AQA Exemplar Answer-Compare how poets present ideas about conflict in ‘Remains’ and in one other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’ –KEYWORD IS ‘CONFLICT’=mention this in every paragraph of your essay!

NOTE-Before you start writing think about the MAIN message (s) that Armitage and Duffy have for the readers of their day and for future societies. You need to insert these messages into (nearly) every point you make!  

In ‘Remains’ by Simon Armitage and ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy, both poets present messages about the negative effect of conflict on individuals in the form of trauma and, as a consequence, the negative effects of conflict on humanity as a whole.

BEGINNING OF THE POEMS-SIMILARITIES AND CONTRASTS-Both poets begin their poems by talking about conflict in a negative tone. The poem ‘Remains’ by Simon Armitage begins with the obsessive memory of a soldier, now back at home, who has slaughtered a war-time looter ‘probably armed, possibly not’. The speaker of the poem, a soldier, who has returned from the Iraq war, ruminates about the incident and exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is as if Armitage can’t wait to tell readers how conflict causes trauma in the lives of those who have witnessed it.   Similarly, in ‘War Photographer’ by Carol Ann Duffy, a war photographer is also back at home and he too has been traumatised by the conflicts he has witnessed. Duffy describes the war photographer ‘in his dark room’ with his ‘spools of suffering’ the sibilant words, ‘spools’ and ‘suffering’ cut into the reader’s hearts and ‘spools’ connotes an abundance of images. Duffy, like Armitage, is eager to introduce a negative tone into the reader’s mind about the horrors of conflict.

LANGUAGE/IMAGERY ANALYSIS-Furthermore, both poems use brutal imagery to highlight the negative effects of conflict. Armitage in ‘Remains’ presents the soldier describing a traumatic shooting in colloquial fashion  ‘legs it’ and ‘one of my mates’. Armitage’s use of everyday language juxtaposes with the brutal images ‘I see every round as it rips through his life’. The onomatopoeic ‘rips’ connotes an inhumane way to die. Perhaps, Armitage wants the reader to visualise the horror of the man’s body being ripped apart so that the horrors of conflict can also be seared onto the reader’s mind. Armitage then introduces a violent metaphor of the looter’s ‘blood stained shadow’ which ‘stays on the street’ to reinforce his negative message about conflict. This metaphor could be interpreted as referring to how the looter’s blood is now ‘stained’ onto the soldier’s traumatised mind. Similarly, in ‘War Photographer’ Duffy uses brutal imagery to portray the horrors of conflict. A  ‘half formed ghost’ of an image ‘twists before’ the photographer’s eyes. It is an image of the violent execution whose blood ‘stained into foreign dust’. Like the soldier in ‘Remains’, the blood has literally ‘stained’ the photographer’s mind and traumatised him. The photographer’s hands ‘which did not tremble then though seem to now’ reveals that for him, post-traumatic shock has set in as a negative effect of conflict. Perhaps Duffy is stating that such trauma will always be an inevitable consequence of conflict.

PARAGRAPH ON TITLES (OPTIONAL-I THINK IT’S RELEVANT FOR THESE POEMS)-Furthermore, Armitage’s uses the title of his poem as a pun. Firstly, the title could be referring to the looter’s remains ‘tosses his guts back into his body’ and secondly, it could also relate to the negative ‘blood stained’ remains of the event in the traumatised soldier’s mind. Perhaps, Armitage is presenting the soldier with his unique and first hand perspective of conflict as a living symbol of the horrors of war on the human psyche? The soldier is presented as a universal symbol of the traumatic suffering that conflict inflicts on humanity as a whole whether they ‘die’ at the war zone or ‘die’ through the trauma they have to relive ‘I walk right over it week after week’. Duffy, uses juxtaposition in her title ‘War Photographer’. The reader associates ‘war’ with horror and ‘photographer’ with leisure and celebrations. Perhaps, through her use of juxtaposition, Duffy is mocking humanity’s strange ability to combine horror and pleasure at the same time and the war photographer is used as a symbol to highlight western society’s indifference to war zones in ‘foreign dust’.


In addition, Armitage uses form and structure to convey his negative message about the negative effects of  human conflict on individuals and humanity as a whole. The poem is a conversational monologue, written in free verse which mirrors its conversational tone. Armitage’s use of enjambment ‘we got sent out/to tackle looters’ also adds a fast and urgent pace to the soldier’s narrative, the poem comes from a television interview. Interestingly, Armitage divides ‘Remains’ into two equal parts: the first four stanzas describe the killing of the looter and the fifth stanza opens with the poem’s volta line: ‘End of story, except not really’. The inverted syntax of the volta line changes the focus of the poem from the killing to its aftermath and the negative effects on the soldier with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps Armitage is implying to readers that the negative consequences of conflict do not end with the war zone but stay with those involved.

By way of contrast, Duffy uses four sestet stanzas with a mostly regular rhythm. Duffy’s use of regularity juxtaposes with the chaotic warzone the photographer has left behind. Duffy uses rhyming couplets, interspersed with unrhymed verses, to make important points throughout her poem. The couplets hold an ocean of ideas, just as the photographer’s images hold an ocean of horrors. One couplet describes the photographer in his ‘dark room’ as ‘a priest preparing to intone a Mass/Belfast, Beirut, Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass’. One interpretation is that Duffy is presenting the photographer as a priest offering up a ‘mass’ of war images to the public. Duffy presents a litany of plosive war zones: ‘Belfast, Beirut, Phnom Penh’ with the Biblical allusion to ‘all flesh is grass’ which highlight the fleeting nature of human life.  Even the red light in the ‘dark room’ echoes the image of burning candles in a church. One interpretation is that the war photographer has a duty, even a sacred duty, to tell humanity as a whole about the horrors of conflict, even if they remain indifferent.


Armitage ends his poem with a couplet ‘‘but near to the knuckle, here and now/His bloody life in my bloody hands’. Possibly, in this couplet, Armitage is confirming his message about the negative effects of conflict on individuals and on humanity as a whole: the soldier’s post traumatic shock will never heal; it is still ‘here and now’. The allusion to ‘his bloody life in my bloody hands’ might possibly be an allusion to the Macbeths who couldn’t wash Duncan’s blood off their hands which drove them to insanity. Through this, Armitage is confirming his negative message about conflict both on individual and for humanity, it is an effect which ‘time never heals’. Similarly, Duffy ends her poem with a powerful message about the negative effects of conflict and the indifference of western society to such ‘suffering’. The reader is told that the ‘editor will pick out five or six for Sunday’s supplement’. The ‘Sunday supplement’ connotes leisure which juxtaposes with the horrors of conflict and, after all his sacrifice, the images will only inspire short lived ‘tears’ between ‘bath and pre-lunch beers’. Duffy’s use of in-line rhyme ‘tears’ and ‘beers’ presents a juxtaposition between the horror of conflict and the pleasures of Western society. Like Armitage, Duffy ends her poem with a rhyming couplet ‘he stares impassively at where/he earns his living and they do not care’. Western society simply ‘do not care’ about the horrors in war zones. Duffy is offering a scathing indictment of humanity’s indifference to war zones and to those traumatised by conflict ‘they do not care’.

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