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Carol Ann Duffy: Feminine Gospels

14. The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High

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In this module, we explore the (very long!) thirteenth poem in the collection, ‘The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High’, focusing in particular on: (i) the extent to which we should read this poem as autobiographical, i.e. a reflection of Duffy’s own experiences while at school; (ii) the humour of the poem, e.g. the teachers’ unflattering names – ‘Dunn’, ‘Fife’, ‘Batt’, etc.; (iii) the themes of order and chaos, hierarchy and anarchy; (iv) the importance of the word ‘but’ in structuring the poem; (v) the boredom and repression represented by Mr and Mrs McKay and the liberation represented by Miss Batt and Miss Fife; (vi) the subversion of the kind of ‘education’ that one receives at, characterised here by the learning of endless lists; (vii) the ‘seriousness’ of the literary canon and its contrast with the ‘silliness’ of the girls; its echoes of similarly ‘literary’ poems in the collection, e.g. ‘Beautiful’; (viii) the lasting effect of the children’s laughter on the teachers; (ix) the importance of nature in Duffy’s poetry – especially birds, animals and flowers; and (x) what happens to each of the teachers at the end of the poem.


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Carol Ann Duffy’s 2002 collection, ‘Feminine Gospels’. 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 twenty-one 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. (2019, December 06). Carol Ann Duffy: Feminine Gospels - The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Carol Ann Duffy: Feminine Gospels – The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Dec 2019,

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