I’m an AS-Level student, studying your poem ‘The Butcher Shop’ and I’ve been trying to research the context in which the poem what written, but to be honest it’s been difficult to find any information on it. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions about it?
Thanks for getting back so quick! I initially thought it was an extended metaphor, comparing the Tories to a butcher shop, but I wondered whether it was written as a criticism post-2010 election or at a different time, as I couldn’t find the date it was published. Of course that interpretation could be completely wrong! In which case, could you enlighten me to the actual message behind the poem?
By: Bethany Meban on September 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm
The collection it was included in came out in 2007/8, so it was nothing to do with the 2010 election. What sparked the poem was remembering the cuteness of butchers shops in the 1950s and 1960s, and how it ddn’t put us off buying meat. But there certainly is a political level going on. I am not vegetarian but I am mindful of the horrors behind eating meat. I AM left wing and dislike Tories. Think about lots of different possible influences that went into the poem, and don’tt try to impose one meaning. Explore rather than limit. The collection it was in is called The Way We Came, and the main theme of it was time, and how it is not a straight line. Hope that helps.
I am just responding to you after the Whitby Folk Week concerning some kind of poetry anthology for the group. There were so many lovely poems which came out as a result of the workshops. I spoke to Ian Clark chairperson of Whitby Writers last week. He would print it for us at a rough cost of £3.00 per book. He would do it through LULU which is a self publishing company so there would also be a 20% postage and packing cost in addition. Our group has a publication called ‘A Song for The Bees’ published in the same way and is about 64 pages long. He suggests that we include lots of illustrations and a nice cover( I am an artist! and I am sure there are others). It gives us choices. He would manage it for us for no cost but would like us to give a donation to ‘Victims of Torture’ charity. We could alternatively do it all ourselves directly thorugh LULU.I hope you find this useful, see you next year.
Hey Angela, i’m an A-level student studying English lang/lit. In school we’re taught that the best way to analyse a poem is to follow something called a GCAP which is an acronym for Genre Context Audience Purpose and in following this we would get quite a high mark. Would you agree? Also, what advice could you give me in analyzing poems?
Genre Context Audience Purpose is not necessarily the best way to analyse a poem! But it is framework for comparison for unit 1, in which you have to compare different texts about food, including unseens on the exam.
Analysing poems starts with reading them over and over, including aloud, to listen to its music. Never impose meanings, just listen to the poem and then begin to explore. There is not just one meaning, but there should be no ‘hidden’ meanings. Poets are not trying to trick but to communicate. Part of the context you might find useful is that I was born in 1954. Today many people have qualms about eating meat. I clearly eat it but there is an element of discomfort with it expressed in the poem. Try most of all to RELATE to the poem, as well as to the text you are comparing it with. Comparison is the key for your AS success.
It’s about what it is like buying something at a Butcher’s shop. An old-fashioned one. Have a try at exploring the language and ideas and how they work together. I know I wrote it but I don’t know everything it is doing – poets and authors work a lot from their subconcious. Just make sure you don’t force meanings on to it. Listen to it. And listen with humour.
Can you be more specific? Try not to force meanings onto the poem. Focus on my attitude towards old-fashioned butchers shops and the whole dichotomy of buying and eating meat that comes from the death of creatures which are represented as being cute. Mixed feelings..
hello Angela, i know this may seem like a really silly question but while studying this poem for AS English we need to write about an intended audience that it was written for. iv tried mentioning an audience interested in different views about meat and people who enjoy poetry but apparently that’s not enough. i wondered if maybe you could tell me what your actual intended audience was?
In the first instance I write for myself. I think that is true of most poets. But I think I am also writing for an adult audience who remember the sort of butchers shops like this one, which were common in the 1950s and 1960s before the big supermarkets took hold. I think people who enjoy poetry is a good answer. You also don’t have to necessarily comment on every aspect of the poem, because you are comparing, so you might be saying that one piece has a very specific audience and another has a more general one.
Hello Angela, I’m currently studying this poem for my AS Level exam and my question isn’t about the poem itself, but rather the thought that went into it. When we study poems in class, we go into such depth, and I feel that most of the time, this was unintentional of the poet. Just from a poet’s perspective, do you ever read through analysis’ of your poems and think “I never meant it to meant that” or “I think they have interpreted my meaning wrong”?
Thank you for your most interesting question. I will do my best to answer it. As a poet, I am steeped in poetry and fully aware of technique etc. I have developed my ear over time and always try to use the best words possible. But a poem comes from the creative part of the brain, the subconscious, for me, at any rate. What often happens is words start coming into my head and I feel impelled to write them down. Those are the first cues for a poem. So you are right about intentiality being something of a fallacy. I don’t know where a poem is going to take me, and that is the reason for writing. So with this poem I didn’t sit down and decide to write a poem about butcher’s shops, it was something I’d had in my mind for years, about the ironies of the way things were displayed. AS I child I loved playing farms, and I often write about childhood memories, so those are some of the things that were chugging round in my brain when this poem got started.
However, in the redrafting stage of writing a poem, I am working with the more logical, editing part of my brain, so I am consciously trying to make the best possible poem, taking the cues from what has appeared on the page already. But I don’t think – oh, it’s a bit boring, I will use some assonance – it’s more what sounds right and it’s only afterwards I realise why. I could, as a literary person, sit down and write an analysis of one of my poems and discover I’ve used all sorts of things I hadn’t put a name to.
As for your second question, yes, I have been told about some very strange interpretations of this poem out there and I do not know the source of them. Suffice it to say that this poem is NOT an allegory of any kind (I think one would have to intend to write an allegory) and it is not about any war. The Tory pig’s head thing is a joke – part of my Labour background, and the poem is about The Butcher’s Shop, and memory and the ironies of the way meat is presented, as cute, when actually it is dead flesh and slightly repellant, but yummy to eat and so we ignore all that. I hate it when any poem is forced to ‘mean’ something it doesn’t. AS William Carlos Williams said’ Listen to the poem, let it spray you in the face’. I don’t usually mind interpretation so long as it is rooted in the poem and the poem isn’t being forced in the wrong direction without evidence. I hate an approach that sees poems as obfuscating riddles. Hope that helps – and don’t forget to consider surface meanings before looking at depths and resonances.
Well, I would start by going through your anthology making a shortlist of useful texts, then select the two that seem to you to be the mosy suitable, that you can write most convincingly on. I take it this is a practice question? In the exam you wouldn’t have time to do the next step, but it’s great practice to do a comparison chart with your chosen texts in 2 different columns. You’ll need to decide what the strong emotions are, and there might be more than one, in your two texts, then compare them drawing on the bullet points and pulling out small details, for example I express revulsion in my poem about the parcels of bleeding meat, but another text might express enthusiasm for cooking it, or outrage that an animal has been killed. It wouldn’t be helpful for me to give you a load of information about my poem, because the points you will draw out will be different depending on what the steer is and what you choose to compare it with. Try to think for yourself, because examiners give rewards for that.
I have been analysing ‘The Butcher’s shop’ from the anthology. I happen to have quite a wide imagination and I tend to see things differently to other people. I was wondering if the layout/structure of The Butcher’s shop had any deeper meaning to it?
It is a lyrical poem and in the form of a sonnet but becasue being the acute person I am, I can also see the poem shape as a cut of meat.
I understand how weird that sounds but that is what I was thinking. Does that seem silly?
I’m an AS student studying your poem ‘The butcher’s shop’, I was struggling to understand the Purpose, Audience and Context of the poem. It’d be greatly appreciated if you could enlighten me. Many thanks!
If you look further through the blog you will find I have already answered these questions. The context of the poem includes things like my growing up years before big supermarkets (1950s and 1960s), being brought up in a working class Northern town, as well as the time it was written. It was first published in 2007.
The audience is anyone who cares to read my poems. It’s not a children’s poem but I do think it is accessible. Purpose for me is to explore memories and contradictions.