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"Ban, ban, Ca-Carol Ann?"
September 12, 2008 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Britain's biggest exam board has removed a poem by Carol Ann Duffy from the GCSE syllabus and asked schools to destroy the anthology it is contained in because it makes a reference to knife crime. This followed a complaint made by Pat Schofield, an exam invigilator. Duffy responded with the poem: Mrs Schofield's GCSE.

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, and Nick Seaton from the Campaign for Real Education debated the issue on iPM on Radio 4 (download.)
posted by ninebelow (78 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Contacted by the Guardian last night, Schofield said she felt "a bit gobsmacked" to have a verse named after her. She described the poem as "a bit weird. But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that's me".

One examiner with a bee in her bonnet that thinks of some poetry as a "little bit weird" succeeds in her attempts to make the world a little more narrow.

Certainly, nothing like a banning, really, but this woman doesn't understand the actual message of Duffy's poem, which is almost always the case when someone wants to make their misplaced outrage into everyone's issue.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:12 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


It probably says something about our gun culture that I, as an American, had no idea what the phrase "knife crime" meant.
posted by yhbc at 9:17 AM on September 12, 2008


Wow, that original poem is so powerful. Thank you for pointing this out.

The most recent Guardian link ("responded") says that schools at least aren't being urged to destroy the anthology, which is more reasonable, but still ridiculous.
posted by matematichica at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2008


Second link:
The first complaint about knives was made in 2004. The second, made in the summer by an exams officer, was then taken up by an MP.
I smell a politician grabbing for easy points, claiming he's doing something about knife crime (the latest scare in Britain) by having pro-knife literature (or whatever he might call this poem) removed from schools.

Do we know which MP it was?
posted by pracowity at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2008


Today I am going to censor something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God.
posted by Shepherd at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2008 [14 favorites]


i, for one, am happy to have been alive to witness the end of knife crime in britain. bravo!
posted by klanawa at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


ohfergodssake. Gee, banned for violent content? yikes. Better ban all the other stuff on the GCSE then too, Shakespeare, all the war poets. Carol Ann Duffy's retaliation poem rocks.

huh, this Schofield is a relative of Sarah Palin?
posted by nickyskye at 9:30 AM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


What kind of Leonard Bernstein criminals do you guys have over there? Sheesh.
posted by geoff. at 9:31 AM on September 12, 2008


Ah, folk devils and moral panics are afoot. must be time for a new conservative goverment...
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do we know which MP it was?

Schofield works at Lutterworth grammer school which is in the Blaby constituency so her MP would be Andrew Robathan (Conservative.) And Google confirms this.
posted by ninebelow at 9:33 AM on September 12, 2008


Mrs Schofield's GCSE is the best poem of the 21st century so far. That was excellent.
posted by GuyZero at 9:34 AM on September 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I am now totally going out on the streets with a BAN DUFFY NOW placard. I would *love* to have a poem written because of me. What a memorial!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 9:38 AM on September 12, 2008


Wow, those poems are quite fantastic.
posted by nasreddin at 9:39 AM on September 12, 2008


If you go out with a BAN DUFFY NOW placard you will probably just get people coming up to agree with you...
posted by ninebelow at 9:41 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The second one, and the cluelessness of the response, amuses me quite a lot.
posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on September 12, 2008


You know, kids themselves are alright, it's the douche-bags who insist on "protecting" them from stuff like this that make me question whether having them is a good decision.
posted by maxwelton at 9:47 AM on September 12, 2008


It probably says something about our gun culture that I, as an American, had no idea what the phrase "knife crime" meant.

it means "look - there's some dead english guy with a knife in his hand"
posted by pyramid termite at 9:58 AM on September 12, 2008


Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?

No, it is bloody not.
posted by LucretiusJones at 10:00 AM on September 12, 2008


There is no diss quite like a poet diss. That's lovely.
posted by cortex at 10:02 AM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Mrs Schofield's GCSE was unexpectedly brilliant. Yeah, no diss like a poet diss. Mrs. Schofield will live on in infamy . . . if she has ANY sense of humor, it will go on her gravestone.
posted by arnicae at 10:08 AM on September 12, 2008


I've worked for a couple of years with violent teenagers, and must admit that I totally overlooked contemporary poetry as a motivator for their behavior.
posted by dhoe at 10:08 AM on September 12, 2008 [25 favorites]


Britain's biggest exam board has removed a poem by Carol Ann Duffy from the GCSE syllabus

Carol Ann was then tempted to go into the light, but a high pitched squeaky voice called to her and asked her not to.
posted by shmegegge at 10:11 AM on September 12, 2008


It's nice to see that people take an occasional break from protecting us from dangerous books to read some poetry, too.
posted by Tehanu at 10:13 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm also amused at the cluelessness of Schofield and her response.

"A bit weird" indeed. Just shows how far out of it Schofield is. Can't even understand the response let alone form a cogent argument against it. Still, not understanding the message of a poem doesn't mean you can't just ban it because it makes you uncomfortable, right?
posted by splice at 10:19 AM on September 12, 2008


Wow, both of those poems were fabulous. The GSCE one (which I read first) made me laugh and the original poem made me shiver.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:19 AM on September 12, 2008


I've worked for a couple of years with violent teenagers, and must admit that I totally overlooked contemporary poetry as a motivator for their behavior.

Silly dhoe. Even the LAPD's latest report, "Crips and Bloods: From Blank Verse to Worse" is loaded with data points on this.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:20 AM on September 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


If I had a knife,
I would make sharp cuts
I would be decisive and incisive
I would pare back the weird

The excision of poetry
That talks of things I dislike -
Now that is where to begin.
I would slice it and dice it
And eviscerate its words
Until it could no longer
Speak
Of anything
Weird.

For Art must not cut me back;
It must not drag its jagged edge
Through the guts of my mind
And play in what streams out
Like a child in a mud puddle.
That way lies madness; that way lies
Weirdness
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:30 AM on September 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


Do rap lyrics count as contemporary poetry? If so then people have been babbling about poetry causing crime for decades. I would be really upset about the censorship issues involved, but it does result in old white Senators reading NWA lyrics aloud in congress, which is surreal and magical enough to make the whole thing worth it.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2008


“Michael Rosen, the children's laureate, said: "By this same logic we would be banning Romeo and Juliet.”

In other news, Shakespeare was removed from the shelves...

Seriously, are the government folks there going to ban steel toed boots? Howzabout outlawing martial arts? Banning weightlifting or people over 6’1’? Eliminating violent sports from t.v. (boxing and MMA obviously, but also contact sports, Rugby, say)?
There are strongarm robberies and assaults after all.

Reminds me of the folks wanting to ban “1984” because of the ‘graphic sexual content’.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:40 AM on September 12, 2008


I, as an American, had no idea what the phrase "knife crime" meant.

It's like "thought crime" except with a knife.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:48 AM on September 12, 2008


The UK is so scared of martial arts that it banned the depiction of nunchuks for years and made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles change their name to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
posted by ninebelow at 10:53 AM on September 12, 2008


I think the UK had a martial arts scare back in the 70s/80s, these days knives are the big scare. Just imagine that in the way people in the US get into a media soaked tizzy about, I don't know, immigartion, or sex in videogames or somesuch, they were getting in to a tizzy about knife crime instead.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on September 12, 2008


I <3 Carol Ann Duffy, and this just strengthens it.
posted by goo at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2008


http://www.knifecrimes.org/
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on September 12, 2008


Violent crime in the UK has fallen by 41% since 1995, against a background of similar reduction in overall crime, not that you'd really know it from the press.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on September 12, 2008


On teh other hand, some dude from Harry Potter got stabbed to death.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2008


Revenge is a dish best served cold. Duffy's poem is a cryogenic masterpiece.
posted by caddis at 11:25 AM on September 12, 2008


The UK is so scared of martial arts that it banned the depiction of nunchuks for years and made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles change their name to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
posted by ninebelow at 1:53 PM on September 12 [+] [!]


OMG! You are not joking.
posted by caddis at 11:28 AM on September 12, 2008


Ah censorship, it always makes so much sense. I fondly remember this from a BBC radio program of many years ago, with the offensive parts bleeped out.

The Julie Andrews Dirty Song Book

I could have [bleep] all night,
I could have [bleep] all night,
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my [bleep]
And done a thousand things
I'd never done before.
I'll never know what made it so exciting;
Why all at once my heart stood still.
I only know when he
Began to [bleep] with me
I could have [bleep] [bleep] bleep] all night!
posted by binturong at 11:32 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had never read Carol Ann Duffy before, and now I am smitten. Once again, censors demonstrate their true value to society.
posted by Errant at 11:35 AM on September 12, 2008


Organised Crime

Organised Crime is spreading it’s tentacles throughout every Street in Britain - a ’Cauldron of Crime’…sophisticated and made shockingly simple by today’s’ technology. Mobile ’phones making it simple for ‘illegal’ transactions to take place - anytime, anyplace, anywhere…any street, any alleyway, shop doorway or even the School Playground! These gangs of streetwise ’hoods’ despite being mere children are manipulated by the older criminal gangs…sucked into a world that seems initially attractive and glamorous, but all too perilous to later try to escape from. The Clap Town Kids are one of a number of small ’gangs’ to have sprung up in inner cities across Britain, to the great alarm of police forces around the country.
From the above knifecrimes.org link.

The site is obviously well-intentioned, but so get-off-my-lawnish -- complete with scare quotes around 'words' that are perfectly 'innocuous' -- that I suspect it would encourage any youth stumbling across it to carry a knife.
posted by Shepherd at 11:54 AM on September 12, 2008


Shepherd - It seems to be largely aggregated from daily mailesque news sources, which will give you an idea of the generla air of upset in the UK media, but it doesn't seem to have much in the way of dispassioante analysis. I'm wondering if it really has home office backing or if they just jammed that logo in there randomly.
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on September 12, 2008


poemwnd!
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:18 PM on September 12, 2008


The UK is so scared of martial arts that it banned the depiction of nunchuks for years and made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles change their name to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

Yeah, for quite a long time ALL depictions of 'martial arts weaponry' was censored out of films shown in Britain... most notably Enter The Dragon had the nunchuks scenes taken out. And scenes from other films that had featured poster of Enter The Dragon featuring Bruce Lee with nunchucks were clipped. This reached a level of almost surreal absurdity when in, I think, the second Turtles film, one of them whirls a string of sausages round his head imitating a nunchuk and this was cut out too... yes, Great Britain, the country that censored sausages.

Is Knifecrime.org Chris Morris' latest project?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:29 PM on September 12, 2008


At the bottom of the page:
"Copyright ©KnifeCrimes.org 2008
search engine optimisation by Highposition"

Which is a bit icky.
posted by Artw at 12:32 PM on September 12, 2008


There's also the deadly threat of the samurai sword.

Every so often you see a story about a mentally ill bloke running around with one and then getting gunned down by the firearms squad. See also replica guns, bits of wood that might look like guns.
posted by Artw at 12:36 PM on September 12, 2008


Well done, Ms. Duffy.

And ninebelow: Best.Post.Title.Ever.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:42 PM on September 12, 2008


Anyone get a mental image of the Jets and the Sharks going at it, dancing with their cute little switchblades?

Shouldn’t be too hard on the UK tho, we like banning stuff like videos. Y’know, ‘cause it’s terrorism
“ninja assassin training” ye gads. The ignorance is appalling and the fear of violence, frankly, is more dangerous than actual real violence.
Ninjas were 600 years ago. Hell, almost no one in the U.S. knew what one was before the late 1970s.
So, what, guerilla warfare assassination? Meaning what? Attack a guy from ambush and run away?
With the exception of explicit ‘how to’ bomb making (et.al.) it’s not going to make anyone actually dangerous.

Some friggin’ couch potato isn’t going to become Abdelkarim Al-Nasser or Zvezdan the Snake from watching google.
(Francisco Duran maybe, but any idiot can pick up a rifle and fire wildly at the White House...*sir, please come with us, you’re giving people ideas*)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2008


Anyone get a mental image of the Jets and the Sharks going at it, dancing with their cute little switchblades?

hmm. Don't you guys have some kind of shockingly high per capita murder rate?
posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on September 12, 2008


This is infuriating. Makes me want to go out and stab a motherfucker.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:10 PM on September 12, 2008


complete with scare quotes around 'words' that are perfectly 'innocuous'

The concept of 'scare quotes' is an Americanism. Usually quotation marks of this sort are used in the UK to show that the word in question is does not originate from the author themselves or that they do not agree with it. They can also be used in a sarcastic manner and to avoid accusations of slander or similar.

Just FYI.

Notwithstanding that, the knifecrimes screed is indeed rhetoric of Morrisian flavour. If read in the style of Alan Partridge it makes more/less sense.
posted by asok at 1:47 PM on September 12, 2008


“Don't you guys have some kind of shockingly high per capita murder rate?”

Yes. Yes we do. Your point escapes me.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:49 PM on September 12, 2008


I love this quote from the "poem" link: "A spokeswoman for AQA confirmed there had been three complaints, two referring to knife crime and a third about the description of a goldfish being flushed down the toilet." There'll always be an England!
posted by languagehat at 1:52 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes. Yes we do. Your point escapes me.

Oh, it's just something that weirds me out a little anytime we have a bunch of yankzone comments along the lines of "knives? how dickensian!"
posted by Artw at 2:09 PM on September 12, 2008


off limits:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:12 PM on September 12, 2008


I think the point in that link, Smedleyman, was that the UK's homicide rate was 1/4th of the U.S.'s homicide rate.

i.e. it was a sarcastic "shockingly high" - in other words, compared to the U.S., the homicide rate is, in fact, shockingly low.
posted by MythMaker at 2:24 PM on September 12, 2008


Artw: Ah. Well, we did have our own fixation on knives and crime (hence the Jets/Sharks West Side Story reference).
It’s funny how this stuff rolls in and rolls back. Today it’s knives, tomorrow it’s terror, next day it’s hammers or some such - but the censorship itself seems to be the constant.
I can’t comment much on the UK social order in detail, all I can do is relate it to my own experience.
But I mean, yeah, it is kind of cute, the whole knife thing, from an American perspective, when we’re pretty bloody handed. And yet - we censor stuff too (per my link). You’d think at least we’d get - something - out of it.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:29 PM on September 12, 2008


Once upon a time I had a co-worker freak out when I was opening some boxes with my Victorinox Tinkerer. It wasn't that she was particularly frightened of me, but she was sure our site security was going to kick in the door and shoot me because I had a weapon. I calmly explained to her all the reasons why ye olde Swiss army knife was a singularly crappy weapon. After that, I think she was kind of frightened of me.

The thing that I always wonder about when I see this sort of thing is, if I had to fight to the death in a pit and was offered a choice between a knife with a four inch blade, a pair of nunchuks or the standard little old man wooden walking cane, I know which one I'd pick. Why no campaigns to outlaw barbershop quartets?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:34 PM on September 12, 2008


The concept of 'scare quotes' is an Americanism. Usually quotation marks of this sort are used in the UK to show that the word in question is does not originate from the author themselves or that they do not agree with it. They can also be used in a sarcastic manner and to avoid accusations of slander or similar.

Wow! I had no idea. That's fascinating -- and totally changes the way one approaches a text that's littered with 'em like that one is. Thanks!
posted by Shepherd at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2008


“in other words, compared to the U.S., the homicide rate is, in fact, shockingly low.”

So, ok, bit confused again - the censorship in the UK is ok, because it’s apparently working in that the U.S.’ homicide rate is so high?

Or the censorship is worse in the UK because the violence is so overblown?

Because if you’re saying that UK politicians are bigger assholes than US politicians, I’m thinking we’ve got a few ringers on our side of the pond.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:40 PM on September 12, 2008


I went through at least three or four partially written posts before I simply gave up. If the mere mention of intention is enough to justify censorship, what else is there to say?
posted by FormlessOne at 2:44 PM on September 12, 2008


My favorite knife story evah...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:47 PM on September 12, 2008


Everybody's talking about knife crime; you missed the important bit:
...there had been three complaints, two referring to knife crime and a third about the description of a goldfish being flushed down the toilet.
That's right, a third of all complaints referred to the murder of innocent animals! The drowning of a goldfish! This sort of thing should never be allowed in the classroom.
posted by CCBC at 2:55 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was saying that the U.K.'s fears of violence seem to be even more hysterical and crazy-talk than those in the U.S. As the U.K.'s homicide rates are low, they shouldn't worry so much.

But people love to be hysterical, I suppose.
posted by MythMaker at 3:00 PM on September 12, 2008


Moltar: (clears his throat; knife is now gone. He resumes his DJ voice) Well hey, Thom asked me if he could see my knife, and Thom's doing a song about a knife, and he wanted to see what one looked like. Isn't that right, Thom? (knife reappears in his hand, followed by two guitar notes).

Space Ghost: (to Thom) Is that right?

Thom Yorke: No.

Space Ghost: 'Cause it sounds like a good idea. So do it.

Thom Yorke: (shaking his head) No. (laughs)

Space Ghost: Then I'll do it. (sings in low voice) I'm a kni-i-i-fe. Knifin' aro-o-o-und. Cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut-cut... (walks back and forth on stage, making "cut" sounds)

Thom Yorke: Do you take those, those (motions with his hand)... intelligence drugs?
posted by FatherDagon at 3:15 PM on September 12, 2008


Out, damned spot book!
posted by Skeptic at 5:30 PM on September 12, 2008


Brilliantly played, Ms. Duffy.
posted by Quietgal at 6:48 PM on September 12, 2008


Talking about homicide rates, it largely depends what you mean by "low". Although the UK's homicide rates are low relative to some countries like the US, it is relatively high per capita compared to nearby European countries including Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. It depends on what your frame of reference is.

N.B. I do think banning this poem is idiocy by do-gooders and I can't get outraged about it because it's obviously just stupidity at work.
posted by HaloMan at 6:50 PM on September 12, 2008


Well, according to the U.N., on this chart, the U.K.'s homicide rate is 46 out of 62, safer than Canada, Australia, France, and a bunch of other relatively civilized places.

It's hysteria.

Hell, I think it's hysteria in the U.S., and the homicide rate is 4x higher.
posted by MythMaker at 11:13 PM on September 12, 2008


Mobile ’phones making it simple for ‘illegal’ transactions to take place - anytime, anyplace, anywhere…any street, any alleyway, shop doorway or even the School Playground!

How is this (from the knifecrime website) a bad thing? Mobile phones have done away with static drug dealing locations (either indoor or outdoor) thereby reducing a huge source of public nuisance as neighbours no longer have to complain about the crackhouse across the street, or their kiddies running the gauntlet of heroin dealers on their way to school.

Today, everything is done via a civilized home delivery system, dispersing the nuisance element and making the environment safer for everyone?

Now excuse me, I have to go clean my zip gun.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:44 AM on September 13, 2008


"A bit weird" indeed. Just shows how far out of it Schofield is.

And indeed what is someone with such a prejudice about a particular poet's work doing marking exams about it?
posted by raygirvan at 6:18 AM on September 13, 2008


"My favorite knife story evah..."

"They are demanding far tougher sentences than the current maximum of two years for carrying a knife."

1) Did that law pass?
2) What constitutes a "knife"? Britain is going to be crossed off my list of civilized countries if I can't carry my leatherman while I'm there.
posted by Mitheral at 10:44 AM on September 13, 2008


That's not a knife! This is a knife!

(Oh, you've seen it)
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on September 13, 2008


I think it is a bit cheap of Carol Ann Duffy to call her poem 'Mrs Schofield's GCSE'. Isn't Mrs Schofield entitled to her opinion? A more appropriate target for satire would have been the spineless behaviour of the AQA exam board.

In all the excitement, no one has thought to ask how the poem was actually used in the classroom. If the kids are being taught to use their critical skills -- 'write about the poet's use of language' or something -- then I can't see that there's anything to object to. If, on the other hand, they are being encouraged to use it as an exercise in empathy -- 'imagine you are the narrator of this poem; write an essay about your feelings' -- then I guess there might be some cause for concern.

All in all I can't work up much outrage about this. I've always regarded Carol Ann Duffy as a competent mediocre poet -- the Barry Cornwall of our day, in fact. I'm happy to see her poems on the GCSE syllabus, but if they all disappeared in some freak accident of literary history then I don't think the loss to posterity would be all that great.
posted by verstegan at 12:25 PM on September 13, 2008


Isn't Mrs Schofield entitled to her opinion?

Of course she is but if her opinion is idiotic - which it is - then she should expect it to be mocked.

If, on the other hand, they are being encouraged to use it as an exercise in empathy -- 'imagine you are the narrator of this poem; write an essay about your feelings' -- then I guess there might be some cause for concern

Why?
posted by ninebelow at 3:35 PM on September 13, 2008


"Carol Ann is an easy target because she's a modern poet." He added:

Nice reply in verse.

Alternatively, she could have given the kid a gun, sent him to Iraq and the poem would have been perfectly acceptable. *cough, cough*
posted by ersatz at 3:58 PM on September 13, 2008


There's been 26 kids killed by knives in London so far this year. Not a lot compared to LA, sure, but when the very upper-middle-class London Evening Standard releases editorials such as 'Knife crime is a teenage craze - and it will pass' I think I wouldn't want to be a black kid in Clapham.
posted by mippy at 3:21 PM on September 15, 2008


ninebelow, in reply to your questions:

1. Her opinion is idiotic, yes, but is it important enough to deserve all this mockery? The issue here is not the attitude of one or two members of the public who thought the poem was 'weird'. It is the behaviour of the AQA exam board who were so scared of criticism that they took the poem off the syllabus.

2. Because a GCSE English exam is primarily about critical skills, not about empathy. Also, the poem in question portrays a condition of violent anomie, and it is one thing to analyse or describe this, quite another to empathize or identify with it.
posted by verstegan at 1:42 AM on September 16, 2008


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