We have been studying two poems from two different cultures, they are ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ and ‘Search for my tongue’. Both poems explore and explain the fact of coping with two unlike cultures. We will be looking at how each poet conveys their thoughts and feelings about their culture through their poems. We will also explore the way the poets explore their ‘roots’. Our group will also attempt to look at the following points in the poems: the similarities and differences in the poems, the structural and presentational devices used and the poet’s use of language.
Both poets show through their poems how problematic it can be to be from a different culture and live in a peculiar environment. In Sujata Bhatt’s poem, ‘Search for my tongue’ she explains to the audience what it is like to speak and think in two languages and this leads her to losing her mother tongue whereas in Moniza Alvi’s poem, ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ she shows the audience how having parents from two dissimilar cultures can make life very confusing.
But together the poems give a sense of incongruity and a feeling that you don’t belong here. The poems also show your original culture is always there, and that it isn’t completely lost, for example in ‘Search for my tongue’ the poet is confident that the mother tongue is still with her and in ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ the poet shows your original culture can never be forgotten. The character in Moniza Alvi’s poem is shown as a person ‘of no fixed nationality’ and someone who lives in two worlds, whereas Sujata Bhatt shows someone of a fixed nationality who has two tongues. On the other hand both poems talk about their cultural and personal identity.
The poets use a wide variety of presentational and structural devices along with the interesting use of language to give us an idea of the difficulties and the problems they have by being bi-lingual and/or mixed race. ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ is written in loosely arranged in free verse using the line length for its emphasis on the fact that her culture hurts her and the stanzas in the poem have ranging lengths. The phrases are loosely arranged around elements that relate to the poets own experience and life or in other words autobiographical elements. This therefore leads us to suggest and associate images with the use of phrases and loose structure of the sentences. It is also a sequence of personal memories and the word ‘I’ is repeated quite a lot this shows that the poet is recalling her memories.
In contrast Sujata Bhatt has structured ‘Search for my tongue’ into three sections which all show different ideas and images. The first section is up to line 16 where she talks about how hard it is for her to know two languages and neglect the one she feels that most belongs to her. The second section is from line 17 to 30 where she explains her ideas in her mother tongue which comes back to her in a dream, and the last section is from line 31 onwards where she translates her thoughts into English, where she shows her mother tongue dying during the day and coming back in her dreams.
She also uses an extended metaphor of the tongue being a plant where she says in lines 31 to 35, ‘It grows back, a stump of a shoot grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins, it ties the other tongue in knots, the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth, it pushes the other tongue aside.’ The repetition of the words ‘rows’ and ‘bud’ creates an exciting atmosphere, plus the use of the word ‘grows’ three times in one line builds up speed and an anticipating atmosphere, making the reader think of what will happen next.
The whole metaphor suggests that the tongue had rotted away but now it is growing back swiftly. The new tongue that grows at night is so strong that it overpowers the other tongue and ties the other tongue in knots and pushes it aside. The last line of the poem where it says, ‘it blossoms out of my mouth’ shows that the mother tongue emerges as strong as ever and functions much better than the second language.
In Moniza Alvi’s poem a lot of images are used to illustrate her feelings about her culture. She shows that her culture hurts her when she writes, ‘glass bangles snapped, drew blood.’ She also seems to depict being from two cultures as going on a voyage from Pakistan to England, which the poet vaguely recalls. This shows her moving from one kind of life to another. The comparison between the western and Asian style of fashion shows the poets discomfort with her traditions and culture. The poet describes her traditional clothes as exotic and beautiful items but then she prefers the traditional western clothing than the traditional clothes because they made her feel out of place and different from everyone else at school or work, this can be seen when she says, ‘My salwar kameez didn’t impress the school friend…’.
When we remember our past in our minds we drift from one image to another, the same happens with this poem, it sometimes happens with unusual things like a ‘tin boat’. The other poem ‘Search for my tongue’ also uses images to convey its point about the fact of having to speak two languages for example the extended metaphor can also be considered as an image showing the mother tongue growing stronger. But this poem also uses other language devices to help forward her point about her culture for instance she uses enjambment in her poem which means not that lines of poetry are not stopped at the end.
This also builds up an atmosphere of anticipation and eagerness to know the outcome, like the use of ‘grow’ three times in a line. Sujata Bhatt writes in first person and this can be seen when she starts the poem, where the speaker addresses ‘you’. This demonstrates that there is a conversation going on, as ‘you’ have just asked a question to the poet. Where as ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ is written in first person, this can be seen when she starts her poem with ‘I’ and also uses ‘My’. She is writing her own personal account of her experiences.