Education for Leisure 


Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.

I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.

I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don’t appreciate my autograph.

There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he’s talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

Carol Ann Duffy
from the 1985 collection, Standing Female Nude

Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy caused controversy in 2008. It had been studied on the GCSE curriculum for many years when the exam board AQA ordered its removal because it supposedly glorified knife crime.  In the furore which followed, arguments were put forward on both sides. In the end, teachers could choose whether or not the include the poem in their classrooms but it was no longer set in the GCSE English exam.

What do you think?

Is the role of poetry to touch on sensitive issues and stimulate both private and public debate – or should poets play it safe and avoid controversy?

Leave your comments here.

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