English Awards 2014 – Rowan Lewis (Y12)

Due to the ridiculously impressive standard of our Y12 students last year, I have been rather sneaky and split the award.

The winner of this year’s Creative Writing and Poetry Award goes to Rowan Lewis. Scoring perfect marks in her Literature re-creative piece and an A grade coursework portfolio for Language, Rowan exemplifies every aspect of an outstanding writer. Her carefully crafted use of language for impact and effect shows a level of maturity and dedication far beyond her years. Rowan’s work always challenges the reader’s expectations and her knowledge of literary and linguistic devices, as demonstrated in her written commentary below, adds further depth to the shades of meaning. Rowan also ambitiously experiments with imagery and form, leaving the reader both charmed and entertained. The profundity and intelligence of Rowan’s work below exhibits her excellence in English, and I look forward to reading the wonderful fictional and poetic compositions in the future.

 

Lot’s Wife

The most inhospitable man

I’ve ever met, and yet

we wed when famine had passed

overhead. Cowardice,

like sweat, oozed from every one

of his dank pores. Cold. Wet.

 

And when judgement was warned of,

of course he changed – arranged

and staged a welcome for the

angels, lest he evoke

their rage. It never ceases to

amaze me how he says:

 

“Look! We’re a good sort.” Liar.

“Eat! I baked you bread–” lies.

Dishonesty, at new highs.

Pray, tell! When comes the fire?

Sodom and Gomorrah will

perspire, like dear old Lot.

 

The angels end up dragging

us away, but why stay?

He delays too much, today’s

a rush – we will escape.

Promises of cities and

holidays, a damp touch.

 

The very feel makes me sick.

At my back – heat. Dry. Sweet.

It’s ideal. Courage is

fleeting – it’s seeing evil.

Lot flees, fear streaming.

I turn back. Free. Concrete.

 

Commentary

The inspiration for Lot’s Wife came mainly from Duffy’s poem Pilate’s Wife; at first glance, one can immediately see that both draw inspiration from events recorded in the Bible. On a broad scale, the poems are similar in that they include the themes of disgust and repulsion by the speaker’s lover – Pilate’s Wife states that “[his] pale, mothy touch made [her] flinch”, and Lot’s Wife takes a scornful tone when she calls him a “liar”. However, Lot’s Wife contains a consistent theme of desiring to be free, whereas Pilate’s Wife has a secondary theme of sexuality and sexual awareness, which is consistent with Duffy’s usual style. The rejection of this in my recreation is to highlight the blatant rejection of this in the poem – Lot’s Wife would rather turn herself into a pillar of salt than experience her husband’s “damp touch” again.

There is no clear rhyme scheme or meter in Pilate’s Wife, as with Penelope and Mrs. Aesop; the effect of the free verse structure is a lack of clear pace, which causes the anger and resentment towards the speakers’ partners to become amplified under the stuttering rhythm. However, I chose to subvert this in Lot’s Wife by using a stricter structure – this is due to a reinforcement of the poem’s main idea, which is that Lot’s Wife is cunning and organised. She has, in fact, laid out clear plans in her mind, and her opinion of her husband is far from ambiguous. As Lot’s Wife plays out with a strong, regular meter and rhyme scheme, it supports the theme of feminine strength seen throughout The World’s Wife as a collection. Lot’s Wife’s strength is her factual manner of reporting events, and her decisiveness regarding ‘escape’, which I believe makes her resentment towards her husband even more forceful.

Metonymy is a recurring theme in Pilate’s Wife, and one which is used in Lot’s Wife as a result. Duffy uses a contrast of delicate hands and “tough palms” in order to convey the speaker’s sexual desire, using hands to represent part of the whole person. The contrast between the two through use of synecdoche almost dehumanises the characters; it reinforces the sexual attraction experienced by the speaker, as they are almost objectified through having the human aspect behind the hands removed from written sight. On the other hand, Lot’s Wife uses this to reinforce the theme of repulsion – Lot’s character is represented through his sweat. Although Lot himself is not shown, his characteristics are revealed during important scenes when he sweats: cowardice “ooze[s] from every one of his dank pores” during his introductory simile, the theme of repulsion strengthened by the use of negative adjectives (“dank”) and provocation of imagery in the verb “ooze”. The connotations of this verb is also foreshadowing towards his sluggish delay in the fourth stanza, similar in the way Duffy foreshadowed Pilate’s avoidance of work and responsibility in the description “indolent”.

Although Duffy uses the aforementioned techniques consistently in her writing, one can produce an imitation of her work through use of similar devices, and yet with different intentions. Variation in pace and imagery (such as the metonymy used, or the invocation of the senses) can remain in Duffy’s style, but can construct different effects on the reader. Furthermore, similarities in the source material used were again contradictions, still. Both sources were from the Bible, but Pilate’s Wife is from the late New Testament, and Lot’s Wife is taken from the Old Testament. It leaves the reader to contemplate whether minor or non-existent characters in this literature – particularly women, as Duffy would have it – have a story behind them after all.

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