‘The Good Teachers’ and ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ by Carol- Ann Duffy and Liz Lochhead Essay Sample

‘The Good Teachers’ and ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ by Carol- Ann Duffy and Liz Lochhead Pages
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Both ‘The Good Teachers’ by Lochhead and ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ by Duffy deal with the theme of adolescent experiences by depicting their own in a recall fashion. Both speakers are now adults reflecting back upon their individual adolescent experiences with the speaker in ‘The Good Teachers’ reminiscing about her days at school while looking at an old school photo, and the speaker in ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ depicting the first time her and her friends took the bus from their rural Lanarkshire homes into the city of Glasgow.

Both poems are told in a conversational, anecdotal style which is made evident through the use of various structural and language techniques. ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ is written in free verse which aids the free flowing chatty style of the piece, however, is still sectioned into three stanzas; the first talking of the bus leaving the countryside, the second speaking of the approach to the city, and the third describing the sights of the city. Similarly, ‘The Good Teachers’ makes use of a tight but simple structure of four sestets to mirror that structure of school, but also employs enjambment to assist in the anecdotal style as it represents the speaker’s meandering memories. Lochhead also makes use of enjambment for the same reason but furthers its use by using it to demonstrate the speaker’s awe in the second stanza as she observes the views out of her window as she approaches the city. The use of enjambment emphasises the juxtaposition between the sparse rural sights of the girls’ Lanarkshire homes and how they are trying to take in all of those which are surrounding them as they approach the city.

Duffy opens her poem with a comical statement, ‘You run round the back to be in it again’, this refers to how as a child, the speaker took advantage of the technology to appear in the school photograph twice. This shows the speaker as a mischievous child who wished to rebel against the ‘virtuous women’ who would ‘size you up’. In a further act of rebellion, as an adult, the speaker breathed on the glass, ‘making a ghost of her’ history teacher; blurring her in attempt to seize control over her, making her as insignificant as perhaps her teacher made her feel as a student. Lochhead however, refrains from the use of humour as the speaker voices her adolescent experience in a matter of fact style, in order to assert her new found maturity and prove how she is now growing up from the opening statement, ‘Coming into Glasgow/ in our red bus through those green fields.’ Although, despite this the speaker still shows a childish immaturity through her excitement of her adolescent experience, travelling in the red bus for the first time into the city with her friends as she uses the cliché, ‘fourteen years old, dreaming ourselves up, with holiday money burning a hole in our pockets.’

The desire to throw away youth and to grow up in evident also in ‘The Good Teachers’ as the speaker reveals a list of things she used to do as a child in order to make herself appear older and more mature, ‘You roll the waistband/ of your skirt over and over’, the repetition of the latter phrase demonstrating the action itself, ‘all leg, all/ dumb insolence, smoke-rings.’ Through the continued use of the pronoun, ‘you’, we, as the reader can share in Duffy’s adolescent experience as they are actions universal to all teenagers.

Both poems deal with the positive aspects of adolescent experiences, but also with the negative ones as well; in ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ the experience begins uneasy and unpleasant as the speakers recalls how ‘Summer annoyed us… Like a boy with a stick through railings’. This simile is very sensory as it strikes an image in the readers’ head of a boy dragging a stick across railings and the sound it makes is prominent. The bus is trying to exit the rural country as the nature is trying to stop it, making the journey initially difficult, ‘We bent whole treetops/ squeezing through as they rained down twigs.’ This symbolises the transition from adolescence into adulthood and how the girls are struggling to make it. However, when they finally make it out of the country, the tone of the poem changes from annoyance and struggling, to admiration for the city and excitement to be in a new stage of their life and for their new found sense of freedom.

The same is true for the speaker in ‘The Good Teachers’ as Duffy uses the metaphor of ‘a wall you climb’ to describe the transition from adolescent into adulthood. Even in the most positive point of the poem where she expresses her passion and love for both her English teacher and the subject itself is tainted. Her adoration is evident through the repetition of, ‘so much’ and through her actions such as remembering ‘The River’s Tale by Rudyard Kipling by heart’ and by ‘making a poem for’ her teacher. The speaker suggests that even this adolescent experience was tainted as her teacher who she admired is not perfect and her ‘cruel blue’ eye demonstrates this. This symbolises how no adolescent experience is perfect.

Both poems end on very different tones and therefore have different outlooks on adolescent experiences. ‘Lanarkshire Girls’ ends with a feeling of excitement as the bus, ‘spilled’ the girls out dreaming themselves up. Whereas, ‘The Good Teachers’ ends on a tone of regret as the speakers finds truth in what her teachers told her that, ‘you’ll be sorry one day’ for not working hard enough and for racing to throw away their childhoods.

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