Looking at Something in a Fresh and Surprising Way: “Ode on a Grayson Urn” and “The Map Woman”

July 29, 2021 by Essay Writer

Tim Turnbull’s “Ode on a Grayson Perry Urn” celebrates Grayson Perry – a ceramic artist who stealthily comments on societal injustices and hypocrisies through his art. It, instead of criticizing, glorifies the lives of the group of young individuals in imitation of Perry, who is known for addressing and elevating disturbing ideas through beautiful means. Turnbull celebrates their youth, courage and rebellious nature – something that is often put down and made to seem destructive. Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Map Woman,” too, takes on an idea and approaches it in a surprising way. She takes the idea of nostalgia and makes it tangible – in the form of a map on a woman’s body. Duffy pairs an unlikely premise with detailed realism allowing the underlying metaphor to shine through: that we are forever marked by our past.

Turnbull’s ode revolves greatly around the themes of beauty and materialism and how they are perceived in today’s society. He finds beauty in their recklessness and materialistic natures. The lives of today’s youth, a never-ending cycle of obsessive vanities and ‘courageous’ actions, are elevated to a near regal status as is done with the ‘Queen’s highway’ that they often congregate on to create ‘bedlam’. The possibility of looking at beauty and materialism in a new and surprising way is very much present in their wild natures, as these ‘louts’ remain clad in ‘Burberry’. Although celebrated, the fact that these people who live on ‘crap estates’ are dressed in high-class clothing ironically suggests that their personalities and outfits are not genuine, but instead a façade they keep up to pretend everything is alright. The phrase ‘manque’ refers to young girls who have been unable to live up to their personal ambitions – Shirley Temple, an actress who rose to fame quite early on.

The language employed by Turnbull depicts how the young girls have been unable to fulfill their dreams and are now running around creating mayhem with the rest of the youth. Although their lives are in shambles, ‘they will stay out late forever, pumped on youth and ecstasy’. The youth of our society are referred to using exophoric references in order to represent how they are viewed by the older generation. This image forces the reader to look at the youths as individuals whose only desire is to burn a bit brighter, instantly portraying them in a different light than what we’re used to. These teens are maniacal in their obsessed vanities, and although these will no longer matter in the future, for now everything is perfectly okay. This is what Turnbull is trying to convey through his unexpected execution of their lives as ‘urban gyrator[ies]’ – these cycles are bonds that cannot be broken by society and that is the silver lining.

Duffy’s poem explores a new way of looking at your past as etched into your skin in the form of a map; it describes a haunting feeling of your past never leaving you alone. Although the past can be either constructive or destructive, it helps shape you as an individual, allowing you to identify who you are as a person. The extended metaphor of the woman’s ‘skin [as a] map of the town’ illustrates where she comes from. Her struggle to shed of this skin indicates how she is insistent on removing all traces of her past. The use of the words ‘birthmark’ and ‘tattoo’ provide a semblance a permanence that she is unable to escape; this burden is heavy to bear and she isn’t too keen on holding it up any longer.

This representation of the past as something that is a part of your skin is not quite expected; in fact, this skin is home to all the battles fought and all that is left behind. The ‘precise second skin’ implies that she is shaped by her past experiences and is attempting to combat her issues with this new ‘skin’ that she’s attempting to fit into. The images implying permanence – ‘birthmark, tattoo’ – are contrasted with several verbs that suggest growth and change: ‘grew’, ‘binged’, ‘slimmed’ and ‘begin’. It’s possible that this second skin of hers is an attempt to grow and change into something that is no longer her, something she wants to separate from her past. She is ‘anchored’ to her town, and regardless of all the ‘spong[ing]’ and ‘scrubb[ing]’ she cannot rid herself of her past. Her tangible past is not something that is easily escapable. Looking at one’s history, as something that is physical rather than emotional allows for a clearer approach to what this past holds. It acknowledges that the past is inescapable but it can be left behind – the physical imprints it leaves behind can be forgotten as you grow as an individual.

Turnbull’s and Duffy’s poems, although not too comparable, do share one aspect: looking at something in a fresh and surprising way. The two take ideas that are often regarded with contempt– the youth and horrible pasts – spinning them in a way that is often unlikely. Turnbull somewhat puts the lives of adolescents up on a pedestal, making it out to be something glorious when it is often something hideous in nature. Duffy, on the other hand, physicalizes the truths of a past that haunts the map woman.

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