Carol Ann Duffy's "Head of English" satirizes the dreary conventionality of a lot of poetry teaching (and poetry teachers). This dramatic monologue's speaker, the conservative old head of the English department at a British girls' school, condescendingly introduces a visiting poet to the class—and reveals a thoroughly unpoetic attitude in the process. Poetry, this poem implies, can be a source of power, joy, and change—but bad teaching can make it seem like a dull and virtuous chore. Duffy first published this poem in her 1985 collection Standing Female Nude.
Today we have ...
... Who knows.
Please show your ...
... Still. Never mind.
Whispering's, as always, ...
... paying forty pounds.
Those of you ...
... and so forth.
I've written quite ...
... the Lower Fourth.
Right. That's enough ...
... about the place.
Take notes, but ...
... we don't know.
Well. Really. Run ...
... Applause will do.
Thank you ...
... show you out.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Poem Aloud — Listen to a witty performance of the poem.
Duffy on the Power of Poetry — Read an article about Duffy's recent Pandemic Poetry project; Duffy discusses how poetry can help people through troubled times.
Duffy as Poet Laureate — Listen to an interview with Duffy in which she discusses her appointment as the first female Poet Laureate of the UK.
A Brief Biography — Learn more about Duffy's life and work via the Poetry Foundation.
Duffy's Influence — Read an article by novelist Jeanette Winterson in which she discusses Duffy's poetry—and especially Duffy's belief that poetry should be a pleasure.
1Today we have a poet in the class.
2A real live poet with a published book.
3Notice the inkstained fingers girls. Perhaps
4we're going to witness verse hot from the press.
5Who knows. Please show your appreciation
6by clapping. Not too loud. Now
7sit up straight and listen. Remember
8the lesson on assonance, for not all poems,
9sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind.
10Whispering's, as always, out of bounds—
11but do feel free to raise some questions.
12After all, we're paying forty pounds.
13Those of you with English Second Language
14see me after break. We're fortunate
15to have this person in our midst.
16Season of mists and so on and so forth.
17I've written quite a bit of poetry myself,
18am doing Kipling with the Lower Fourth.
19Right. That's enough from me. On with the Muse.
20Open a window at the back. We don't
21want winds of change about the place.
22Take notes, but don't write reams. Just an essay
23on the poet's themes. Fine. Off we go.
24Convince us that there's something we don't know.
25Well. Really. Run along now, girls. I'm sure
26that gave an insight to an outside view.
27Applause will do. Thank you
28very much for coming here today. Lunch
29in the hall? Do hang about. Unfortunately
30I have to dash. Tracey will show you out.