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Carol Ann Duffy: Mean Time

18. Small Female Skull

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About this Lecture


In this module, we read through the seventeenth poem in the collection, 'Small Female Skull', focusing in particular on: (i) the conceit of the poem: the speaker holds a "small female skull" in her hands – her own; (ii) Duffy's use of unusual perspectives as a vantage point from which to write poetry, cf. 'Before You Were Mine'; (iii) the use of simile ("What is it like? An ocarina?"); (iv) the ironic detail that the skull is as light as "a slim volume a verse" – like the one you're reading now!; (v) the recasting of the skull as a baby ("firstborn"); and (vi) the meaning of the words "gottle of geer", and the echo (perhaps) of the "trainee ventriloquist" of 'Like Earning a Living".


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Carol Ann Duffy’s 1993 collection, ‘Mean Time'. After an introductory module in which we think about the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy in general and the collection as a whole – and especially the implications of its title – the course continues with a reading and analysis of each of the thirty-nine poems in the collection, one by one.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2021, March 01). Carol Ann Duffy: Mean Time - Small Female Skull [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Carol Ann Duffy: Mean Time – Small Female Skull." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Mar 2021,