The AQA exam board has withdrawn a poem from its anthology for GCSE English, after receiving a grand total of three complaints that it encouraged knife crime. The poem, Education for Leisure, by renowned poet Carol Ann Duffy is written from the POV of a disturbed, alienated teenager. It starts with the line: “Today I am going to kill something. Anything.”; the (unnamed, ungendered) individual then squashes a fly and flushes a goldfish down the toilet. It ends with the teenager going out of the house carrying a breadknife. (Yes, you read that right – a breadknife. Which all the teenage gangstas are armed with nowadays, obviously.)
The most vocal of the complainants was Pat Schofield, an external examiner at Lutterworth College, Leicestershire. She described the poem as “absolutely horrendous” and welcomed its banning.
The poet in question could have chosen any number of ways to hit back against this censorship of her work; what nobody, least of all the complaining Mrs S – would have expected was that Duffy would retaliate with a poem with her name in the title. Here it is:
Mrs Schofield’s GCSE
You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare’s Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt’s death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.
Mrs Schofield said she felt “a bit gobsmacked” to have a verse named after her. She described the poem as “a bit weird. But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that’s me”.
Mrs Schofield is (allegedly) an English teacher. And the “horrendous” poem is being replaced in the anthology by another Carol Ann Duffy work, entitled Stealing. This one is a wholesome, morally healthy piece in which a ghost lists all the objects it pickpocketed, shoplifted and thieved while it was alive and contains the line “Better off dead than giving in, not taking what you want..”. But there’s not a mention of any knives, so that’s all right.