The Butcher’s Shop
The pigs are strung in rows, open-mouthed,
dignified in martyrs’ deaths. They hang
stiff as Sunday manners, their porky heads
voting Tory all their lives, their blue rosettes
discarded now. The butcher smiles a meaty smile,
white apron stained with who knows what,
fingers fat as sausages. Smug, woolly cattle
and snowy sheep prance on tiles, grazing
on eternity, cute illustrations in a children’s book.
What does the sheep say now?
Tacky sawdust clogs your shoes.
Little plastic hedges divide the trays of meat, playing farms.
playing farms. All the way home
your cold and soggy paper parcel bleeds.
I wrote this poem to explore my feelings of horror as a child, when my parents took me to shops like this one to buy meat. I enjoyed eating meat, despite the fact that I felt repulsed by how it looked on display. The iconography of the butcher’s tiles was just like my alphabet books, and all the nursery rhymes and baby games were in my head as well: ‘what does the sheep say?’ And yet we were eating these animals. There was something nasty about it all, yet I loved meat and I still do. The poem was in a collection which was centred around the theme of time, and looking back. The collection was called The Way We Came and it was published in 2007.
Remember for the Lang/ Lit examination (Unit 1), you have to compare two texts which relate to the steer, so try to look at the poem as something you will compare to another text. My attitude towards meat is rather ambivalent, whereas other texts might have a very clear attitude.
A general tip when writing about poems in general is to look at how the form might support the structure, or sequence of ideas. The child’s glance here moves from the dead pigs hanging up above her head, to the butcher with his stained apron, behind him to the tiles, then down at the saw-dusted floor and the meat on display in between plastic hedges (I used to love playing farms with little moulded plastic animals, using the carpet for fields) . The poem ends with the child and parent leaving the shop and taking the meat home for tea. Compare that with the structure of the other piece, the comparison one.
Also, look out for sound effects like assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia and alliteration. Why did I choose not to rhyme this poem? It bears some features of sonnet form, so look at that as well.
Good luck to all AS students, and remember to choose your texts according to the steer, and compare point by point using the bullet points you are given.