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Mini-essay approach 33
Suggested further reading 35
Introduction A guide to this resource These materials aim to support both practitioners and learners. Learners will apply skills they build in English: Analysis and Evaluation (N5) and which are sampled by the course assessment: Section 2 Critical Reading Part 2. To achieve this, learners are encouraged to work collaboratively and actively at the outset of tasks while working towards independent learning as the activities progress.
Pre-reading task One of the skills that will be demanded on the course is the ability to work independently. To help with this, try the taster homework activity below.
Use the resources below to write a 10-line paragraph about Edwin Morgan. This will be a piece of biographical research. The purpose of this is to give you (and your readers) information about the man and his poetry.
Pictures of Old Glasgow
http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/e/edwinmorgan.asp has an interview with Morgan by Liz Lochhead.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00mr8yj/profiles/edwin-morgan provides a useful survey of Morgan’s works.
www.EdwinMorgan.com has a helpful biography for learners.
The Edwin Morgan Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library contains a timeline of his life.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/english/poetry/morgan/revision/1/ contains a useful audio feature allowing you to listen to the material. The booknotes section also contains notes on In the Snack bar and is helpful for revision.
https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/ab/B106-Higher/poetry-king-billy/ has notes on King Billy.
Pair and share task Now that you have completed the taster, identify three key facts about Morgan the poet and share these with your partner.
Text list There are six poems in this collection. Morgan’s poems here deal with people, places and animals.
People In the Snack Bar deals with the theme of the isolation in society of the disabled and centres on an old man who struggles to do even the most basic things in the most ordinary of settings, a cafe in Glasgow.
Good Friday has a range of themes centring on alcoholism and religion. This is shown through the reflections of a man on a bus, again in the centre of Glasgow.
Trio’s themes also focus on religion, and also on another aspect of Glasgow life – friendship and taking pleasure in the simplest of things.
Places Winter is set in Glasgow and deals with the theme of change centred on an observation by the narrator of a scene at Bingham’s pond near Great Western Road.
Slate sees a shift in setting in both time and place, but still deals with the theme of change and nature. This time the setting is not Glasgow, but the creation of another part of Scotland – the Isle of Lewis.
Animals Hyena is the only poem in the collection to deal with an animal – the hyena of the title. Morgan sees value in even a hated scavenger such as a hyena and challenges us to see it in a new light. The themes are basic: death, life and survival. The setting for the poem is certainly far from Glasgow – Africa.
The poetry of Edwin Morgan In the Snack Bar ‘Exploding’ a text This method of annotating a text really helps you to decode what is going on in it. Here, the opening lines are exploded for you to allow you to see how they work.
Read the opening section of the poem and the comment boxes. A cup capsizes along the formica,
slithering with a dull clatter.
A few heads turn in the crowded evening snack bar.
An old man is trying to get to his feet
from the low round stool fixed to the floor .
In pairs, fill in the blanks for lines 7–11. Use the technique, quotation, effect (TQE) technique to help. Line 6 has been done for you.
Stretching out the action by placing it at the start of the sentence
Slows down time
Stands … stained
Sounds like sigh
Now you try to do the same, in pairs, with the next nine lines of the poem, from ‘Even on his feet ...’ to ‘I want – to go to the toilet.’
Tip! Use the TQE technique to help and remember that many of the techniques might have been used already.
Guide to annotation If you are using a computer, follow the guide below to annotate small sections of the text (anything larger might infringe copyright) as you have seen in the exploded section at the opening. This can be a very helpful way of generating, sharing and debating issues in the text.
Open a Word document.
Go to the tab at top of page which reads ‘Review’.
Highlight the part of the text on which you wish to comment.
Click ‘New comment’ on the toolbar at the top of the page.
Add your comments to the comment box to the right of the poem.
Expert commentary The next section of the poem adds to the pathos of the old man as we discover that not only is he hunch-backed, he is also blind and ‘half-paralysed’. The unnamed narrator, through whose eyes we are allowed to observe the events in the cafe, responds to the man’s request to go to the toilet.
The next sequence describes, in intricate detail, their joint journey to the toilet and it reminds us of the stranger who helped Jesus bear his cross on the road to Calvary, although this reads more like a journey of descent into Hell rather than an ascent into Heaven.
It is difficult for the narrator to communicate with the man as his physical disability is mirrored in his inability to communicate fluently. They both, however, make it to the toilet, where the narrator dutifully waits for the man. The man depends fully on others. This is one effect of his disability. He requires support even for the most basic and simple of things, like washing his hands.
The reverse journey reminds us of the myth of Sisyphus: a sinner condemned in Tartarus (a Hell-like place in Greek mythology) to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. Simple things for us are, to the old man like huge, heroic actions.
Tasks Google search ‘Calvary’. What is Morgan trying to achieve by using this reference?
Google search ‘Sisyphus’. What point is Morgan trying to make by using this myth?
At the end of this sequence, the narrator helps the old man onto a bus where the conductor also struggles to communicate with him.
The final part of the poem returns to the thoughts of the narrator, who reflects on the meeting and, in doing so, engages the reader in the events within and outwith the poem.
A final thought What would you do in the narrator’s situation?
Textual analysis Textual analysis forms part of the English National 5 assessment Component 1 — question paper: reading , Section 2, Critical Reading in which you are asked to read an extract from a text you have previously studied and then attempt to answer questions on it. It is worth 20 marks and you are advised to spend 45 minutes on it in the Critical Reading paper.
This activity examines your ability to analyse part of a text and then relate this to the remainder of the text and to another text or texts by the same author. Let’s start slowly. Read lines 1–24 of the poem again.
Now read these questions:
1 Identify two of the poem’s main themes. (The idea of a theme is explained on page 8. Read it before attempting this question.) 2
2 Show how any two examples of the poet’s language highlight the themes. 4
3 This part of the poem contrasts with the earlier part. In what ways? 2
In the textual analysis paper you will also be asked a final question that could be tackled as either a mini essay or a series of short answers. We will look in more detail at this type of question later. Right now, just read the question below.
4 By referring closely to this text and at least one other poem by Morgan, show how he uses language effectively to create characters with whom we sympathise.
Now try to answer questions 1–3, in pairs.
Markers’ meeting Continue to work in pairs. Once you have completed the task, scan read the answer key at the back of this resource. Then swap jotters with your partner. Each of you should apply the answer key to your partner’s written answers. How many marks would you gain? How many would you lose? Why?
Creating your own questions Work in groups of four. Read the last 13 lines of the poem then create three questions of your own. These might be on:
understanding (of the extract)
analysis (of the techniques used in the extract and their effects)
evaluation (of the impact on you of their effectiveness).
You should also create a marking key.
Themes__Themes'>Themes Themes: These are the main concerns of the text. They are the issues in it. They represent why the writer chose to write it to draw the wider aspectsof the text to the attention of readers.
Read the themes below then identify specific parts of the text that show the theme being examined.
The disabled in society. Do we do enough to help them?
Their dependence on wider society.
Their steadfast refusal to give in to fate.
The difficulties faced by disabled people.
The lack of real communication between the rest of us and the disabled.
Word choice: used to gain our sympathy for the old man.
Word order: used to slow down the action.
Repetition: used to evoke sympathy for the man as the difficulty of his movements is described.
Caesura: used to slow the action to put us in the old man’s position.
Imagery: creates sympathy for the old man. Simile: ‘Like a monstrous animal caught in a tent’. Shows the views of others in the snack bar.
Narrative stance: We, as readers, realise that he is a terrible sight. As such, we feel sorry for him as we see the events not through their eyes, but through the eyes of the more humane observer/narrator. The poem starts in the third person then shades into the use of the first person in line 16 to show the narrator’s gradual interest being absorbed by the events and the man. At first detached, he is later sympathetic to the old man’s plight. The attitude of the narrator changes as the poem develops from pathos and empathy to admiration, and this tracks the journey of the reader through the poem as we absorb his growing emotional attachment to the man.
In pairs, find examples of these techniques from any part of the poem and write down their effects using the TQE technique you used earlier. Here is an example:
Word choice is often used by Morgan to gain the sympathy of the audience for the man in the poem.
In line 4, for example, he uses the words ‘old man’ and ‘trying to get to his feet’.
It is not a ‘young’ man who is struggling to find his feet; it is an ‘old’ man. Our automatic reaction would normally be to hurry to the aid of the man as the idea of supporting the weak, frail or elderly is simply part of our moral DNA. In addition to this, the poet’s use of the present participle ‘trying’ conveys the idea that we are watching the process of the man’s attempts to regain his footing and that he is not being entirely successful. He is struggling. Who will help?
The 8-mark question Sample question By referring closely to this text and at least one other poem by Morgan, show how he uses language effectively to create a character(s) with whom we sympathise.
You can answer this kind of question in bullet points or write a number of linked statements or even write a mini essay.
This type of question asks for the identification of effective language techniques to create characters with whom we sympathise.
Four marks can be awarded for making specific reference to the extract.
Four more marks are available for appropriate references to the other poem(s).
Let’s begin by looking at the most likely poems to choose for this question.
Look at the technique mapping section. Which two would you choose?
In the Snack Bar is the chosen text so you have to find at least one other. Trio certainly contains characters with whom we might sympathise. Although Good Fridaycontains a character, it might be difficult to argue that he is worthy of sympathy, although it is certainly possible.
Let’s stick with In the Snack Bar and Trio.
Tasks What techniques are used in the extract to gain our sympathy for the disabled man?
Write these down. You might also wish to refer to the technique mapping page to help.
Now think about Trio. What techniques are used to gain our sympathies for the trio?
Examples of a bullet-point approach and a mini-essay approach are given at the end, but don’t look at them until you have completed these tasks.
Good Friday In the last poem, we compared the old man’s journey to that of Christ travelling to Calvary to be crucified on the Friday before Easter Sunday. This is the day Morgan has chosen to set this next poem.
Specifically, it is set at exactly three o’clock, the hour at which Christ is thought to have died on the cross.
Title → Content If we add the definite (a) or indefinite (the) articles to the title, how does it change? The omission of these leaves us in no doubt that this is a reference to the crucifixion, even down to the specific time.
Let’s look at how the text develops. Here, the first few lines are exploded for you.
Good Friday Three o’clock. The bus lurches
Round into the sun. ‘D’s this go – ‘
He flops beside me – right along Bath Street?
–Oh tha’s, tha’s all right, see I’ve
Got to get some Easter eggs for the kiddies.
Now you try to do the same, in pairs, with the next ten lines of the poem, from ‘I’ve had a wee drink ...’ to ‘see what I mean?’
Tips! You might wish to comment on some of the techniques identified already, such as the use of word choice, dashes, understatement, irony and repetition. Use the TQE technique. This is shown for you below.
Technique Quotation Explanation
Line 6 Understatement wee drink
Line 7 Irony funny day
Line 8 Word choice celebrating
Lines 9–10 Repetition
Lines 13–16 Dashes
Commentary In the next section of the poem, the drunk man focuses on his lack of education and uses this to justify his own lack of understanding of the significance of Easter. His circular journey, like Christ’s own journey to Calvary, ends with him leaving the bus unsteadily, heading ‘into the sun’.
Research the journey of Christ to Calvary.
Think about how Christ’s journey and the drunk man’s journey are both similar and different.
Read the sections below on themes and techniques, and then try to show where these themes/techniques appear in the poem specifically.
Working class versus educated middle class
English versus Scots
The role of alcohol in Scottish society
Word choice: use of Scots versus standard English.
Punctuation: used to stop and start the conversation to mimic both the man’s fractured speech and the stop–start motion of the bus.
Irony Christ’s journey to Calvary was punctuated by stops as he tried to recover his strength for the next phase of the journey. This was the reality of the Passion. The man’s journey is very different, although his destination is Bath Street, which is one of the highest points in Glasgow. This suggests that the direction of travel was upwards.
Symbolism: references to the sun could be literal as they drive into the sunshine. It was also reported that when Christ died on the cross, the former bright sunshine turned to darkness. The reference could also refer to the son of God, ie Christ himself.
Typography: concerns anything on the page except the words. The layout of the last four lines actually looks like the stairs of a bus.
Repetition: to suggest the man’s drunkenness.
Narrative stance: On the surface, this is a drunken conversation, but we realise that the narrator never replies. As such, it is really a monologue, an account of the man’s reflections spoken to himself, as if he is having a conversation with himself on the journey.
Trio The third poem in the collection, Trio, shares a similar setting to those already covered: Glasgow and specifically Buchanan Street, with its bustling shops. The setting in time is never given for In the Snack Bar, but there is a very specific setting for Good Friday (Easter) and for Trio (Christmas).
The religious thread is clear in all three poems. In the case of Trio, the theme is of celebration, ironically because religion does not matter – the message is that we should take pleasure in the simple things in life.
Morgan uses the motif of journey in all three poems. In this case, the journey reminds us of that of the Magi – the three wise men who travelled to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the newborn Christ. These have been replaced by one man and two young women. Their ‘gifts’ are not the gold, frankincense and myrrh of the Biblical story, but a guitar, a very young baby and a Chihuahua.
The title of the poem makes us think of:
the number three, which suggests completeness in Hebrew thinking
a musical trio
the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The word order is altered in the opening lines:
‘Coming up Buchanan Street, quickly, on a sharp winter evening
A young man and two girls,’
The normal order would be:
‘A young man and two girls [are] coming up Buchanan Street, quickly, on a sharp winter evening,’
The changed order emphasises their movement up Buchanan Street. This is further emphasised by the adverb ‘quickly’ as they are trying to stay warm because it is a ‘sharp winter evening’.
The sentence structures are then repeated with some variation in the lines:
‘The young man carries a new guitar in his arms,
The girl on the inside carries a very young baby,
And the girl on the outside carries a Chihuahua.’
The perspective/point of view is of a narrator observing events in the present from higher up Buchanan Street as the trio approaches him/her.
The mood/tone is boisterous: ‘Wait till he sees this but!’
The three are clearly on their way to visit someone. This is revealed as they pass the narrator and continue to climb Buchanan Street. They all have things to show ‘him’ – the person they are visiting.
Modelled textual analysis response Read the questions below and then the sample responses. Finally, judge, in pairs, how well the responses answer the questions.
In lines 6 and 7, an atmosphere of happiness is created. How is this continued in lines 8–10?
What are the themes of this poem as expressed in lines 16–19?
Sample responses 1. The exclamation mark at the end of the expression ‘Wait till he sees this but!’
Word order. Placing ‘but’ at the end of the sentence adds to the excitement.
Use of colloquial language conveys happiness as he thinks about the reaction his gift will bring.
The image of the Chihuahua, a tiny dog, with its equally tiny tartan coat, makes the reader (and perhaps the narrator) smile.
Bright colours of the Royal Stewart tartan.
The incongruity of the Royal Stewart tartan on such a small dog.
2. The ‘vale of tears’ is a metaphor for the challenges life throws at us. Morgan is arguing that in the face of this trio, life’s tribulations are weak and ‘powerless’. As such, they ‘abdicate[s]’ or resign in the face of the joy and happiness of the trio. Here, fate or life’s difficulties are likened to a king who gives up his throne.
Try this next task in pairs.
Using your own words, explain the meaning of lines 20–27.
Sample critical essay In the Critical Reading examination paper, you have 45 minutes to write a critical essay on a previously studied text from drama, prose, poetry, film and TV drama, or language study.
In the examination, you might choose to use your knowledge of Morgan’s poetry to respond to either a textual analysis or a critical essay, but not both using the same author.
The sample answer below is ‘exploded’ to show you how it answers the critical essay question.
Read the task and then the essay, in pairs.
Now read the comments, in pairs.
Finally, add five additional comments of your own that you think would strengthen the essay.
Question Choose a poem that deals with an unusual theme. Show how the language used by the poet makes the theme clear.
Trio, by Edwin Morgan, appropriately, deals with three themes: religion, friendship and the fact that living life to the full can combat all the negative things that life has to throw at us.
The poem’s title, Trio, suggests a range of things: a musical trio, the mystical number three or even the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christianity. The setting is then given – Buchanan Street in Glasgow – and we are introduced to the main characters, who constitute the trio, ‘a young man ... the girl on the inside ... and the girl on the outside’.
Here, we are struck by two things. First, the sentence structure is unusual, with the subject of the sentence, ‘a young man and two girls’ delayed until the second line. This emphasises their movement, ‘coming up’ Buchanan Street towards the narrator, who observes their movements from a higher elevation. Second, their movements are fast; it is cold so they move ‘quickly’ on this ‘sharp winter evening’.
The narrator goes on to describe what they are carrying and this is done through the use of repeated sentence structures with some variation:
‘The young man carries a new guitar in his arms,
the girl on the inside carries a very young baby,
and the girl on the outside carries a Chihuahua.’
Each then bears a gift. This is also happening at Christmas, which makes us think of the journey of the Magi, who travelled to Bethlehem to offer gifts for the newborn Christ. The gifts are completely unlike those brought by the Three Wise Men – gold, frankincense and myrrh. That there is a ‘very young baby’ among them reinforces the biblical associations. Their gifts are all simply what makes each of them happy: the guitar, the dog and the baby.
So, they bear similarities to the Magi, but significant differences too. Their journey is unstated but the impression we get is that they are visiting a friend or relative at Christmas, which is a very common thing to do, although their ‘gifts’ are unlike the exotic gifts of the Magi.
The impression we receive of the characters is that they are happy. Their collective ‘breath’ is described through the metaphor of the ‘cloud of happiness’. Their breathing has merged into one cloud, which could suggest the idea of Heaven as we often imagine it typified in this way.
The characters contrast strongly with the environment surrounding them. It is cold and by implication dark as it is an evening in deepest winter. They, however, generate warmth, colour, light and boisterous energy.
As they approach the narrator, s/he hears the boy say: ‘Wait till he sees this, but!’ indicating that the characters are intending to visit a friend or perhaps a relative.
The focus then shifts to the ‘gifts’. The Chihuahua is incongruously dressed in Royal Stewart tartan, the tartan of the Scottish kings. It is a bright, warm, vibrant colour. The humour of the scene is further developed in the simile comparing the dog’s coat to a teapot cover. Here, the ‘high’ is juxtaposed with the ‘low’ and the ordinary as both are equally important in the poet’s eyes. Despite the incongruous dress, the dog is clearly loved.
The next ‘gift’ is the baby itself. It, too, is full of light matching the ‘Christmas lights’ of line 2 and contrasting with the darkness and coldness of the setting in general. Synecdoche is used here to show just how happy the baby is: ‘All bright eyes and mouth’. Finally in this section of the poem, a simile is used to compare the baby to the ‘favours’ we might find in a wedding cake. Again, the impression is that the baby is loved.
The next movement is to the final ‘gift’, the guitar, and its descriptions are very unusual. It ‘swells’ under its ‘milky’ plastic cover. This suggests that it is pregnant, full of life and vibrant. The ‘milky’ plastic cover also makes us think of the milk the baby will drink. The main idea here is of new life.
Morgan then makes reference to the very modern symbols of Christmas: tinsel and mistletoe. The latter symbolises fertility and illumination, while the former is a bright decoration of Christmas presents.
The poet then takes us from Biblical references to the nativity to Greek mythology and specifically the tale of Orpheus, the Greek musician, who could charm all things living and dead with his music. He used this power to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hell. This use of allusion creates the impression that the trio is very powerful and capable of defeating the ‘vale of tears’, which is a reference to Christian belief in the trials and tribulations of daily life.
The key theme of this work is very unusual and the next line of the poem highlights it very well.
‘Whether Christ is born, or is not born, you
Put paid to fate,’
The trio has the power to counter life’s challenges and ‘put paid to fate’.
This is very interesting, unusual and unexpected because the poem is set at Christmas, contains close references to the nativity, mimics the journey of the Magi and yet its ultimate message is not Christian – it is simply that rejoicing in the simple things like friendship will see us through the dark times.
This thematic message is conveyed clearly at the close of the poem, where Morgan begins to use regal, mythical and military imagery to carry his key theme and so fate is seen as a king forced into humiliating abdication. The monsters, not of myth and fairytale, but of the year, are the daily and weekly trials against which we have to struggle in our lives. These are not mentioned overtly, but we know what they are: money worries, debt, concern for the future, sickness and so on. These are the ‘monsters of the year’: the things we battle all year long. In the face of such a trio and their camaraderie, these things are ‘scattered’ like an army in defeat as they are unable to ‘bear this march of three.’
The final image with which we are left in the poem is of the trio guarding against the ‘monsters of the year’ with plain, simple laughter – an unusual theme indeed.