We Remember your Childhood Well
by Carol Ann Duffy
WE REMEMBER YOUR CHILDHOOD WELL is a poem about memory and childhood, truth and lies, fact and fiction. It is a dark poem, where the more painful or difficult memories of childhood are a source of conflict between the “we” of the speaker/s and the “you” of the former child. The poem is asking who owns the true facts of a childhood- the former child or the more powerful adults- teachers, parents or authority figures- who surrounded that childhood. The former child’s memories are denied thoughout the poem- “that didn’t occur”....”the whole thing is inside your head”... “we have the facts”. At the edges of the poem is my own sympathy for children who are harmed. On another level, the poem can be read in a political way. Regimes which use torture or intimidation always deny that they do. The expression “the secret police” gives a hint of the poitical element of the poem. Even civilized politicians acquire a quasi-parental disposition towards their voters.
The poem is written in six 3-lined verses and uses rhyme, but not in a formal pattern. The shape and size of the verses reminded me of family snapshots and the poem (like BEFORE YOU WERE MINE) uses a collage technique, juxtaposing different anecdotes, memories and images. I used more than one childhood for the sources of these images. So although some lines derive from my own childhood (for example, the reference to sin and Hell at the end is taken from my early Catholic background) other lines are from other people’s childhoods- relatives or friends. For this reason, I think the poem has a strange relationship to time. “The bad man on the moors” is a reference to the 1960s murderer Ian Brady (a bogeyman of my own childhood) but the comic Film Fun was read in the 1940s and 1950s (in my parents childhood.) “Nobody sent you away” is a reference to the evacuation of children during World War 2. I wanted the rhythm of the poem to have a hard, assertive quality- “Nobody hurt you”... “Nobody forced you...” “Boom. Boom. Boom.” It is almost as if the speaker in the poem is trying to drown out the former child’s memories.
The cliches used in this poem are intended to have darker undertones. “We called the tune” is made menacing by the “Boom. Boom. Boom” which follows (and deliberately rhymes with) it. “Anyone’s guess” means the opposite of what it pretends to. The slang used in the poem is meant to suggest a callous, casual confidence- “only a movie”, “cared less”, “skidmarks of sin”. “Skidmarks” is a slang term for stains on underpants, so is particularly horrible when used to describe the soul! The diction here is meant to sound patronising too- “the bad man on the moors/was only a movie you saw”.