Post-1914 Poetry

A study of some modern poems which share the above theme.

Task: To explain, compare and contrast a variety of poems, commenting on the poets’ points of view and methods.

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My Kid Brother-Mick Gower

Dumb Insolence-Adrien Mitchell

Nooligan-Roger McGough

Alsoran-Mick Gower

First Frost-Andrei Voznesensky

Move On-William Plomer

I have studied a wide range of poems, written by a variety of poets. All of the poems follow the theme of Odd Ones Out. From the selection of poems, I have chosen to write about the six poems listed above.

In My Kid Brother, Mick Gower is writing a free verse poem in a third person narrative style, about a little boy who was left out in a chasing game, at break-time, in school. The boy , who is probably barely seven years old, sits on a wall only “two bricks high” and pretends that he is not bothered about not having been “picked for chain-he.”

The boy sits on the wall, “scuffing” a pile of gravel between his feet, and tries to make himself look “absorbed”, as though he needs to concentrate while he “picks at the moss”. The weak level of concentration the boy has, is also reflected in the irregular punctuation, and the disorganised structure and lay-out of the poem. He then squashes an ant to death, and “throws back his head” and as the bright sunlight shines into his eyes, “water floods” them. The boy now gets very embarrassed, as he doesn’t want anyone to believe that he is crying because he was left out. In order to avoid anybody seeing him cry, he quickly puts down his head, and “clears a…drainage ditch…between the bricks”. This, too, he does “with total concentration”, waiting for someone to ask “what you doing?” but no one does. Towards the end of the poem, Mick Gower adds:

“Anyone can see

he didn’t want to play

that game”

in a sarcastic manner, and states that he has “plenty better things to do”, although this is not true either. The last stanza consists of the word “pick” being repeated six times. This represents how bored and frustrated the boy is, as he has nothing better to do than to pick at moss.

There are two characters in this poem. There is the little boy and the narrator, who is the older brother of the boy. Readers of the poem, would feel quite a lot of sympathy for the boy, and I think this was Mick Gower’s intention. There are no emotions explicitly described in the poem. The older brother apparently observes and describes the situation from a completely neutral point of view.

Dumb Insolence, by Adrien Mitchell, is about a ten year old child, who has a persecution complex about authority figures. In order to stop himself from getting into trouble, he does “dumb insolence” when they get at him.

It seems more likely that the character in this poem is a boy. He is “big for ten years old”, and thinks “that’s why they get at” him. By “they”, he means authority figures like parents, teachers and even the police. The third stanza consists of only one line, but in effect acts like a subtitle, followed by a list of things he does “when they get at” him. This list includes things he doesn’t do, like use violence or verbal abuse, because “they can do you for that”. Instead he stares at whoever is telling him off, and thinks about “sick”. “they call it dumb insolence”, and “they can’t do you for it”. The boy has been in trouble before and will be taken from his mother if he misbehaves again. To stop this from happening, he does “dumb insolence”.

The boy in this poem, is quite cheeky and has a problem facing authority figures. This causes people to feel sorry for him, since he always seems to get the blame for any mischief caused. Although they wouldn’t feel for this boy in the same sympathetic manner as they would for the little boy in My Kid Brother.

As Roger McGough comes from Liverpool it seems likely that the character in Nooligan, is a hooligan from Liverpool. It seems more likely that the character in this poem is male and as he boasts about how hard he is, we find out the truth about him at the end of each stanza.

At the beginning of each stanza, the boy claims to be “a nooligan”, followed by things like being the “boss” of his class, being an expert at football, and even threatens to kill someone. Although the truth is that there are many bosses in his class, and he only watches football, and worst he would do is make you bleed. Towards the end the boy reveals that in the future he is going to become “a nassassin or a nired gun”, although he was actually just going to join the army.

Unlike the boys in My Kid Brother or Dumb Insolence, you would not feel much sympathy for this boy. I think that the poet of this poem wrote this poem from personal experiences in his youth, even if he was just surrounded by people like the boy in this poem.

In Alsoran by Mick Gower, another boy who is apparently fifteen years old is involved. This boy is last in a 1500m race on sports day in school, and has lost all hope as he is in a lot of pain.

In the first two stanzas he describes the increased pain you go through when you are last in a race like this. In the next two stanzas, he gets more frustrated about not being able to “breathe”, “catch them up”, “win” or “stop”. Then he suddenly stops, and reports how he is being lapped by the “Blond God”. Who also “saps” his energy as he “glides” as “Smooth as a tank”. This simile refers to the ease with which caterpillar trucks slide along the ground, and how the “Blond God” is as powerful and effective as a machine. The “Blond God” is popular, intelligent, and athletic. Once, the “Blond God” finishes the race a long way in front of everyone, he stands at the side cheering on the rest of the runners. The “Alsoran” finishes far behind everyone else and falls to his knees as he vomits next to the “Blond God”.

The two characters in this poem are complete opposites. There are the popular and clever athlete, and the loser. Readers of this poem would almost certainly feel very sympathetic towards this boy, as they would feel sorry for the suffering and pain he is going through.

First Frost by Andrei Voznesensky is about an approximately seventeen year old girl crying in a telephone box, probably in a cold Russian winter.

It seems as though the girl was dressed to go out. She is probably quite poor, and is only wearing a “flimsy” coat, causing her to be “freezing” cold.

“She has to beat her way back alone

down the icy street.”

Indicates that she had been going to meet someone. This was probably her boyfriend, and as she is alone, it seems as though their relationship has just finished, and she is experiencing “the first frost of having been hurt.”

This girl is very sensitive, and is obviously upset. I think the poet’s intention is to make readers feel sorrow and sympathy for the girl, no matter what situation they think she may be in. It is similar to the boy in My Kid Brother, as they are both upset because they have both been rejected. Unlike the Nooligan, this is a weak innocent girl, who was in love for the first time.

Move On is a sonnet by William Plomer, about a couple of homeless beggars living under a bridge. Without wanting to cause any harm, they were a nuisance and were told to “Move on”.

The two beggars were making love under a railway bridge when a policeman shone his torch onto their heads. They were told it was not right to do this. When the beggars came to parks to sleep at night, they apparently caused a “nuisance”. Local councils, therefore passed by-laws telling them to “Move on”.

The two loving beggars in this poem were only trying to find a place, were they could be together, and be left alone. I think William Plomer wrote this poem because he feels sorry for beggars and homeless people, and wants other people to feel sympathy too, so that they can be helped to get off the streets instead of being told to “Move on”. This poem is a lot more serious than the others I have studied, as it is trying to change people’s opinions on a serious issue. It is also the odd poem from the rest, as it is the only one written about adults.

After studying these poems, I have noticed that post 1914 poets write a lot about people’s social problems like loneliness. This proves that even though there are so many lonely people, we still consider them as “Odd Ones Out”.

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