Moreover, the first section contains two metaphors, life, and the form. He compares life to a product and the form is nothing but poetry itself. Through poetry, a poet presents the testimony of his life.
I had it as a gift,
I didn’t feel much while using it,
(I suppose I have about half left
but it’s difficult to tell)—
‘A Consumer’s Report’ contains the poet’s long testimonial in this section. According to the poet, the product for testing was to him a “gift” to cherish. He didn’t feel while using it. Rather, he was excited about every bit of it. At first, life seemed gentle but after using it for a few years, it started to deposit embarrassing memories in his mind. Moreover, the product he opted for wasn’t economical. The more a person uses it the more he becomes addicted to it. That’s why the poet has used a lot of the product. Still, he thinks he has left half of his “life” unused.
although the instructions are fairly large
Also the price is much too high.
In this section of ‘A Consumer’s Report’, Peter Porter refers to the “instructions” or the art of life. It’s difficult to tell what’s the best way to live life to one’s fullest. According to the poet, each way is contradictory. There’s no definite way. Moreover, the experienced poet, says it shouldn’t be put in a child’s way. By using “children”, the poet refers to their playfulness and carelessness. It’s a use of synecdoche.
However, the poet finds it hard to find the purpose of life and refers to his friend’s advice. The person says one should use life to keep the maker employed. Otherwise, God might lose his significance in this consumerist world. Apart from that, the price or the value of life is too high. It’s an epigram.
Things are piling up so fast,
after all, the world got by
but not heat resistant, it doesn’t keep
yet it’s very difficult to get rid of:
In this section, by using hyperbole, the poet says, the world sustained even if there was no life millions of years ago. So, there shouldn’t be any obligation to use it. Moreover, the poet seems to be a bit frustrated with the product for the sad memories that were piling gradually. Thereafter, the poet sarcastically warns the man or the God to stop calling him “the respondent”. He isn’t legally obliged to fill this form about the product. The poet is doing as he wants to be true to himself.
Moreover, the poet expressed his frustration about the non-uniformity of the container to keep life. It’s an implied reference to the body. Humorously, the poet says that the body is “waterproof” but not “heat resistant”. It’s difficult to maintain yet it’s perishable. In this line, the poet presents a paradox.
whenever they make it cheaper they tend
to put less in—if you say you don’t
to behave badly about. I think
we should take it for granted.
Along with that, in ‘A Consumer’s Report’, Porter says that if the manufacturer wants to make it cheaper he tends to put less value in it. However, it’s delivered to the person anyway and the receiver has to be happy with it. Life seems to be a popular product and people support life over other products. According to the poet, “it’s overdone”. As there are a few people, who opt for evil means to sustain the product, “life”.
… If its
experts are called philosophers or market
I’d like to leave until I get
the competitive product you said you’d send.
In the last few lines of ‘A Consumer’s Report’, the poet says he doesn’t care about the “experts” who try to make other lives better. When consumerism reigns, they can’t influence humans. The poet ironically says, as they are the consumers, they will finally make their laws to make life better.
At last, the poet says, he would like to buy it if the owner sends him the alternative he promised of. Being a consumer, the question of “best buy”, is his top priority. If something is better, he’ll buy it over “life”, the most precious.
Historical Context of A Consumer’s Report
‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Neville Frederick Porter is a postmodern text that highlights the effects of consumerism. Moreover, the poet criticizes capitalism as a whole in this poem. As consumerism is a creation of capitalism, the poet directs his irony towards both. The reference to “life” as a product, and art as a “consumer’s report” heightens the satirical effect of the poem.
Like, ‘A Consumer’s Report’ by Peter Porter, the following poem presents similar themes.
- The Woman Who Shopped by Carol Ann Duffy – Here, Carol Ann Duffy presents the theme of consumerism and comments on its effect on women.
- Sunny Prestatyn by Philip Larkin – Here, Philip Larkin talks about advertising and consumerism.
- Shirt by Robert Pinksy – Here, Robert Pinksy explores the themes of human rights and consumerism.
- The Shebeen Queen by Mafika Gwala – Here, the poet depicts a consumerist society and the life of a “shebeen queen”.
You can read about 10 of the Best Poems about Life here.