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The Representation Of Marginalised Voices In Poetry English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1822 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Marginalisation can be understood as being outside or on the edge of the rest of society. A person can be considered marginalised because of factors such as race, social class or gender, which make them separate from the rest of their social surrounding. At the time when Carol Ann Duffy and Sharon Olds wrote their first poetry, female poets where marginalised under patriarchy; a social system which believed males to be the superior race. Through their works both poets give a voice for marginalised members of society by using poetry to speak the truth about everyday issues such as love, sexuality and family, from a female perspective. Although marginalised because of their gender, both Carol Ann Duffy and Sharon Olds use of strong subjects have been able to make an impact for the female voice within their poetry.

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Sharon Olds is highly religious due to her upbringing as a Calvinist; her poetry echoes a lot of this belief in the sense that her works speak a truth and hold a strong theme of morality. Moreover Olds uses her own honesty and morality to often question issues which are ongoing in society, be it a question directed towards the politics of the time or a question about family and love. Because of her honestly Olds poems can often appear controversial or paint a slightly disturbing image. “Sex Without Love”[1] for instance is a poem which questions sex outside of marriage and love, it begins with a direct question “how do they do it, the ones who make love without love?”, she then goes onto answer the question herself. Rather than use complex imagery and symbolism to allow the reader to make their own interpretation, Olds uses irony to make her view on the subject clear and detailed. On the other hand, Carol Ann Duffy’s poems pose the exact opposite approach; through her poems she is also speaking a truth using irony, however, she often does this by using surreal imagery and complicating her words to create a usual cynical view towards the subject. Like Olds, Duffy also addresses the issue of love within her works. Duffy’s “Valentine”[2] renders a highly cynical view towards love, and the thought conventional gestures of showing affection. Unlike Olds who instantly outlines the poems meaning as a starting point, Duffy begins “Valentine” by using traditional images of a valentine before revealing her own suggestions on the subject. Duffy uses an extended metaphor in asserting that an “onion” is more like the true nature of love and therefore it can ultimately be destroyed or destructive on many different levels, just like an onion has many different layers which can be peeled. Both poets reveal a different idea about love, while Sharon Olds is implicating that love is sacred and true; Duffy seems to be suggesting that love isn’t as beautiful as it would appear on the surface.

Females were often marginalised within literature and therefore their work was not given the recognition it truly deserved, often resulting in females writing poetry but not being considered poets because of their gender. This is because of the once social, economic and cultural marginalisation under patriarchy which ruled a male dominated social and cultural system. Geoffrey Summerfield once stated “I regret the omission of women poets from this book. This is simply due to the fact that Britain in the last fifteen years has not produced a woman poet of real stature” [3], although spoken before their time as writers, poets such as Duffy and Olds have made an impact from their writing that would arguably change this opinion. Sharon olds “Sex Without Love” is an attack on people that have sex outside of marriage, her religious background shines through in her choice of word and metaphor in this poem. While she chooses to use words that would usually be seen as beautiful, the choice of word play holds a negative tone throughout making it obvious that she does not approve. The metaphor “Beautiful as dancers, gliding over each other like ice skaters, over ice” would on surface appear that she is accepting, however, the deeper meaning unveils that she is actually implying that like the ice, sex without love is cold and therefore it is simply a performance, just as ice skating is a performance. Unlike “Sex Without Love” which holds the message that only true love will make you happy or whole, it would appear that Duffy’s “Valentine” is in fact a message that is perhaps warning the reader from love. Duffy ends with the lines “Lethal, its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.”, this cynical metaphor leaves us with the idea that the true nature of love will ultimately destroy us. Although the messages of these two poems contradict each other completely, the marginalised voice in poetry is still established and heard. Both poets represent marginalised voices in poetry as being underestimated and overlooked, by creating powerful poems that touch subjects that affect all people in society, they have been able to establish a place for the female poet ultimately making them no longer marginalised. The strong and somewhat controversial use of the theme of love in these two poems clearly establishes a voice for marginalised groups, therefore allowing them to be recognised.

While both Duffy and Olds fall into the same marginalised category because of their gender they do not hold the same morals and values within their poems, this difference between the two reveals to the maybe ignorant eye, that people of the same marginalised category are in fact individuals within themselves. Therefore Duffy and Olds represent marginalised voices as having the same individualities as the people in ‘the centre’ of society. In the same way that Olds expresses her religious views within her poetry, Duffy’s works can be perceived as feminist, however similarly they both raise issues such as social class and relationships in the course of their works.

Duffy’s “Warming Her Pearls”[4] is a poem centrally about a relationship between a servant and her employer, a maid and her mistress. This poem deals with the issue of social class more than it does with gender, the lower social class can also be deemed as marginalised within society this poem recognises this problem and provides a negative attitude towards social, economic and political status and gives a voice to these ‘outsiders’. “Warming Her Pearls” begins “Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress bids me to wear them, warm them…”, the pearls may be seen as a symbolic rope that bides the maid to her mistress moreover the fact that she literally gives the warmth of her body to the pearls immediately questions the relationship between the two classes, outlining the ridiculous extremes that the power of higher classes can actually reach. The relationship between the two characters can be viewed as bidden, because the maid is of lower class therefore she must provide a service for the privileged. On the other hand Sharon Olds “True Love”[5] is centrally a poem about the relationship between a man and a woman that appear to be married as the poem progresses. “True Love” opens “In the middle of the night, when we get up after making love, we look at each other in complete friendship…” the initial reading of this line leaves the reader somewhat confused by the use of the word friendship, are these two people in love or is their relationship purely friendship? Furthermore that later image of them being “Bound to each other like mountaineers….” leaves us with the idea that the reason they are still together is because they are married. This assumption comes from Olds religious background, wherefore her belief would hold the idea that marriage is sacred and for life. Therefore perhaps this couple are no longer in love, however they are bound together because of the vows they once took. Both poems address the issues of relationships, however clearly they identify different issues which have binned their characters together. As Duffy’s poem unravels it reveals a sinister attitude from the maid towards her mistress, she believes that her “persistent scent” on the pearls are preventing her mistress from ever finding love. This could also be an attack on the social hierarchy in the sense that the maid is not allowed to communicate with her mistress to tell her the problem, so instead she burns “All night” with the satisfaction of this possible secret revenge she is gaining against her mistress. On the other hand, Olds “True Love” does ultimately unveil itself as describing exactly what it is titled as. The poem ends “I cannot see beyond it.”, leaving us with the idea that the characters are indeed in love and that it is everything that should be wanted from a relationship. Sharon Olds poem seems to begin somewhat ambiguously with its room for interpretation. None the less its ending reveals what is believed to be the truth about love, making it personal to perhaps her own experiences and definitely representing her own morals on what she believes to be right. These two very different poems represent marginalised voices in poetry as being opinionated, self aware and controversial, it is clear that these marginalised figures of society do indeed have a strong place in society and should therefore be heard.

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Sharon Olds and Carol Ann Duffy hold similarities and differences within their works, they both appear to me as being fearless and unconventional making them have a strong effect on society. Their highly controversial poems raising issues such as social class, relationships and love have undoubtedly made room for the female poet to be accepted and recognised, not only in poetry but in society as a whole. Along with representing a voice for females their works also question other existing marginalisation within our culture, attacking the politics and beliefs of the culture with live in allows scope for these ‘outsiders’ to be recognised and ultimately heard. While Olds makes her poetry personal by directly inputting her religious beliefs and morality, Duffy makes her works personal by her complication of words and playful inventiveness to pass of messages that perhaps a conventional writer would not attempt. It is figures such as Olds and Duffy that are needed in our society to provide a truth on such controversial issues. Their open honesty on issues within our culture allows a truth to be heard from these marginalised voices, and it is clear that they have had a large impact within writing and on the society in which we live.


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