Poems & Politics - Education for Leisure - Carol Ann Duffy

And here is a copy of the new poet Laureate's banned poem Education for Leisure

Education for Leisure - Carol Ann Duffy

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.

I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.

I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.

There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.


  1. Utter madness.

  2. Totally off topic, I have relaunched a blog that I started last year - Act of Disunion.


    Feel free to check it out.

  3. Education For Leisure:
    The title itself is a saying that was used in the eighties, with the idea in mind that robots will eventually take over the work force meaning that nobody would have jobs, thus meaning that rather than being educated in trades, people should be educated on how to spend their free time instead of wasting their days and slipping into insanity.
    The poem is about a boy/young man who has left school with a bad transition into adulthood which has left him with low as-teams and low ambitions, this has lead to him becoming physiologically damaged and murderous. It is a well written poem, with references to shakespeare. It has a well thought-out structure, the monotonous stanza pattern is a reflection on the monotonous life that the persona leads.
    Overall this is a very good and well thought-out poem that emphasizes doomed youth that cannot make a good 'emigration' from childhood to adulthood.
    Well Done Duffy.

  4. This blog is about politics, and many of the poems posted on it are posted because they have a political relevance that was unintended by the poet because they reference to the "politics of the day".

    Your comment, Anonymous, suggests that you are trying to decipher the poem for academic (GCSE, maybe) reasons, if you are, it is best to ignore the comments of others here.

    You are correct in suggesting that Ms Duffy is referring to a "doomed youth" who cannot connect their education to everyday life in a meaningful way.

    The Robots taking over the world scenario is a bit far fetched, however. Machines taking over the jobs of people has been a fact of life for over 200 years or more. (Think of the Luddites, hand weavers, who destroyed factory weaving mills circa 1811/12).

    There is no suggestion that it is about a boy / young man. The poem could be about a girl/young woman.

    But you are right that it is about education not leading to meaningful employment, so being just for leisure.

    The poem was posted here in the midst of a debate about university education.

    Do we let more people go to university now, than was the case 30 years ago, because university education is needed more? Or is it a case of avoiding youth unemployment by disguising it as an University Education on Mickey Mouse Courses that will have no employment outcomes?

    The poet may, or may not, have been thinking about the modern obsession with degrees for degree sake, but her poem fitted the political discussion of the day, and was quoted for that reason. To find whether it was quoted in or out of context, you will have to look elsewhere in order to advance your studies.

  5. they banned this poem fromt he aqa anthology in 2008 becuase they thought it added to teenage knife crimes... wierd like anyone would read a poem and turn to knife crime seriously...

    1. if they want us to stop reading about psychos and dead people, maybe they should ban newspapers

  6. they banned this poem from the aqa anthology becuase they thought it might add to teenagers turning to knife crime, like anyone is going to read and then instantly turn to knife crime... seriously...

    1. Ah, yes. Because the teenagers who read poetry are the ones you have to watch...

    2. LOL you made me crack up!

  7. I hope that none of my poems ever do so, but there is something weirdly appealing in the idea of poetry turning people to crime

  8. Reminds me of your mum blad

    1. "Reminds me of your mum blad" cheers for the laugh while doing my revision

  9. Carol Ann Duffy wrote the poem Education For Leisure in the 1980’s, during the time when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. Margaret Thatcher believed there was “no such thing as society” and she strongly encouraged the individual pursuit of wealth. This meant that many of the more vulnerable and underprivileged parts of society suffered educationally and economically. It was politically a time of great conflict – the poll tax riots, the miner’s strike, and there were also cuts and changes in the health, social services and education budgets. Education For Leisure was based around the rising social problems in the United Kingdom during Duffy’s time when she worked as a visiting poet in a school in the East End of London. She relates the school’s policy of exclusion of disruptive and difficult pupils with political policies of the time.
    Education For Leisure is a first person narrative or monologue which explores the mind of a marginalized, disaffected youth drawn to the acts of violence. The reference to whether the persona is male of female is very ambiguous as no gender is given. But this does suggest that perhaps the poet has written the poem to represent both male and female; a motiveless, sexless, faceless assassin. However the informal language and the reference to murder throughout the poem stereotypically suggests that the persona is male. The short punchy sentences lack emotive language, which helps recreate the cold, uncaring mind of the persona. And the overuse of caesura and the colloquial language throughout the poem helps the reader delve into the persona’s mind and also emphasizes how menacing and disturbed he is. As an explanation of how criminal violence happens, the poem is clear enough and quite convincing. It is unclear to the reader whether the poem is based on a specific person, but Duffy portrays a character we may recognize from fiction and from real-life reports. It does have echoes of the true story of the young American woman who shot dead several of her classmates. And when asked about her reasons answered, “I don't like Mondays”. There could be a reference to this in the first stanza, where the persona says the day is “ordinary” and “a sort of grey with boredom stirring...”
    The title “Education For Leisure” has been chosen to highlight the plight of students who have received education only to then be unable to find a job; it is as though they have been educated simply for leisure time. The title seems somewhat ironic, because the reader sees that the persona’s education has done him no good. His education was a waste of time because it has not enabled him to find a job, nor to deal with the tedium of enforced leisure. The poet is almost suggesting that it is society’s fault for the formation of such violent and cruel people. And that if society and the government took more care in devoloping the correct eduation for people during their schooling years and afterwards, then perhaps people wouldn’t behave this way. The poem is almost a cautionary tale; revealing the consequences of those who have nothing to do, and who tire of waiting for other people to give them a living or some kind of recognition, that they have not earned.

  10. We are doing this poem in school for our exam and it is easy to remeber quotes from but isn't a nice topic to write about.

  11. this poem is just a subject nobody read Macbeth by William Shakespeare and went out and murdered the king and his best friend i think this is a clear example of how the country is in fear of offending people and being to touchy on subjects but any real subject should be wrote about.

  12. Carol Anne Duffy was a Brilliant poet of the eighties and nineties. She was also a passionate critic of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher especially her creation of a subclass as a result of her capitalistic policies.

    The speaker of this dramatic monologue is a member of this subclass, a character without future or past justifying why it is written in present tense. Despite what has been stated earlier there is also no reference to the sex of the speaker conveying how the speaker could be anyone and how Thatchers policies were not discriminatory, affecting all sexes and ages.

    The structure of the poem is monotonous to convey the monotony of the characters life but also the simplicity of their mind.

    - I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
    We did that at school. Shakespeare.

    The sentences are short as the character is not capable of stringing together more complex variations because of an inferior education however it also coveys the cold and calculating mind of the individual.

    - 'bog', 'a sort of grey...'

    The colloquial language represents the simplicity of the speaker, a tragic inability to be creative or intuitive.

    The speaker believes itself to be god,

    'I am going to play god'
    'i see that it is good'

    showing the speakers distorted sense of their own self importance however there is a bitter irony; this character can only destroy not create like God.

    Duffy's gift was to give a voice to the mute and oppressed, bringing to life fresh and vibrant characters, this poem 'Education For Leisure' is no exception. Besides being extensively entertaining the true authorial intention is to submerge the reader in a world created by single minded capitalism, a subculture, exposing us to a bitter and dismal reality.

    1. Thanks for the good thought out analysis, really helped! :)

  13. Anonymous said...
    Carol Anne Duffy was a Brilliant poet of the eighties and nineties

    Rather a bitchy comment! Ms Duffy is a brilliant poet today, she is the current Poet Laureate, for f**K sake!

    She is still writing, and despite her brilliance in the eighties and nineties her best is what she may write tomorrow!

  14. this is about as good as a chocoloate fireguard...

  15. I personally like the poem, and I'm in disbelief at the fact it was banned from the GCSE exam (AQA) ... surely banning it draws more attention to it?! :S but anyway.. beautifully written poem :)

  16. surely banning it draws more attention to it?!

    Fair point. If it hadn't been banned I probably wouldn't have come across it!

  17. I remember studying it at GCSE in 2005. No-one even thought it meant we should wonder around with knives. And my class was not the easiest to handle. All I know is that it fascinated us as a class, and even the most reluctant student in the class was suddenly interested in Shakespeare. I consider it to be one of the best poems I've ever studied or read. It's still a fascinating poem to study. What I want to know is, if this poem was banned, then why don't they ban something like those Saw films? Surely they inspire young people to wonder around wanting to kill?

  18. I watched Jaws as part of my English GCSE, yet this poem was banned. Surely young people should be educated about knife crime so it loses its glamour, not be looking it up online for a glimpse of whatever was so shocking AQA banned it?

  19. Beautiful, I feel moved, enlightened, liberated. The gentle caress of the words has touched my heart. Beauty now runs through my veins. Thank You Duffy xoxo

  20. I'm doing English GCSE with AQA at the moment and I'm loving it. However I too can't believe they banned this poem from the syllabus - I mean, it's awesome! Its shocking, yes, but nothing mind blowing. Do they honestly believe that 15 and 16 year olds haven't seen or heard of worse? In this day and age young people are faced with horror stories on a daily basis - reports on the news of murders and deaths, video games, youtube videos, crime shows and documentaries on tv. Nothing is too graphic or too real these days - you can't protect teenagers from this kind of thing by hiding it away!

    Our teacher taught it to us anyway - she thought it was a great poem and so do we. Even the people in the class who like english least were enjoying this particular poem. I can't understand how it could possibly be helpful to ban it? I can't say I'm a massive fan of most of Duffy's work but I think here her style really shines.

    Oh well, at least it's still available- and some teachers seem to still have the right priorities: helping us to appreciate great literature, not simply getting us through exams with straight a*s.


    1. I agree completely. At my school, most teachers are all about getting the students through exams, about how it's our responsibility to study, however they have no interest in teaching us everything that should be taught within the subject, rather only the topics we will need to know for our exams. My English teacher is the exception. She conveys a strong opinion on the way our exams should be marked- the content, what's there rather than what isn't there- and is extremely helpful with the people who actually care about learning . I feel that learning as a whole seems to be veering towards : 'I can't be bothered' and 'you're not even helping me' and 'just go away, can't do it anyway'. At least, this is the case in my school. I use TSR and blogs such as this to remind myself that there are actually intellectual beings out there who care about learning. Be consistent and have well thought out, valuable opinions on topics you're interested in. The blog is great by the way, may have to start something like this myself.

  21. I disagree

  22. Apparently this poem is banned and yet I'm doing an analysis of it in Year 8!

    1. It was banned because people thought it would turn teenagers to knife crime!

  23. this poem is soooo dumb and i hate this author

  24. this poem is so dumb

  25. this poem sucks

  26. should read Mrs Schofields GCSE as she wrote it in response to this poem being removed from the anthology. in her response poem she highlights the violence and evilness in shakespeares work to show the stupidity of the governement still allowing him to be the most studied poet whilst banning hers due to negative influences.