The title gives expectations of horror: Who is the hungry ghost?
What is it hungering for? Who is being haunted?
By contrast the opening line is mundane: the subject matter –
“shopping with my father”- is trivial and the tone is
conversational. This tone is achieved by the everyday vocabulary and
the use of enjambment, the technique whereby the sentence runs on
beyond the end of the line.
The poet recreates a sense of her naïve and innocent childhood
self enjoying the simple excitements of the market in the company
of “Grandfather”. She uses the senses to evoke the experience
“smelling the spicy scents
drinking the sights and mingling with the shouts"
The voice telling the story now is adult, able to reflect on her past
self and create an evocative and sophisticated simile – “like
a restless spirit, hungry for life”- to explain the attitude
of her child self. It is in this line that the significance of the
title becomes apparent and loses its threat.
The 2nd verse depicts, by contrast, the experience of the mature
adult who perceives the market in a more pragmatic, political and
less romantic way. She now recognises the impact of globalisation
on this little corner of the world, which was once her whole world.
There is a deep sense of loss in this verse, as the innocence of the
child has been sacrificed to brutal reality –
about money and, alas, its bondage
of buyers and sellers.”
The final sentence expresses a wish to regain the lost innocence of
youth and the literal bazaar described thus far becomes a metaphor
for the wider world which the poet now has to inhabit. We sense that
she wishes that she could bring the same innocence and expectation
to the world that she did to the bazaar of her childhood.
The title of this poem is both profound and ironic. It sets up expectations
of vengeance and violence which it wholly and deliberately fails to
The poet has lived in a country in which human rights have been flagrantly
and consistently violated. By looking at the “revenge”
he plans, you can see what the crimes against him and his countrymen
have been; he plans to do the exact opposite of what has been done
to him and his fellows. The repeated my/you contrast reinforces this.
The reference to the “you” of the poem seeing “the
goodness in my people’s eyes” demonstrates the alienation
of the “you” from the poet and his people; maybe this
is another part of the poet’s revenge – that the “you”
should experience the consequence of his actions and be self-excluded
from the paradise described in this poem. The idea that the time will
“When you, the torturer
daren’t lift your head”
I feel, though, that the poet would like the “you” to
reach a point of self awareness which would allow him to become part
of “my people”, since the poet wishes to reach out to
the “you” with hands “with all their tenderness
The poet plans to be revenged through forgiveness, which he sees
as being the real victory. The triumph is that what has been will
no longer be, so the former victims get to win.
All world leaders should be compelled to read this poem once a week,
especially the leaders of Israel, Palestine and every Balkan state
there is – not to mention the various parties in Northern Ireland.
This is from the horse’s mouth – forgiveness is the only
The Heat of Summer
I like this poem immensely. The use of the present tense creates
a sense of immediacy which, together with the use of the senses –
“barely light”, “shrieking”- transports me
straight to the poet’s world.
Words such as “shrieking” and “absolutely”
and phrases such as “high assurance” and “live at
the heart of their days” demonstrate the confidence and at-homeness
(made up word) of the cicadas. The poet admires their total appropriateness
to and comfort in their world, which she expresses thorough the innovative
“wearing the weather, the daylight
and dark, right up close to the skin”
The first three and a half verses celebrate the cicadas and their
approach to life. The next one and a half introduce the contrast between
them and the poet. The vocabulary used becomes heavy – “shame”,
“drably”, “clumsy and ill-fitting”- in contrast
with what has gone before. The poet does not feel at home in her life
as the cicadas do in theirs and she feels shamed by them.
From “Soon…” to “…grow old and die.”
The poet seems to take a negative view of life; human life is full
of quarrels, joy is lost and even cicadas die. This is short lived,
however, as optimism reasserts itself and the poet determines to live
in the moment –
“it’s now, they’re out doing their
rhythmic hysteria, and I hear them. Hallelujah.”
The last word – “Hallelujah”- brings a spiritual
quality to the poem, as though the cicadas are a gift of God, a divine
thing to be rejoiced in, so this morning experience of hearing cicadas
becomes invested with religious significance.
This poem reminds me of “A Living” by D H Lawrence which
we studied last year. It has that same sense of humbly learning from
The Four Knives of Freeman the Canecutter
It’s really hard to see, at first, (and at second, actually)
what to say about this poem. But… Freeman is a free man, and
this is the point. Once his people were slaves but now they’re
not any more, and his 4th knife symbolises that.
His knives seem to me (maybe) to represent aspects of himself. The
1st knife could be seen to represent the forceful subjugation of nature;
“that red-veined bone was the
stamping foot of a black mare once,
pared and shaped and polished with chisel and rough steel file.”
With this knife Freeman exacts revenge and metes out punishment on
those whom he sees as having wronged him.
The 2nd knife seems more harmonious; the components of wood, vinegar,
ivory and leather seem less cruelly robbed of life than the black
mare. This may be really fanciful, but maybe this knife represents
the “exquisite balance” in which a man may live with nature
and the world around him.
The 3rd knife is full of artistry and delicacy. With it, Freeman
does constructive or beautiful things. Just look at the vocabulary
and contrast “rose-coloured”, “golden pebbles of
wood”, “thin as a leaf and glazed with silver” and
“infinite, infinite artistry” with “stamping”
and “chisel and rough steel file”.
It is hard to believe that the Freeman of knives 1 and 3 are the same
man. The 4th knife is a sacred,
“consecrated” knife imbued with tradition
and race memories:
“there gathers in it from a long-
remembered history a separate value.
From generation to generation the faith of men has entered into
The long blade and the shell handle.”
What this knife represents is the freedom of its people. It represents
their salvation. The language surrounding it is rich with religious
significance: “consecrated”, “like a holy cross”,
“the saving hills”.
This knife had been the property of a white slave overseer but was
taken by one of the 1st freed slaves. The fact that this European
made knife is used by a free black man to cut “the emerald ancestral
cane” in freedom, as his ancestors used to do in slavery, is
like a slap in the face for the one time enslavers. He is turning
the old tools of slavery against them to create a new future of freedom
in which his work and the work of his people is for himself and his
Of course, this may all be a load of rubbish, but it seems to make
some kind of sense. Perhaps!
A Cowboy’s Version
This is a cowboy’s meditation on the beauty of creation and
the origin of it all. In terms of rhyme and metre it’s like
a country and western song. I bet we could find a tune for it if we
tried hard enough!
The language is an odd mix of culturally specific vocabulary, as
indicated by the italics, dialect speech patterns –“ridin’”,
“shinin’”, “’Cuz”, “them
colors”, “Wa’n’t”, “builded”-and
religious terminology –“an All-Wise creator”, “mortal
hand”, “the Creator’s plan”, “the good
Lord’s own behest” (how often do you catch John Wayne
using the word behest?)
The metaphor of heaven as a ranch and God as the Boss is used. (Bet
God doesn’t wear high heeled boots to assert His authority!)
It’s quite sweet, I suppose, but a bit twee.
This is about the everyday magic of motherhood. Nicholls is remembering
with affection the ways in which her mother made everyday or unpleasant
activities seem magical – stories like spells to take the children’s
minds off having to take their medicine; understanding illness and
labour pains and knowing just what to do when a child got a split
pea stuck up her nose. To Nicholls, both as child and as adult it
seems, this knowledge of how to be a mother is the supreme magic,
so she is able to declare
“My mother had more magic
in her thumb
than the length and breadth
of any magician.”
The ordinary, conversational language and layout of the poem underlines
the fact that magic can lie in the ordinary.
Very little punctuation is used but the verse structure dictates
a pattern of meaning.
The initial picture created of the village is a very romanticised
“Swaying at the border of the moonlit night
In the midst of endless natural beauty.”
The makana leaf and the karmi vines are mentioned in this 1st romanticised
In the 2nd verse a hint that the romanticism might be eroded arises
in the line “I sing in the midst of struggle”, and this
is reinforced in later verses with “huddled up in winter”
and “squabbling and bickering”. I have no idea what she
means by describing her village as “Turning over on its side”.
However on the whole an idealistic picture is painted with phrases
like “honeyed dream” and “Like the golden jasmine
of my dreams”.
The suggestion that this idealised, romanticised picture is a fantasy
and a dream is underlined by the fact that in the last verse we return
to the makana leaf and the karmi leaves only to find them being despoiled
by the snake. If I were sure of the religious background of this poem
I would feel more confident about talking about the iconic significance
of the snake as the despoiler of innocence. As I’m not confident,
I’ll draw your attention to the vocabulary used – “biting”
and “slithering” suggest an attack even without serpent
in Eden imagery.
I think that the poet realises that the picture she has of her village
is in fact a false, idealised memory which has only ever existed in
Don’t ask me! I’ll do my best, though.
OK, so she’s never been a slave herself, but there are slaves
in her ancestry and her life seems a lot like slavery still,
“sat outside the slave quarter’s door
She seems to be running away from something in her past that she
wants to forget, an “inglorious story” that happened “on
a sinister day”. To escape this she goes
“to the distant island
where the hard labour
erased the memory”.
Whatever this is, she won’t talk about it but maintains “a
wall of silence”.
Someone, to whom she refers as “silly boy”, suggest she
should go home, but this idea is rejected because “Mad old woman
does not have land anymore”.
The poet seems as frustrated as we are by the fact that Grandma Mariana
won’t tell her “story” or of her “destiny”,
feeling that all Mariana does is “vegetate”. Her reasons
are a mystery, as is this poem.
There is no rhyme or regular metre. This is the best I can do. Sorry!
Maybe I’m imagining it or maybe there really is an innocence
and experience feel about this collection. Those of you familiar with
William Blake will get that allusion. Otherwise, aren’t these
poems about a beautiful ideal, sometimes contrasted with its loss?
No? Maybe it’s just me, then.