What Parental feelings does McCarthy explore in the poem and how does she use language to present them to you?
Football after school is a poem about a mothers, or the poets’, struggles in the harsh realisation of her son maturing, and having to experience school. Patricia is feeling powerless and worried about her sons inevitable future of him going to school which he has to endure. We observe the poet sharing her thoughts, and images, in each verse her view changes on how she thinks her son will combat “Football After School” .
The theme of football fears her, as he “dribbles the sin about the place”, which conveys how she thinks the football as the “sun” will become his life, and will become his focus rather than his mother before. We see her worries change, from be concerned about how she can help him and how his attitudes will change when he matures into a teenager. The mother is caring for her son, but we don’t know how the son feels towards the mother.
Insecurity is a key role in how the mother feels, as she becomes more distant to her fragile son growing up.
McCarthy explores the idea of growing up is inevitable, and insists to the son that he is going to mature and play football with the repetition of “You’ll” and “you” secures the certainty of her son having to grow up, and the mother is understanding this by empathising on it, particularly in the begining as the perfect rhyme empathises this imminent future, and how convinced McCarthy is that her son is going to grow up to be “common”.
There is a continuous theme of worry that the world of school will be violent and aggressive. The use of alliteration produces an image of potential violence “stiff striped dagger”, the alliteration has harsh continents adding to the aggression of the “dagger”, as they are “stiff” is describing the harsh strength of the dagger and “striped” makes the imagery of the “dagger” pain.
The image of “warpaint slicked over your face”, this imagery is symbolising battles within school, and how this paint makes you look stronger and confident. The use of harsh sounding images, and actions “butting it with your head” adds to the violence of the boys later life. Football, being a sport which is sometimes competitively aggressive, making the mother fear her sons teenage development, “with the premature swagger of manhood”, showing the bravado attitude, and false over confidence, along with “language jeers”, which describes the pretentious and arrogant teenage future mindset compared to now being young and having “porcelain skin”.
The metaphor of “Dwarf a tree, stab a flower” illustrates the violent contrast of images, he does this by a “kick”, this is portraying how his actions reverse what they were previously were, which reflect how he is going to develop, transform and switch characters. As now he is fragile, and later he will have “premature swagger of manhood”, evoking him growing up and becoming a ‘man’, further to the point she adds that it is “premature”, which echoes the fact that she thinks he will be too young to mature, ripen and have “granite jowls”.
The poet negatively looks on violence and aggression, doubting her sons ability as the poem moves on. In the 3rd and 4th verses we see the mother apprehending, which is contrasting with before as she expected her son to be involved in bullying, rather than now fearing her son will be the victim of bullying no longer having “stiff striped dagger”, as he would have to “tackle fouls with ink stained fists and feet”. The alliteration of the “f” is adding to the aggression of the language, and the voice sounds like it is struggling to overcome emotions along with the imagery conveying the boy as more of an academic child who had been studying, than being a football player.
We can see that he would “be clever enough”, which shows the mother has hope in her son, even if he is a ‘geek’. In the previous verses Patricia had started on positive comments, however as she sees the weaker side of her son she says, “Yet” and “not hooligan enough”, which are showing how she thinks her son may turn out to be skimpy and lacking in courage. This is a clear change in the tone of her voice as she begins to fear her sons vulnerability, reflecting how her son may turn out to be.
This image of the boy having “to sample punches below the belt”, portrays the image of being bullied, and being an illegal boxing move, it will still be allowed in schools, and some children have to “sample” it, and put up with it as they can’t fight back, and usually “sample” means you are trying something because you want to rather than having to be forced, this juxtaposes .
Patricia McCarthy successfully uses enjambment to convey her ideas running on as the lines progress, because her ideas are building up and becoming stronger in what she believes will happen. McCarthy says “punches below the belt from one you know”, the next line “Without flinching. I can’t prevent” , as she advances in the foreshadowing future, and her feelings are overflowing, which is stopped by the sudden caesura which make her ideas change, and she puts herself in to shelter her son.
The mother is constantly trying to protect her sons future, as he would be exposed to the life of school. Patricia doesn’t want to imagine her child growing up as he has “porcelain skin”, showing he is delicate, precious and cant be touched or harmed, compared with “their granite jowls”, which are opposites, and show life can toughen you, and you will crack if you stay porcelain. Later on in the poem, Patricia uses juxtaposing ideas to, “turn bullies into cement”, the use of a more modern material later shows as time goes on the material becomes modern and he toughens up.
The mother admits that she thinks her son is, “too vulnerable for living”, showing she “can’t prevent crossbones on your knees”, this creates an image of poison and evil on her sons knees which she wishes she could help, but she can’t protect him at school, therefore he is defenceless. McCarthy is hoping for her son, to stand up for himself, and not “to trample into the sod your shadow that grows twice as fast as yourself”, because she doesn’t want him to be in the darkness that developes quicker around him and have no friends, and the violent gesture of ‘trampling’, shows her concerns for the constant aggression at schools if he is alone in gloom, people will be able to hurt him as he has nobody to protect him.
She also says she can’t “confiscate the sun”, further repetition of the “sun” being the football or life, she is saying she can’t be liable for what happens at school, as it i not the end of life even if “they’ll punter and put out”. However she says “you’ll be picking scabs of kisses off your skin”, she is telling him that he will have to stand up for himself, but there is juxtaposing imagery of scabs and kisses, this maybe describing how he is growing up, no longer needing kisses son consequent get “picked off” as he gets “kicked”. Being oxymoronic plays with the comparison of changing images and how the mother is actually feeling inside as she still anxious about the prospects of violence in the school, as using emotions of “kisses” reminds her of wanting to protect him.
The rhyming pattern throughout the poem does not stay constant, as the poets feelings change and thoughts develop. The first verse is a confident perfect rhyme as she is projecting her certainty as to how her son will turn out to be. Her assurance changes as the rhyme stops being so constant in the rhyme, but still including two lines of perfect rhyme until the fourth verse when it isn’t as perfect compared to the first. this reflects how the mothers hope changes, until the last paragraph where it is perfect until she projects her own thoughts. Her realisation at the end has no rhyme, illustrating the change in her emotions.
The poets has an insight into her concerns for her son as she has regrets in her school life, the poet reflects the mood of the mothers thoughts. She doesn’t want him to idolise her previous life at school, as she wants him “not to inherit her fragility”, so he can stick up to bullies, as he will still be delicate with “porcelain skin”, which will break as he has not developed “granite jowls”. Overall McCarthy burrowed into all of her parental feelings, justifying her fears which many other parents understand and do not like to have to experience. Being a woman she expresses her emotions more, making the poem test her affection in the rhythm of the poem.