Before reading any further in the collection, it is perhaps necessary to gain a brief understanding of the theories of Marx: in Shadow Man Sheers alludes to an art work depicting ‘Karl Marx’s head, born… into an absence of light’, perhaps suggesting that the theories of Marx were borne out of society’s failure to achieve enlightenment, and failure to be enlightened by those same ideas. Indeed, increasingly now, Sheers presents a world view which supports the notions of social divides, the under-valued working man and the decline of industry. These are ideas he began to introduce earlier in the collection in poems such as Steelworks; however, it is now that we see repeated references to the dominating and damaging influence of capitalism in our world and on our lives.
You can read a useful summary of Marx’s Communist Manifesto here: http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/communist/summary.html
Consider the rest of ‘Skirrid Hill’:
• Can you find evidence of Marxist interpretations for any other poems in the collection?
• What details would you select and analyse to support this viewpoint?
• Is there anything which might undermine a Marxist interpretation of Skirrid Hill?
In reading this poem, Sheers takes us on a journey around the restaurant as it prepares for business and serves. Through his references to time ‘9am’, ‘now’, ’11.30’, ’12.45’ it is clearly demonstrated that this is a temporal journey as well as a physical one. However, despite the linear chronology denoted, this could also be considered a cyclical narrative as we begin and end with references to a closed theatre and the Sommelier tasting his wines. In addition to this, there are constant repetitions throughout as we see the kitchen being ‘wiped down again’ both in the middle and at the end, the tables ‘ready to start again’ and the smoking of a ‘fag’. All of this serves to reinforce the idea that this sequence of events is predictable cycle which is on constant repeat.
Consider the rest of ‘Service’:
• How might Sheers’ use of alliteration in the first few lines emphasise this idea?
• How might Sheers’ use of anaphora in the penultimate stanza emphasises this idea?
• How might the theories of Marx be used to develop our interpretation of the significance of time in this poem?
• Is it significant that he takes us outside into an, ‘Autumn morning, clear air’?
• How does he return to the theme of role-play? Why does he do this?
Decline of the working man and industry
There is a detailed commentary on the concept of the ‘service’ industry as middle men and the use of the restaurant as an extended metaphor for our society here: http://www.silkwormsink.com/v1/chapbook_52.html
Here Marx’s ideas on the Proletariat being without value are clear: the individuals working within the restaurant have lost importance and individuality, merely being instruments of the machine; there is a loss of skill, craftsmanship and charm through mechanisation. Indeed, no-one is given a name in the poem and few are given titles. In many cases the use of passive verb structures ‘the scallops are pinched’, ‘the kitchen is wiped down’ create a description of a kitchen which runs itself, food is prepared without the use of human hands as if by magic. Indeed, this idea is emphasised by the description of the ham ‘like a regular Houdini’. The connection of magic with depictions of industry without explicit references to the people performing it, perhaps serves to deride the devaluation of the human workforce; demonstrating how impossible it is to succeed without human endeavour, thus illustrating the importance our society should place on the working man.
Consider the rest of ‘Service’:
• What people are named? Why might this be? What groups of society might they represent in Marx’s philosophy? How are they represented? Why Might Sheers have done this?
• What methods does Sheers use to dehumanise the rest of the people working in this restaurant? Why does he do this?
• What methods does Sheers use to give power to the machine of the restaurant, rather than the people who we would expect to be running it?
• What other references to magic are there in the poem? How can they help you develop your analysis of this interpretation?
Violence of man versus artistry
Sheers uses metaphor and simile to liken both the Sommelier and the kitchen staff to ‘a boxer… a carver’, ‘lovers… matadors’. In each of these examples, Sheers is highlighting the capacity for violence, artistry and beauty all men of society have: Proletariat or Bourgeoisie. This is an idea which was present in poems such as ‘The Farrier’ from the outset of the collection.
• What is the significance of this theme in ‘Skirrid Hill’?
• What is the significance of this theme in ‘Service’?
• Why do you think Sheers has chosen to describe the kitchen as a ‘submarine’ during service?