“Let me make myself crystal”. T. S. Eliot, postmodernism, and the deceptive transparency of clichés in the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy

Eleonora Ravizza






This essay approaches the concept of “poetic transparency” from two interconnected perspectives, i.e., the modern and the postmodern. Starting from T. S. Eliot’s reflections on poetry and transparency, the essay addresses how Eliot’s modernist aesthetics becomes a site of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetic and critical exploration. The former Poet Laureate (2009-19) and her literary predecessor follow two opposite, and yet interconnected paths: while Eliot claims to work through artificiality striving to reach the “essence” of poetry, Duffy digs through the apparent naturalness of everyday language to unveil its opacity. In Duffy’s dramatic monologues – among which a prominent role is given to “Psychopath”, from Selling Manhattan (1987) – the concept of transparency is linked to a reflection on the medial presence of language. Duffy manipulates clichés and conventions to undertake a critical process which is strictly linked with Derridean différance. She exploits the superficiality of the structures of language to create a sense of alienation and disorientation in readers, who are presented with the experience of marginalized characters – “Others” towards whom sympathy is often impossible, and yet whose identities come into being through a variety of clichés which readers will easily recognize as part of their experience.