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‘Big Sue and Now, Voyager’ and ‘Recognition’ by Carol Ann Duffy

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  • Pages: 10
  • Word count: 2303
  • Category: Poems

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Both of these poems show a great understanding into what the women, who, are so easily judged by their appearance within society, actually experience and feel like every second of their life. They both show how they feel alienated from the rest of the world, isolated and feel that the element of love they once had in their life has disappeared without leaving even a trace.

The first poem ‘Big Sue and Now, Voyager’ is written in first person and has a serious tone the whole way through. The fact that Duffy has written it in third person really shows that it is from the perspective of a person who is judging Big Sue, it is not coming personally from her, yet the reader gets the feeling that it is still very personal and real as each description is so detailed, yet written in quite simple language. The title ‘Big Sue and Now, Voyager’ sums up the poem in just a few words. The fact that Duffy describes Sue as ‘Big’, tells the reader that is what, who she is and how she is identified. The word ‘Voyager’ as well as being a film, identifies with the film Sue is described as watching in the poem. However, as well as quite clearly being a film, it also has the meaning of the wonderful journey ‘Big Sue’, experiences whilst watching this film as if she is really there.

Duffy makes the first sentence very powerful with the use of the strong syllables, ‘wide, smooth flesh’. Duffy also sets the imagery of an over-weight woman right from the beginning of her poem, but in a positive way ‘perfect miniature’. However on the next line, this positive description turns to quite a cold and heavy image, when her face is compared with ‘a slab of stone’, and creates a large image. The third line ‘Big Sue is Betty Davies’, answers the question about, who Sue really is deep down. The fact that she is taking the role of a very famous, beautiful and slim 40’s actress makes Big Sue’s life seem quite pathetic and even more insignificant, this is also highlighted because it is not only once in a while she does this but ‘Most evenings’.

The emphasis on the single word ‘Alone.’ in the middle of the sentence reinforces the fact that she really is, or feels isolated from everything and everyone. Duffy creates imagery again emphasising that Sue is shutting the world out, by the way she has the ‘curtains drawn’. The reader’s image of an isolated over-weight woman is therefore reaffirmed. I think Duffy has intentionally not made this first verse syllabic or rhythmical, because it then complements the emptiness and sorrow Big Sue feels. The image of the television set that Duffy creates in the first stanza, having ‘the same reoccurring dream’, could symbolise Big Sue, as she is empty, as is the television and the same reoccurring dream could be the film that consistently watches dreaming that she really is ‘Bette Davies’. The description of ‘Mushrooms tasting of kisses’ and ‘Sherry Trifle’ being her ‘honey moon’, gives a reason behind why she if over weight and unhappy, because she replaces some of the essential and pleasurable things in life with food.

Her dreaming starts to take place in the second stanza where Big Sue imagines ‘Paul Henreid’ lighting two cigarettes and putting ‘one in her mouth’. It is seen as an exciting and trendy thing to happen and especially to Big Sue. Duffy makes a contrast between her ‘little flat in Tooting’, which is quite an ordinary place in London, to a floating Ship. The huge difference between these two images is also emphasised by the way Duffy puts

‘is a floating ship.’

one the line below the first. Duffy puts a short one sentence word ‘Violins’, in the middle of the sentence, which adds a sense of romance. However, this sense of realism is diminished by the fact that replaces chocolate for a cigarette. Duffy again emphasise the fact that she replace all elements of her life with food.

The third stanza, goes back to the real Big Sue, however we are still told the she is ‘the wrong side of the glass’, showing that she still doesn’t look or feel that’s she is in the right place. Duffy reinforces the dullness of her life by the fact that it’s in ‘black and white’. On the other hand it could also be giving an image of the dark room that she is presently in, as she is watching a film and would have the lights turned off. In the next few lines Duffy emphasises the life that Big Sue is trying to create by the fact that’s he ‘rewinds’ parts and then ‘replays’ them. Her loneliness and insecurities of shown quite explicitly for the first time, when Duffy explains that the ‘soundtrack drowns out daytime echoes’, the daytime echoes could be seen as a bit of a mystery to the reader at first, but as you read on, Duffy explains that the daytime echoes are in fact the verbal attacks that people in the straight aim at her. Duffy again contrast between the ‘Oscar-winners’ and Big Sue herself, as she is a loser and they are winners, in her eyes.

The last stanza starts with a quote form the film Big Sue is watching, suggesting just how important this film is in her life. There is also an emphasis on the fact that it is ‘slender’ women who are going to meet their dates, this is especially emphasised by being at the begging of the line. The line following this, Duffy makes very realistic and sound quite sinister, ‘Men whistle on the dark blue streets at shapes they want’, insinuation that they don’t really care what they woman is really like, as long as they have a nice shape. The rhyming Duffy uses at the end of the fourth line in the last stanza on ‘two’ and ‘Sue’, also highlights the contrast between her being alone eating Mars bar whilst a man presumably, lights a cigarette for two in a pub. Duffy stresses the fact that she is crying, shows that she has suddenly been filled with hope as the character Bette Davis in the film, but in real life she is crying because of loneliness and sorrow.

The second poem ‘Recognition’, is similar to ‘Big Sue and Now, Voyager’, in one major theme and that is isolation and alienation. However, Duffy has written ‘Recognition’ in first person meaning that the poem has a more personal feel. It also has an element of Epiphany, in which it says ‘I’ve let myself go, I know’. Whereas, I didn’t feel that Big Sue, actually wanted to have sudden realisation so ended up filling that with another life that wasn’t her own. In ‘Recognition’ like ‘Big Sue’, the woman ‘strains to remember’ happy times that she has experienced, she also give the impression that she is fighting against a point of dislocation, for example her children. Similarly, Big Sue couldn’t remember ever feeling love or being loved. In ‘Recognition’, Duffy also uses the powerful one line sentences for example, ‘Years’. This exact sentence is repeated a second time in the seventh stanza. Putting an emphasis on how she feels and how long ago she was actually happy and enjoyed her life. Her face is also described as being ‘swollen’, obviously from constant and heavy crying, just as Big Sue cries at the end of the poem. However, in ‘Recognition’, Duffy tells us exactly how discontented she really is in just the second stanza, giving the poem a suddenly emotive feeling.

In the third stanza, Duffy accentuates the image of a false exterior, trying to cover up what she doesn’t want anyone to know about her, ‘ I put powder on’. This can also be compared with Big Sue as she had a false exterior when she used to watch these moves and be the character of Bette Davis. However, the powder seems to work to no avail as ‘it flakes off’, leaving her on show to everyone.

In the same stanza, the women says

‘………………I love him,

through habit…..’,

this shows that she once knew how to love, but now her love for him has fallen more into routine rather than passion and lust towards him. This is comparable with ‘Big Sue , and Now, Voyager’, as she too doesn’t think she can identify with love, Sue says ‘Who’d love me’, in the last line of the first stanza. Duffy shows that in ‘Recognition’, her husband actually does still want to be loved by her by the way ‘He gets upset’, if he didn’t care about her then he wouldn’t get upset. This could show that in both poems the subject women, doesn’t actually realise how much they are like or loved within the world, they are jus too miserable to realise it.

The fourth stanza of ‘Recognition’ shows her general unhappiness, ‘I was weepy all morning’. Duffy use of a one sentence line, draws to the fact that she is shopping and probably picking up a ‘Quiche’, as Duffy states it. The quiche could have significance to when she was younger and they used to eat them as quite a luxury, but now she has no luxuries in her life, and they quiche has turned into a boring, more matter of fact essential with no significance. However, they is a difference between the tow poems her, as ‘Big Sue’ like to have certain foods symbolising the elements of her life she missed out on for example mushrooms taste of kisses, whilst in ‘Recognition’, I think she finds it hard to even try and remember the memories she once had.

The ‘blond boy’, is referring to her husband in this same stanza, because it relates to the fact that now everything has changed, and she can’t even be ‘swung’ around anymore. I think this also goes back to child hood, as with the quiche. However, she also seems quite better by the fact he ‘promised the earth’ to her, but yet this is what she has ended up with. This again links with the theme of isolation and alienation. Both women in the poems don’t feel like they are part of society and that they have gained as much as they could from life.

In the Fifth stanza, the reader is told for sure that the reason she is so unhappy is because of the size, ‘I stood on the scales’. The short sentence ‘I wept’, is highlighted by the fact it is at the start of another line. She weeps for two reasons, because of her obvious sadness and because of the shallots which Duffy says in another one word sentence ‘Shallots’, this could also show the many levels of sorrow that she does encounter on a day to day basis. The ‘creamy ladies’ are the manikins in the shop window, which she seems to be comparing her self with. The thought of this makes he feel ‘clogged and old’, these are very harsh words and really articulate the distress she would be feeling. When compared with ‘Big Sue’, we see that she also compares herself with perfect model like people, which in the end leads to further grief, as they both realise how far from perfect they are.

The sixth stanza goes back to the world not giving her what she was promised, ‘The waste’. It symbolises the waste of life, as she hasn’t done everything that she has wanted to do. The reader could also see Big Sue’s life as being a waste of life, as she is simply taking the life as someone else and living it in their way. When Duffy uses the short sentence ‘Claret’, it become very affective as the colour of her cheeks due to embarrassment over her forgetting her purse is also the colour of her wine. Here the reader also see a comparison of beverages with emotion as, there is in ‘Big Sue’, with the comparison of food to element of love.

The seventh stanza is given a lot of impact right form the start with the two one word sentences, ‘Cheese. Kleenex.’ The Kleenex resembles the tears that she weeps and reinforces the image of how sad she physically is. In this same stanza, the woman finally relives a memory of when she lay in her slip on ‘wet grass’. This gives the image of youth and frivolity, however ‘Years’ as another one word sentence puts this memory to an end and makes the reader feel like it was so long ago that this actually happened, and she wasn’t experience it again. The reader then get brought back into the supermarket and into the embarrassing situation she is presently in, the word ‘bumped is a very onomatopoeic word, showing herself bumping not into another women, but the ‘dowdy matron’ is in fact herself. This shows that she don’t recognise herself, and doesn’t like what she sees. Jut as Big Sue doesn’t like herself and who she is so she turn to an iconic actress to be like, most nights of the week. At the end of this stanza, the reader is left with the feeling that she is living in a world full of regret and has a constant worry of the lost youth that’s she thinks has gone forever, by the way Duffy repeats the word ‘sorry’, ‘I’m sorry sorry sorry’

At the end of both of these poems the reader is left with a feeling of emptiness and a sense of the passing of time so unnecessary quickly.

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