Poems of the Decade: Coping with Difficulty

Compare the ways in which poets present people coping with difficulties in ‘Please Hold’ and ‘A Minor Role’


O’Driscoll and Fanthorpe portray a wide sense of people coping with difficulties all throughout both ‘Please Hold’ and ‘A Minor Role’. Both poems interweave a sense of nihilism, time passing and the progressiveness of suffrage. However, all this is presented in different ways and aspects as O’Driscoll portrays difficulty with modernity and the destruction of society and humanity; on the other hand, Fanthorpe displays difficulty in illness and taking care of someone dearly with love and patience.

The difference in time is very significant throughout both poems as ‘Please Hold’ denotes a sense of anger and use of profanities such in the repeated refrain: “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” and how “This is the future” in contrast to the present. Further underscoring the deterioration of society and the humankind. In comparison, ‘A Minor Role’ illustrates patience and a deep sense of care as they avoid people asking about the sick person, through politeness: “For well-meant intrusiveness.” The idea of time throughout this poem, is how present it is; however, the future is unknown to happen: “It would have been better to die.” Further portraying a sense of nihilism through the allusion to Shakespeare, linking to the Greek tragedy of ‘Oedipus’, highlighting the suffering and pain, therefor emphasising the difficulty of coping with life.

The progressive suffrage is reinforced towards the ending of both poems. “Not the star part. And who would want it?” in ‘A Minor Role’ and “Please grow old. Please grow cold.” in ‘Please Hold’. O’Driscoll displays suffrage through ageing and dreading the dehumanised future, however, Fanthorpe depicts suffrage through pain and sickness; which is further reiterated through the use of the question, which creates an emotional connection to the reader as they “pretend all’s well, [but] Admit it’s not” emphasising the contrast and façade through “pretend[ing]” to form an allusion of being well and to meet up the social expectations through not wanting attention to something unwanted like a life-threatening illness, which further creates distance and a sense of isolation from society; through the difficulty of coping with life.

Through the use of language, a sense of dichotomy is demonstrated as O’Driscoll displays a sense of negativity towards the future and being hopeless: “Grow old. Grow cold. This is the future. Please hold”. To compare, Fanthorpe connotes a sense of hope through the plight-filled façade as a second character with ‘A Minor Role’ helping and motivating the patient to live through the difficulties: “I am here to make you believe in life.” The structures of both poems are also different as O’Driscoll uses profanities, enjambment and a Volta at the end. Similar to “the robot” the poem highlights a monotone voice through the poet’s stoicism and sarcasm towards the machine: “You can say Yes, No, Repeat or Menu, or you can say Agent if you’d like to talk to someone real, who is just as robotic” further symbolising the destruction of humanity. On the other hand, Fanthorpe uses allusions to Greek tragedy through the “Chorus” and uses the title ‘A Minor Role’ to interweave a sense of a stage and a minor character supporting the main character being the patient: “Propping a spear, or making endless exits and entrances with my servant’s patter”. A sense of connection to the reader is being presented through the colloquial use of language in ‘A Minor Role’.

In conclusion, the sense of nihilism is greatly reinforced in ‘Please Hold’ through the apathy for the future and being careless and seeing no point. This is dichotomous as there is a sense of faith and hope towards the end of ‘A Minor Role’ as they plead and motivate the patient to not give up and fight through the suffering: “Learn to conjugate all the genres of misery”. All to further emphasise how people coping with difficulty was conveyed. Ultimately, there is a sense of coping in ‘A Minor Role’ through the person who is not ill but is supporting and fighting for the patient’s life, through their minor character in the background. In addition, there is also a sense of coping in ‘Please Hold’ through the stoicism of the future and the dehumanisation in their mundane lifestyle.




Student Exemplar by Jude Soussan

One thought on “Poems of the Decade: Coping with Difficulty

  1. Aw, this was a really good post. Spending some time and actual effort to produce a top notch article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t manage to get anything done.


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