Carol Ann Duffy and the past:In Mrs Tilscher's Class
If Carol Ann Duffy often uncovers the 'foreignness' of the past,and may explore its disturbances, then it is of significance that in this poem, at least initially, she appears to celebrate any exoticism she finds back then.
For the wonderfully nostalgic opening line:
'You could travel up the Blue Nile /with your finger..' revisits the wonder and freshness of Primary School where learning has its own permitted conventions such as the recurring blue colour of all the world's water ! Such unrealistic conventions are completely accepted as it is this unique naivety of experience at school that defines it and makes it singular.
The poem appears to open in the middle of a lesson and it is this seeming 'naturalness that makes the world of school come back to life. Memory is resurrection as well as recollection.
For Duffy is reanimating a lost world through a highly selective series of images and ideas which have to represent experiences now well out of view. The intensity and power of Duffy's selective process transport us back into a past where Rivers are everlastingly blue and windows have to be opened with long poles usually borrowed from another class!
We are also immediately anchored into the highly sensory world and words of primary school so that we feel this journey back into the past almost bodily/physically so that we are listening as Mrs Tilscher 'chanted the scenery' or smelling the 'scent of a pencil' or basking in the pleasure of 'a good gold star.' these images only work as they are both local and universal.
And it is the Universality of Duffy's world of primary worlds and words which recreates a past that seems safe and secure; even killers are relegated to being an 'uneasy smudge of a mistake' through the lovingly observed procedures and rituals of school routines.