Both the ‘Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team’ and ‘Stafford Afternoons’ written by Carol Ann Duffy explore their respective characters’ past written in said characters’ perspectives. In the Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team, Duffy impersonates someone who’s life peaked in the past which makes him insecure of his current situation and longs to return to that time, while ‘Stafford Afternoons’ focuses on a woman who is trying to escape her memory of her childhood where she was traumatized by a pervert.
The two poems have a lot of similarities in terms of narrative view, form, and structure, as they are both first-person narrations of memories from the past. The only difference here is that Stafford Afternoons is although a first-person narration, it tells the story of a chain of actions, while the Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team is a dramatic monologue in the form of a one-sided conversation.
An example to this ‘conversation’ in the Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form team can be found in the first stanza when the narrator, the Captain, seems to be addressing someone in the line “I can give you the B-side of the Supremes one” with “you” probably referring to anybody reading the poem.
Another glaring similarity between the poems is in their poetic structure, as both follow a blank verse without any rhymes. Both poems were written by Carol Ann Duffy and are both narrative poems, possessing a chain of actions. Thus, it could be argued, that the blank verse was used as a technique by Ann Duffy to create a more realistic feel and focus on showing a piece of a person’s life rather than some magical story. This kind of poetic structure was very popular at the time and was employed by various other contemporaries of Carol Ann Duffy, such as Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes.
Where the two poems are structurally different is in the size of each poem’s stanzas. While The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team is made up of four octets, Stafford Afternoons is a poem with a loosely Iambic pentameter consisting of six quatrains.
The last stanzas in Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team and the last two stanzas of Stafford Afternoons are both significant, as those are both the ‘finale’ of their respective narrative, as well as the change in narrative tense. This means that both poems change their narration of the story from the past to the present. With the Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team, the narrator opens the last stanza stating he “wants it back”. This statement is in the present tense to express that the last stanza is no longer a memory, but the present, as the now grown man brings up random facts to his wife, his boss, his children and really everyone around him, as if he is missing the time when he was respected for his achievements at the Top of the Form team. This is further evidenced in the lines where the narrator voices his resentment of his life and family, calling his children ‘thick’ and his wife ‘stale’. The fifth stanza of Stafford Afternoons, on the other hand, stays in past-tense, however, the action is sped up from the almost dream-like narrative of ‘blurred’ images as objects stop ‘dwindling away’ and actions become more real as the sight of the ‘long-haired man’ made ‘sound rush back’.
The imagery in both poems suggests symbols of memories of childhood remaining from the past. In Stafford afternoons, this imagery of adulthood in the eyes of a child is described in the line “I waved at windscreens, oddly hurt by the blurred waves back, the speed” as the blurred speed of cars is a metaphor to the rush, complexity and dangers of the coming adulthood and the future, as attempting to leap in the middle of adult life as a child would be just as dangerous as jumping in front of speeding cars. This danger is revisited during the third and fourth stanzas when the girl discovers a patch of woods, where through personification, even the trees “drew sly faces from light and shade” suggesting that the narrator remembers this memory as of something horrible that happened. The reason for this maliciousness was later revealed that the narrator was flashed by a “long-haired man” holding a “purple root” which is a metaphor to a particularly ugly specimen of male genitalia. The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team also explores memories of childhood, but instead of describing it as something surrounded by sinister forests and “long-haired” men flashing their “living, purple root” to children, it remembers the childhood past in a much more positive, nostalgic way. This nostalgia is shown throughout the poem as the narrator would talk about how he used to be ‘brainy’, ‘famous’ and other characteristics of positive nature. This would suggest that the ‘Captain’ was nostalgic about his younger years and he is still stuck in that past.
The sounds and phonology of the two poems are vastly different, as the Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team is much more ‘snappy’ and ‘quick’ which is either stressed by enjambment between the lines as seen in the first three lines of the first stanza or sometimes by quick, snappy sentences as seen between the lines “I can give you the B-side of the Supremes one.” and “Convent girls.”
Meanwhile, Stafford Afternoons has a much slower rhythm as the narrator has no motivation to attempt to look “quick-witted” but rather prefers to tell her narrative of the day where she was traumatized.
The Captain of the Top of the Form Team has multiple sentences that are interrupted by other thoughts, such as in the line where the character talks about how he would “spend down Dyke hill” with his bike when he was younger, which is suddenly interrupted by the Latin words “dominus, domine, dominum”. It could be argued that this has been done to create an effect referred to as a “stream of consciousness” and is meant to show us the way this character constantly jumps between his thinking process and the random facts he had learned for the “Top of the Form” quiz show also shown in “Dave Dee Dozy … try me. Come on”. It could be argued that the ‘Captain’ was not just conditioned into uttering these facts during his activities in “Top of the Form” but this knowledge makes him feel somehow superior to others as he is bragging about his knowledge shown by asyndetic listing of facts that have seemingly nothing to do with each other, such as in the lines “The Nile rises in April. Blue and white. The humming-bird’s song is made by its wings, which beat so fast that they blur in flight” or bragging about how “brainy” or intelligent he looks in the third stanza. Some of the facts he brings up are very dated, such as the line ‘Name the prime Minister of Rhodesia. (…) How many florins in a pound?’ as neither the country of Rhodesia nor florins exist in the current world. This could be interpreted as evidence to the idea mentioned before that the character is stuck in the past, unable to understand that most of the dated knowledge he accumulated lost its relevance, further reinforcing the feeling of a lost past in the reader’s mind.
In conclusion, although both are about people being prisoners of their past as the two personalities vastly differ in both their view of their respective past and themselves, which is expressed by the differences in the structure, narrative view, and rhythm of the poems as well as through their differences in imagery describing the settings and actions. It could be argued that the reason Stafford Afternoons seems more ominous and nihilistic is that unlike with Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team, the events taken place were traumatic instead of nostalgic.