Poet For Our Times
by Michael Woods
An intoxicated tabloid newspaper journalist talks to somebody in a bar, proudly recalling some of his best headlines.
In this poem of alternately rhyming stanzas, we are presented with a satire on the sort of journalist capable of writing such headlines as the infamous 'Gotcha' in The Sun. This referred to the sinking of the Argentinean warship, the General Belgrano during the Falklands War of 1981. The insensitivity and callousness of such a headline outraged many people. On the other hand, the jingoistic and xenophobic tendencies it panders to must have had some currency in Britain as such newspapers, whether we like it or not, can reflect, as well as shape, the attitudes of those who read them. The Prime Minister rebuked the Archbishop of Canterbury when he prayed for the Argentinean as well as the British dead.
The headlines in upper case letters that form two lines of each stanza are genuine. Duffy's only modifications arose out of the need to make them fit the meter and rhyme of the poem. They present a nation obsessed with gossip, titillation, and lack of respect for anything that really matters. It is incredible that a national newspaper (if The Sun and its ilk may be called such) should run front page stories on fictional characters from television soap operas as if they were real people.
The easy rhyme and casual, conversational tone of the poem reflects the idea that any truthful endeavour or rigorous thought has disappeared. This man's horizons and ambitions stretch only to hoping that his headlines will be learnt by heart instead of those by real poets. His sense of chagrin that he wasn't alive to make lewd puns in relation to the sinking of the Titanic leaves us in no doubt that he is atavistic, sexist and insensitive. The final line of the poem sees the journalist condemn himself out of his own mouth and it seems that Duffy almost breaks cover from behind her mask. She uses 'tits' and 'bottom' in puns that remind us of the tabloids' penchant for publishing nude pictures of women whilst stressing that 'bottom line' cannot be any lower and neither can the journalists who peddle such material.
One of the alarming ideas emerging form this poem is that there are probably a great number of young people who probably could recite tabloid newspaper headlines. If such headlines do become 'The poems of the decade' then what has become of poetry?