2 Today we are learning to … Understand and analyse The Yellow Palm by Robert Minhinnick
3 Where? When? What? Iran/Iraq War / First Persian Gulf War 1980-1988 First Gulf War - USA v Iraq (over Kuwait)
4 Robert Minhinnick Born 1952, South Wales A poet, essayist and novelist.Travelled widely - poems such as ‘The Yellow Palm’ and ‘After the Stealth Bomber’ refer to the first Gulf War and draw on his visit to Iraq in 1998.Here he was informed about the many varieties of palm trees in the city and their importance for food andshade. He was also told how the palm trees had suffered from pollution and warfare.In a recent interview he said he does not intend his poems to have a moral messageThe poet explains that he tries in his poems to combine drama, colour and textureHe says, ‘I think in images and I like to write in images. That's what writing is all about’‘Robert Minhinnick is a poet of the moment… his best work takes you and places you slap bang in the middle of an experience. Like a mini tardis.’ (The Big Issue)
5 The Yellow Palm by Robert Minhinnick CLICK HERE TO PLAY As I made my way down Palestine StreetI watched a funeral pass –all the women waving lilac stemsaround a coffin made of glassand the face of the man who lay withinwho had breathed a poison gas.I heard the call to prayerand I stopped at the door of the golden mosqueto watch the faithful therebut there was blood on the walls and the muezzin’s eyeswere wild with his despair.I met two blind beggarsAnd into their hands I pressed my handswith a hundred black dinars;and their salutes were those of the Imperial Guard In the Mother of all Wars.I smelled the wide Tigris,the river smell that lifts the airin a city such as this;but down on my head fell the barbarian sunthat knows no armistice.As I made my way down Palestine StreetI saw a Cruise missile,a slow and silver caravanon its slow and silver mile,and a beggar child turned up his faceand blessed it with a smile.under the yellow palmsI saw their branches hung with yellow datesall sweeter than salaams,and when that same child reached up to touch,the fruit fell in his arms.The Yellow PalmCLICK HERE TO PLAYby Robert Minhinnick
6 Palestine Street Al-Rasheed Street A major street in Baghdad (also called Falastin Street).FUN FACT: the street that inspired the poet was actually Al-Rasheed Street“I remember one interviewee telling me about the hundreds of types of palm tree found in Baghdad, and the effect of traffic pollution and warfare on those trees.”
7 Key analysis pointsUnder Saddam Hussein there were many human rights abuses within the country, notably against the Kurds. From 1980 to 1988 Iraq was at war with its neighbour Iran. In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War. Most recently, in 2003, an American-led coalition, including British forces, invaded.Contextual detail gives us some idea of where the poem is set – currency (dinars), quotation from Saddam Hussain (‘mother of all wars’), river (Tigris)The poem describes the effects of conflict on the people of the city.The voice of the poem is that of someone observing events.Each stanza/sentence focuses on detail of a specific ‘snapshot’ imageThe poem focuses on a city marred by conflict, violence and sufferingSome positive images counteract this – can you find images or ideas suggesting beauty, kindness, co-operation and peace?
8 As I made my way down Palestine Street I watched a funeral pass – No blame is attached here, we are just given an objective presentation of grief.1st image introduces death and grief.As I made my way down Palestine StreetI watched a funeral pass –all the women waving lilac stemsaround a coffin made of glassand the face of the man who lay withinwho had breathed a poison gas.Chemical weapons such as mustard gas and chlorine gas were used against Iran during the Iran–Iraq War and against the Kurdish minority. Also echoes other conflicts (e.g. WW1, gas chambers).Look out for use of senses and colour to bring depiction of city to life.
9 As I made my way down Palestine Street I heard the call to prayer Devout nature of the city’s inhabitants is corroded by warfare.Repetition of first line in all stanzas –effect?As I made my way down Palestine StreetI heard the call to prayerand I stopped at the door of the golden mosqueto watch the faithful therebut there was blood on the walls and the muezzin’s eyeswere wild with his despair.Muezzin – the person who calls the faithful to prayer at mosque
11 As I made my way down Palestine Street I met two blind beggars Even the soldiers are presented as victims.Alliteration emphasises certain phrases and details.As I made my way down Palestine StreetI met two blind beggarsAnd into their hands I pressed my handswith a hundred black dinars;and their salutes were those of the Imperial Guardin the Mother of all Wars.Why ‘black’?Imperial Guard – unit of volunteers (largely) who originally served as Saddam Hussein’s personal bodyguard – but their remit broadened into wider military involvement. President Saddam Hussein’s description of the first Gulf War.
12 River flowing through Baghdad No people in this stanza, just a sensual description of the city with the smell ofthe river.Structure – each of the 6 self-contained stanzas is a single, long sentenceWords of war – what others are there?As I made my way down Palestine StreetI smelled the wide Tigris,the river smell that lifts the airin a city such as this;but down on my head fell the barbarian sunthat knows no armistice.River flowing through BaghdadPersonification: city under attack from the sun – pervasiveness of war and being under constant attack.Irony, that the city is supposedly living in peace,which the sun doesn’t respect.Lots of sibilance– why?
13 As I made my way down Palestine Street I saw a Cruise missile, Cruise missile: a guided missile that can carry conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Cruise missiles were used by both ‘sides’ during the first Gulf War.Striking imagery - metaphor.As I made my way down Palestine StreetI saw a Cruise missile,a slow and silver caravanon its slow and silver mile,and a beggar child turned up his faceand blessed it with a smile.CARAVAN:1. group of travellers journeying together for safety when passing through deserts, hostile territory, etc.2. a large covered vehicle for conveying passengers, goods, etc.Deliberate image of innocence - cruel irony that the child ‘blessed’ the apparently magical flying bomb with a ‘smile’ – an emphasis on the fact these are peace-loving and innocent people.
14 As I made my way down Palestine Street under the yellow palms A date-producing tree frequently mentioned in the Qu’ran. The tree’s leaves, bark and fruit are used for a variety of purposes including timber, rope, food and fuel.an Arabic greeting meaning ‘peace’ used mainly by Muslims throughout the world. In Middle East, accompanied by two or three light cheek kisses, usually between people of the same gender.As I made my way down Palestine Streetunder the yellow palmsI saw their branches hung with yellow datesall sweeter than salaams,and when that same child reached up to touch,the fruit fell in his arms.The Cruise missile or the fruit? Cruise missile likened to fruit?Childhood innocence destroyed by war?References to ‘salaams’ and the beauty and bounty of the palm tree counters the images of war and violence – optimistic ending?Ambiguous ending: alternative paths for the future of Baghdad? Gathering bounty? Or falling of the fruit? Or is the war seen by the future as their ‘fruit’?
15 QuestionsThe poem is full of colour. What impression do the colours give of the city?Consider the voice of the speaker and the tone of the poem. How does this contribute to the impact of the poem?Is this an optimistic or a pessimistic poem? Find evidence for either interpretation of the poem.
16 Structure and form Loosely in the form of a ballad poem. From 14th century used to tell a tragic story. Very traditional form.Simple language and images, repeated refrain, rhyme scheme of ABCBDB.Usually 4 lines per stanzas, 6 here.Effect?Reassuring familiarity in an unfamiliar city?Allows us to concentrate on the disturbing images and ideas rather than trying to ‘interpret’ the poem.
17 Structure and FormWell suited to presenting a view of the city and its people, crumbling under constant conflict.The simplicity of the form has a powerful impact: intense and complex situation told simply.6 vignettes (snapshots, sketches) of life in the city which accumulate to show the overall slow destruction of the city - made more poignant by the glimpses of beauty and peace that appear (women with lilac flowers, prayer, mosque, smiles, blessing, etc).Juxtaposition of beauty and peace with war and violence: ‘golden mosque’ despoiled with blood, the blind beggars are ghosts of former selves, a Cruise missile entrances a child.• Sensual imagery – look carefully at the verbs showing what the poet does. This suggests a place full of colour, life and movement, and a tangible tension with the destruction and devastation which is also there.Ambiguity Minhinnick presents the reader with many contradictory details. In Stanza 4, the smell of the Tigris ‘lifts’ the air, then ‘down … fell the barbarian sun’. In Stanza 3, the act of giving is rewarded with a military salute. Is the city rising or falling, or is its future perhaps in the balance?