by Michael Woods
A variety of people's voices are heard in this poem. They represent a cross-section of a village community. We hear their stories being told within the frame of an adult describing a model village to a child.
On one level a model village is a scaled down representation or a toy such as the famous example at Beaconscott in Buckinghamshire, whilst on another it may be seen as representational, a stereotype of a village community. A third possibility centres on the idea of a model as being something worthy of emulation. In this latter context there is clearly an ironic sense that the damaged lives in the poem are anything but worthy of emulation.
The poem gives voice to isolated, haunted and repressed people. We are told about a frustrated spinster who poisoned her mother as revenge for preventing her marrying the man she loved; a sheep farmer who saw a strange, terrifying animal; a vicar who has sexual fantasises involving a choir mistress; a librarian who takes 'refuge' in her job but observes all the villagers. In saying 'I know their cases' she draws attention to the fact that everyone is far more complex as an individual than outward appearances might suggest. This is brought into sharp focus by Duffy's use of alternating narrative/descriptive and dramatic stanzas. Stanzas one, three, five and seven offer traditional descriptions of the village and its inhabitants and, through the questions forming the last line of each, crosses the boundary between the voice that asks them and those that provide the answers. We might say that these voices are 'thrown' across this boundary in a way that is analogous to a ventriloquist throwing a voice across the void between her or him and a dummy. The modulation between an adult voice that seems to be addressing a child and the thrown voices of various damaged adults accentuates, through this contrast, some of the darker elements touched on in the poem.