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Carol Ann Duffy - 'War Photographer'


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In his darkroom he is finally alone
The first possessive pronoun "his" firmly establishes a narrative stance and subject as we are intorduced to the "Photographer" of the title. The noun "darkroom", whilst referencing his photo studio, establishes the brooding and "dark" tone of the poem itself. The adjective "finally" creates a sense that the photographer has retreated into isolation to begin the process of reflection and developing.
spools of suffering set out in ordered rows
Duffy establishes a juxtaposition between the chaos of battle - created in the additional uncontrolled sense of the noun "spools" - with the neatness of the adjective "ordered" and noun "rows". That latter noun phrase also echoes militaristic language, creating a sense that the photographer has captured conflict in his images, but also diminish it into something containable and dismissable: a point echoed throughout
as though this were a church and he / a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Duffy's simile creates a sense of how serious the photographers work is to him and to society more generally. Priests who "intone a Mass" are typically associated with funerals and tragedies. We expect the same here.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh.
Three capital city sites of major modern conflicts (Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Cambodia). Duffy references each in turn to alert her readers to the poem's modern context. These deaths are happening here and now. We should reflect on the poem's implications for Iraq, Afghanistan, the 'War on Terror' and more recent attacks closer to home. Additionally, her list of plosive names, cut forcefully by caesurae, enhance the violence with which they are associated.
All flesh is grass.
Quoting the Bible (Isiah 40:6) reflecting on the brevity (shortness) of human life. Duffy adds to the relgious semantic field of the poem as well as establishing a key idea.
his hands, which did not tremble then / but seem to now
Duffy uses contrasting adjectives "then" and "now" to create a sense that conflict often affects people after the event themselves. Consider 'The Prelude', 'Remains' and (possibly) 'Poppies', for example.
running children in a nightmare heat
Duffy alludes to Nic Ut's 'Napalm Girl' photo - a deeply disturbing image of a young girl, screaming in pain having suffered horrific burns from napalm via an American bomb during the Vietnam War. The image itself was award winning and became a symbol of the human tragedy of the conflict.
Level 10