Rubbish At Adultery

Sophie Hannah


Sophie Hannah

Nationality: English

Sophie Hannah is a contemporary British poet and novelist.

Her first book of poems, The Hero and the Girl Next Door, was published at 24.

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‘Rubbish At Adultery’ is told by the “other woman”. The narrator is a woman sleeping with a guy who is cheating on his wife. The poem is highly amusing and really focuses on the narrator’s annoyance with her lover’s guilty tendencies. Although the narrator seems quite cutthroat and domineering throughout the poem and it really seems like she is done with the whole affair. She does show a softening in the last stanza and perhaps this shows that her feelings for this man are deeper than she would ever truly let herself admit. It isn’t known whether this poem is autobiographical or not! I would like to think it isn’t as Hannah is married now herself! But who knows, perhaps it is supposed to act as a commentary on adulterous relationships and how they are doomed to failure.

Rubbish At Adultery By Sophie Hannah


Form and Tone

The poem is separated into four stanzas. Each stanza contains six lines. The line length is similar throughout the poem but the amount of syllables varies from line to line giving the poem a stilted feel, this possibly helps to represent the up and down nature of having an affair. The subject of the poem is comedic but it’s really a black comedy. The tone, therefore, is light hearted but a little shocking in places. Rhyme is used throughout the poem and this helps to emphasize the humorous nature of the poem. The rhyme pattern for the first two stanzas utilizes end rhymes every other line (-A-A-A) but in the final stanza, it appears to be (ABABAB) although some of the rhymes throughout are half-rhymes.


Analysis of Rubbish At Adultery

First Stanza

Must I give up another night
To hear you whinge and whine
You are? You say you’ll never leave
Your wife and children. Fine;

Right from the first line, we see the narrator’s apathy towards the person they are in a relationship with. It is stated at the end of this stanza that the person the narrator is referring to has a wife and children so for the purpose of convenience we will assume that the narrator is a woman and the person she is seeing is a man. There is no evidence that contravenes this. Clearly, the affair that is happening has become a drag for the person who would be the “other woman” the reason for her frustration is that the guy she is seeing clearly feels really guilty about his actions. And why wouldn’t he? With a wife and family, he isn’t really being fair to them by carrying on the affair.

However, this suggests that the narrator is possibly a thrill-seeker? That she was in it for the passion and now that the reality of being with a married man has kicked in she is bored by it. There is a real feeling of disdain in this stanza. It’s really as if she is past caring. In my head when I read this stanza I imagined a woman holding a phone away from her head whilst her man rambled on about how bad he feels. This is the mood that has been created by Hannah.


Second Stanza

When have I ever asked you to?
Diatribes—what bliss.

The first line of this stanza reveals a lot about our narrator. She doesn’t want this man forever. She is focused on the now. The suggestion here that the worries that the man feels are in his head. She has not put pressure on him. Quite the opposite in fact. She wants passion as you can see she tells him “I’d settle for a kiss.” I think that she doesn’t want to hear him talk about his life at home because it makes her feel guilty. she doesn’t want to hear about the fact that he has a family. Maybe then it all becomes real and she has to feel guilty too. Although she certainly doesn’t come across as feeling guilty, at least no up until this point. If anything I would say she is rather blasé to the concept of this man having a wife and kids at home.

The narrator is not very sympathetic however the strength of the poem is such that it doesn’t require a reader’s sympathy in order to make them want to read on. It is easy to hold a person’s interest with a character that is good-natured, but here we see quite a cold character and yet Hannah still creates a sense of intrigue.


Third Stanza

Yes, I’m aware you’re sensitive:
A tortured, wounded soul.
So what are we doing here? I fear
We’ve lost our common goal.

The first two lines seem consolatory at first, but are they really? I don’t think so. I think more likely they are dripping in sarcasm and made to belittle the man. It is clear that in this relationship she is the dominant one. She clearly doesn’t mind running roughshod over his feelings! The next two lines describe herself. She is lifting herself up and putting him down. Her view of him is somebody who is whiny, wounded, and tortured. She makes him sound pathetic. Her view of herself is that she is fun-loving, a thrill-seeker. Although it would seem at least for the woman that the relationship has run its course. She questions what they are doing together as they clearly don’t want the same things. It would appear she has become bored of him and is effectively giving him the “elbow”.


Fourth Stanza

You’re rubbish at adultery.
You stupid, stupid git.

Once again we see the insults being thrown at her lover. The narrator comes across as somebody that is very emotionally abusive. Although it’s still hard to feel sorry for the guy as he is cheating on his wife! The narrator points out what is probably the biggest irony in this situation the fact that her lover is terrible at committing adultery as per the title of the poem but is also pretty terrible at being faithful too. Her advice is pretty sound as she encourages him to commit to one pathway and then follow through. It sounds to me like she is not fussy whether she continues seeing him or not but if she does continue the relationship she doesn’t want it to be rubbish anymore.

Here is a woman that craves passion and she is in a relationship with a damp squib. She needs him to man up or to go back to his marriage. The fact that she wants him to do it properly no matter what he chooses perhaps shows a slight softening. Certainly, the term “git” though obviously, an insult has a certain level of playfulness in it. Gone is the sarcasm and replaced with an almost imperceptibly softer tone. I think she understands why he is like that but if he wants to continue she needs to have her needs fulfilled.


About Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is a Manchester-born poet who studied at the University of Manchester. Her style is similar to that of Wendy Cope mixed with the surrealism of Lewis Carrol. The subject for her poems is usually deeply personal and can often be considered to be autobiographical in nature. She often uses humor and wit in her poetry giving them an amusing feel (as is the case with this poem). Sophie Hannah’s poems are studied as part of the GCSE and A-level syllabus in the UK. To date, she has nine poetry collections although some of these are in pamphlet form. She also dabbles in fiction and translations. She is an increasingly successful author as well. Her 2008 novel “The Point of Rescue” was turned into a TV film.

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Lee-James Bovey Poetry Expert
Lee-James, a.k.a. LJ, has been a Poem Analysis team member ever since Novemer 2015, providing critical analysis of poems from the past and present. Nowadays, he helps manage the team and the website.

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