The importance of the breath in Duffy's Last Post.
Reading through the opening to Carol Ann Duffy's recent laureate poem 'Last Post' I am aware of the difference between the 'breath' of Owen's poem 'Dulce et Decorum est 'and that of Duffy's new writing. The desperate activity of the verb 'plunges' in Owen is upheld and sustained by the repetition of the present participles and this conveys the hellish, frenetic, breathless panic of the First World War soldier made victim by the suffocation of mustard gas. The recurrence of the image and the intensity of the moment operate as a very concrete, ghastly introduction/ context to Duffy's own poem. It is as if we have to hear again Owen's respiratory testimony to hell before Duffy can find another way through which and by which hell can finally be redeemed and we can 'breathe' again.
Thus the punctuation in Owen's poem serves to reify the consummate, primal nightmare of breathlessness. Yet in Duffy's 'Last Post' the pauses serve to allow new breath to enter the old nightmare. And perhaps such a permission to change the horrors, to redraw the certainty of the slaughter of 1914-18, emanates from the word 'If'.For Once 'if' is scripted by Duffy then something different can begin. It is a frame that allows metamorphosis and change. Imagination can heal, even if this is 'just' an excursion into fantasy, then such a reframe allows a fresh acknowledgement of life's potential and engenders a dignity that cannot be found in the angry testimony of Wilfed Owen. Duffy's time travelling winds back the familiar long reels of destiny and explores the possibilities of second chance.
I said I breathe diferently in readng the Duffy poem and this is something I am sure relates to the correspondence between our breathing activities and our relationship to the events of our lives. The expansive use of assonance by Duffy imitates the overwhelming sense of relief and respite created by Duffy's cinematic rescue of wasted lives. Resurrection allows the luxury and the leisure of the list. New horizons can be regained and renewed. The precision of the particular underlines the treasures of naming...
More later as I will draw in more to the reading from NLP and also from Duffy's recent interviews and other poems.
Duffy is a resurectionist and a Time Traveller!