My literature homework about poetry involves the poem 'Tich Miller' of Wendy Cope. it is as follows:

Tich Miller wore glasses
with elastoplast-pink frames
and had one foot three sizes larger than the other.

When they picked teams for outdoor games
she and I were always the last two
left standing by the wire-mesh fence.

We avoided one another’s eyes,
stooping, perhaps, to re-tie a shoelace,
or affecting interest in the flight

of some fortunate bird, and pretended
not to hear the urgent conference:
‘Have Tubby!’ ‘No, no, have Tich!’

Usually they chose me, the lesser dud,
and she lolloped, unselected,
to the back of the other team.

At eleven we went to different schools.
In time I learned to get my own back,
sneering at hockey-players who couldn’t spell.

Tich died when she was twelve.

The questions are:

  1. Who is Tich Miller?
  2. What has happened to her?
  3. Why was this poem written about her?
  • Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. Questions about the interpretation of poetry are welcome here, but for legal reasons I do not recommend posting the entire text of a copyrighted poem on this site. However, you can provide a link to an online version of the poem. May I also ask what ideas about the poem you have come up with so far?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 15:57

1 Answer 1

  1. Tich Miller is a character who went to primary school with the narrator of the poem. The name “Tich” is a nickgame given in England to small people. She had “one foot three sizes larger than the other” (suggestive of clubfoot), she was physically awkward (“lolloped” rather than “walked” or “ran”), and she was never chosen by the team captains during the school’s cruel procedure for dividing the class into hockey teams.

  2. She died when she was twelve, and the poem does not say why. Perhaps her clubfoot indicated a rare developmental disorder like Loeys–Dietz syndrome, which comes with increased risk of death due to aneurysm. Perhaps her physical awkwardness led to an accidental death such as falling from a tree or being hit by a car. Perhaps bullying at her high school drove her to suicide. Or perhaps it was unrelated to anything described in the poem.

  3. One possibility, of course, is that Tich Miller represents a real person who was at school with Wendy Cope, and Cope wanted to tell her story. But we should be cautious about making that kind of assumption: poems are not documentaries, and poets are free to invent and fictionalize.

    My first collections of poems, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, has featured on a couple of A-level syllabuses in recent years. When I first learned about this I was pleased to have been chosen by the examination boards but I did have some doubts about the suitability of the book for school pupils. It includes a number of parodies and other literary jokes that can’t mean much to readers who haven’t encountered the works they refer to. […]

    Some of my visits to schools confirmed these misgivings. In one school the pupils had been encouraged to look in my poem ‘Budgie Finds His Voice’ for evidence of my attibute to environmental issues. They hadn’t understood that the poem is a parody of Ted Hughes. When I explained this they were disappointed and tried to argue that it might, none the less, say something about Wendy Cope’s views on pollution and global warming. I had to be very firm. And I was uncomfortable, because the last thing I want to do is undermine teachers in front of their students.

    Wendy Cope (2008). Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems 1979–2006. London: Faber and Faber.

    So it is much more likely is that Tich Miller is a fictional character who dramatises the experience of seeing someone being bullied for physical awkwardness or disability, and yet repudiating solidarity with them (“avoided one another’s eyes”), for fear of the bullying being turned against oneself.

  • 2
    As you are mentioning 'Tich' as a nickname for small people (and we use it in Scotland too), you could cover why that is. Musical Hall performer 'Little Tich' who took his stage name from a childhood nickname based on his supposed resemblance to the notorious case of the claimant to the Tichborne baronetcy, Arthur Orton. Or you might want to expand on what the NHS specs suggest about social class? Cope herself attended and independent school at that age.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 7 at 15:18

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