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Culture and feeling of poets, Grace Nichols, Moniza Alvi and Sujata Bhatt

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  • Category: Culture

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The three poets, Grace Nichols, Moniza Alvi and Sujata Bhatt have experienced the loss of cultural identity. Culture is part of someone’s beliefs and feelings. Culture is important to these immigrates as it is part of their identity. The three poems ‘Hurricane hits England’, ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ and ‘Search for my Tongue’ all show feelings of cultural alienation and explore being an immigrant. The poems also use a secondary theme to express the poet’s feelings of isolation, alienation, confusion and separation. For example, the secondary theme in ‘Hurricane hits England’ is the 1987 hurricane.

My objective is to analyse the three poems and explain how the poets present their feelings. Grace Nichols, the writer of ‘Hurricane hits England’, was born in 1950 in Georgetown, Guyana, where she grew up with a strong sense of cultural identity. She moved from her homeland in 1977, to London, England. The poem is autobiographical and Grace got her inspiration for writing ‘Hurricane hits England’ from the 1987 hurricane that awakened her culture. Grace shows how important her culture is towards her by using quotes such as, ‘Talk to me Huracan… , which is where she is talking to the Weather Gods.

Before the storm, Grace felt culturally alienated, so when the hurricane hit, she was confused because she thought hurricanes belonged on the Caribbean not England, ‘Ah, sweet memory/Come to break the frozen lake in me’. This shows Grace welcomes its appearance. Though she also felt angry because it took something so destructive to bring back her culture, so she starts questioning the weather Gods, ‘What is the meaning of old tongues reaping in new places’. Grace uses both positive and negative language, to describe how she is feeling.

For example, she uses words like ‘howling’, ‘rage’ and ‘dark’ to show her negative feelings towards the hurricane, and words such as ‘tropical’ and aligning’ to show her positive feelings. In the title ‘Hurricane hits England’, the word ‘hits’ is significant, as it shows that the hurricane is awakening her culture. She also uses words that link back to her homeland, like ‘roots’ and ‘trees’. The structure of ‘Hurricane hits England’ is in uniformed lines. This is because the hurricane has brought back Grace’s culture, so everything is in place like her cultural identity.

In the poem, Grace uses natural imagery to express her feelings. The main source she uses is the hurricane. The phrase ‘gathering rage’ shows Grace was furious with the hurricane. She also uses other natural imagery within the poem, like ‘trees’ and ‘whales’, to continue expressing her feelings towards her culture and experiences, and words like ‘roots’ link back to her motherland. Grace has also used additional successful devices such as paradox. ‘Fearful and reassuring’, show that Grace is both glad and frightened about the hurricanes presence.

An example of a simile that Grace has used in the poem is ‘falling heavy as whales’, which show that she is still thinking about her motherland, by comparing it to something which is familiar to her, the whales on her island. Grace has also written in the third person in the first stanza. This is a good device to use, as she is letting the reader know that the first stanza is about someone she used to be, but is not anymore. The phrase ‘She lay awake’ shows that Grace feels detached. ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’, like ‘Hurricane hits England’ is autobiographical, was written by the poet Moniza Alvi.

Moniza was born in Lahore, in Pakistan, but grew up in Hartfordshire. Her father was Pakistani, whereas her mother was English, but grew up as a Pakistani woman. This makes Moniza feel culturally alienated. The poem is about how Moniza feels unsure about where she should belong. She emphasis these feelings by referring to them as objects, mainly clothes such as the ‘Salwar kameez’. Throughout the poem Moniza has expressed that she feels confused and stuck between two worlds. Moniza Alvi’s secondary theme in her poem is the salwar kameez, which are sent to her from her Aunts in Pakistan.

Though Moniza admires the work and beauty on the clothes, she feels they are like strangers to her. She uses words and phrases such as ‘alien in the sitting room’ and ‘no fixed nationality’, which shows that Moniza does not fit in either as Pakistani or English. Moniza uses a camel-skinned lamp to show how she is switching between two cultures, ‘from camel to shade’. This phrase shows that Moniza feels people want to accept her in society, one or the other, not both. Phrases like ‘I longed for denim and corduroy’ show how she desperately wants to fit in with everyone else.

Moniza also uses a variety of words within the poem such as ‘split’ and ‘stolen’ to show how she endures having no fixed nationality. The structure of ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ emphasis Moniza’s feelings of alienation and reinforces her autobiographical style. The stanzas are set out in different ways. They are fractured and in different sizes. Moniza expresses her feelings by using colour to create strong imagery, unlike ‘Hurricane hits England’. For example in the phrase ‘I was aflame’, it shows that when Moniza wears the salwar kameez, she feels too noticed, and does not blend in with everyone else.

A really good device that Moniza has chosen to use in her poem is enjambment. She deliberately lacks punctuation in her poem to create natural speech. Moniza uses similes, such as ‘like stained glass’, that show Moniza feels her culture is false. Moniza also uses personification, like in the phrase ‘Prickly heat had me screaming’, and lots of words referring to colour, such as ‘Peacock-blue’, ‘Candy-stripped’ and ‘Apple-green’.

The contrast of colours between the English and Pakistani clothes, emphasise the difference between the two cultures. Search for my Tongue’ was written by Sujata Bhatt. The poet was born in 1956 in the Indian state of Gujarat, where her mother tongue was Gujarati. She moved to the United States when she was twelve years old and later moved to Germany. Sujata felt she was forgetting her mother tongue, which scared her as she thought she was losing her culture. This was because she kept on moving countries where she unable to speak Gujarati. She has used the phrase ‘would rot’ to show if you are not using your language it will die.

Gujarati is important to Sujata as she feels it’s an important link to her family and childhood. She expresses this in an interview ‘That is the deepest layer of my identity’. Sujata’s secondary theme in her poem is the plant, ‘the bud opens’. She feels uncomfortable, as her ‘foreign tongue’ is colloquial at points, ‘You ask me what I mean’. This makes her feel tongue-tied. She shows she is being forced to speak the foreign language ‘had to’, and she feels every time she forgets her culture, her language reminds her again. The phrase ‘Blossoms out of my mouth’ expresses this feeling.

In lines one to sixteen, Sujata uses words such as ‘rot’ and ‘die’ to show she feels her culture is dead. However, the part where she has written in Gujarati script and phonetic translation is about Sujata dreaming her culture is coming back to her. Using phonetic translation is a very good method, as it actually makes the reader feel what she feels when she speaks an unfamiliar language, which is discomfort. It makes the reader feel uncomfortable, because they do not know what they are saying or if they are pronouncing the words correctly.

Unlike Grace Nichols and Moniza Alvi, Sujata Bhatt makes you emphasise with her. The structure of the poem is set in three different sections. The first section, from lines one to sixteen, is where Sujata is showing that she feels her culture is dead. The second section, lines seventeen to thirty, is where Sujata is dreaming about the re-growth of her culture. The third section, lines thirty-one to thirty-eight, is the translation of the second section. So this shows that the structure takes the reader on a journey.

Like Grace Nichols, Sujata Bhatt has also used natural imagery to represent her feelings, such as the ‘tongues’. The phrases ‘two tongues in your mouth’ and ‘lost the first one’ have strong imagery as it makes you imagine what it would be like having two different languages, and not being able to use the first one, your mother tongue, so it rots away. This is how Sujata Bhatt feels. Sujata also uses a number of successful devices in ‘Search for my Tongue’, the re-growth of Sujata’s culture in her dream.

In that particular stanza, the poet has used repetition, pace, strong imagery and extended metaphors to show the bud – Sujata’s culture – blossoming quickly. She uses the word ‘grow’ many times and phrases such as ‘grows strong veins’ and ‘pushes the other tongue aside’ gives the reader the message that she feels her language and culture have come back to her, in her dreams. Overall, I think that all three of the poet’s backgrounds are very similar as they have emigrated from their homelands and have suffered from cultural alienation.

This has affected their writing style in all their poems, as they have written about what it is like to be in a country or position which they feel uncomfortable in. The three poems have similar devices used in them such as they have all got a secondary theme on which to emphasis their feelings on. At the end of ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ the poet is still trying to find her cultural identity, I know this as Moniza has not written anything that shows that her life is any different.

However, the writers of ‘Hurricane hits England’ and ‘Search for my Tongue’ regain their culture. Grace shows that she does not feel alienated anymore, and Sujata Bhatt regains her culture through her dream. I think Sujata Bhatt is the most effective at expressing her viewpoint, because of her phonetic translation device. This device enables her to say to the reader ‘How would you feel if you were in an unfamiliar country, having to speak an unfamiliar language? ‘

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