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Elvis's Twin Sister
The poem has two subtitles. The first is a line from Elvis Presley's 1961 hit song Are You
Lonesome Tonight? The second is a statement by the female singer Madonna.
Elvis Presley did not have a twin sister in reality but the sister whom Carol Ann Duffy
imagines for him is very different from Madonna. Instead she is modest and simple, though
with a cheerful character, rather like Elvis's public persona.
The poem plays on the humorous contrast between the life, manners and dress of the nun,
and the flamboyance of rock and roll. For example, despite her nun's vow, Sister Presley
swings her hips in the same way as Elvis, though perhaps without the same effect. She wears
a habit and carries a rosary, but she also has the blue suede shoes immortalized by Elvis's
1956 rendition of the song of this name (written and first recorded by Carl Perkins). The
Gregorian chant (sung unaccompanied) has simple melodies, like Elvis's songs, but is
otherwise very different in its calm and gentle mood, and its Christian lyrics. In the early days
of Rock and Roll, its critics called it the Devil's music.
The sister identifies the convent with Elvis's home, Graceland. In this case the wordplay is
not really Carol Ann Duffy's invention Elvis chose the name Graceland because of his own
Christian belief. Her exclamation "Lawdy" is a popular version of "Praise the Lord".
Perhaps the biggest difference between sister and brother, though, is that, among the sisters
of the convent, no one is ever "lonesome" and it is a long time since she "walked/down
Lonely Street/towards Heartbreak Hotel". (This is another reference to Elvis's music he
recorded Heartbreak Hotel in 1956. Elvis is listed as cowriter of this and many of his
other hits, but did not really write it. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, insisted that Elvis
have his name added so that he would receive writing royalties.)
The form of the poem is quite regular five line stanzas with occasional rhymes. Sometimes
these are quite amusing as when Duffy uses the Southern sound of "y'all" to rhyme with
"soul" and "rock and roll". The references to the song lyrics give it an air of authenticity
though this is quite lightly done (Elvis has a huge catalogue that the poet might be tempted to
The poem is a lighthearted exploration of ideas of fame, friendship and family. It begs the
question whether it is better to have been Elvis (or even Madonna) or his sister is fame
better than modest contentment, great wealth better than friends?
Do you agree with Madonna's claim? Or is Elvis in a different class from her?
Is Elvis's sister (as imagined in the poem) a more attractive person than she would
be if she were a big star like him?
What do you think of the language of the poem? How well does Carol Ann Duffy (a
Scot living in England) create a sense of a speaker from the southern USA? (Elvis
was born in Mississippi and grew up in Tennessee.)
How does Carol Ann Duffy make use of Elvis's song titles and lyrics in the poem?
Is the poem comic or serious? Do you like it or not?
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Note: Pascha nostrum immolatus est is the name of a Latin hymn of the kind called
Gregorian chant, after Pope Gregory I (50604 AD). The chant takes its title from a line in
St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in the Vulgate Latin version translated by St.
Jerome. In English, it means, "Our passover is sacrificed" St.…read more