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Analysis of Poem 'Tissue' by Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker

'Tissue' Poem Analysis

'Tissue' is a deceptive short poem that takes the reader into the fragile worlds of paper, maps, imagined architecture and living human skin. Paper becomes an extended metaphor for all of life.

In this poem, everything seems connected, just like tissue itself - a number of living cells forming a thin structure through which light shines.

This poem was inspired by a discovery of the poet herself. She happened to find a piece of old paper at the back of a book and on it were names of people with birth dates and death dates.

So it was that the poet took off on a journey with words, beginning with a simple piece of paper that gave her the idea of connective tissue, connection to the human world of breath and skin, of life being a journey made possible by interconnected cells - tissue.

In the poet's own words:

...scraps of paper tell the real story of our lives...

Imtiaz Dharker, a 'Scottish Muslim Calvinist', is both a poet and filmmaker, so there is often a high degree of shifting imagery in many of her poems as she changes the angle of her poetic lens to focus in on different aspects of a theme.

In 'Tissue', the major themes are that of:

  • Fragility of human life - juxtaposed with the power of nature (light).
  • Dependence - on paper.
  • Recording and life communication - how words and paper combine.
  • Transformation - turning weakness into strength, surface into alter things.
  • Interconnectedness - how tissue literally and metaphorically allows life to happen.

The poem was first published in the book A Terrorist at My Table, 2006.



Stanza by Stanza Analysis

'Tissue' is a free verse poem of 10 stanzas, 9 of which are quatrains with the last being a single line. There are no end rhymes and the metre (meter in American English) varies from line to line.

So this is very much a conversational poem, it mirrors real-life speech - no full rhyme, no regular plodding iambic beats.

That title, 'Tissue', could mean several things - it is ambiguous. There's a tissue which means a thin paper wipe for blowing one's nose; thin skin tissue; internal membranes... tissue paper that artists keeping the title to one word the poet creates a sense of something all-encompassing.

Stanza 1

From the title the reader already has an overview of the theme - that of tissue, connecting, empowering, together with the idea of strength through fragility.

Paper is a translucent material, it allows light to pass through. Hold a piece of paper up to the light and you can see through it.

This is obvious enough, yet in the second and third lines, reached through enjambment (when one line runs into the next with no punctuation, helping build momentum, maintaining the sense) the abstract enters the equation.

The fact that paper allows light through, is helpless to stop nature, means that life can change, can be transformed. The speaker's ambiguity enters at an early stage and resonates throughout the poem.

The last line of this first stanza gives more detail to the reader - this is old paper, used by human hands.

Stanza 2

The emphasis is on a specific kind of paper, the family history written on it and placed in a special book, the Koran in this case, where generations are recorded, a common enough occurrence back in the day.

So the idea of tradition is reinforced - age, histories, well-used...

Stanza 3

The first three stanzas focus on this family connection. Individuals are given a special place and it is paper that unites them all. There is a sensuality to the lines...smoothed, stroked, turned...and yet no sense of personal involvement from the speaker. This narrative is so far a little distant.

Stanza 4

Things change in this stanza. The speaker is now revealed in the first person and the reader gets an insight into their imagination.

The image is of paper buildings, models perhaps, but remember that they are paper and that paper is a metaphor for life in this poem. They represent the fragility of life and the speaker is wondering if a sigh could knock them down, or the wind collapse them.

We humans are made of tissue, we may appear strong but fundamentally we're extremely susceptible, we are only here through the action of nature, which is all-powerful.

Stanza 5

The journey we take is sometimes political, we have to conform to boundaries and borders. Our lives are mapped out by nature which is unaffected by these conventional symbols on a map.

Note the pauses in this stanza, which slow the reader down but also the enjambment gives the reader a chance to flow from line to line.

Stanza 6

Fine slips are receipts, things we get when we make a purchase. We are held together by economies small and large, and the idea that money flies our lives is yet another strong image.

A thin string connects us to the earth; the money kite we cannot let go of.

Stanza 7

The architect connects with the buildings; the designer of things. The speaker's perspective changes again...could echo of could alter from the first stanza.

There is a hint of the ideal, of what humanity could become. Who is this architect? It could be God, or an intelligence, the creator of a different life.

Stanza 8

Out with the old life (bricks and blocks), in with the new, refreshed by nature (light). Light can get the better of pride and a new dawn help find humanity a way through.

Stanza 9

Things made to last - the brick and block designs - are no longer wanted? This is a tricky part of the poem, where the metaphorical meets the symbolic meets the surreal.

It is possible to read different things into these lines.

All that can be said is that a circle has been nearly completed....from the paper of the first stanza on which the lives of real people, flesh and blood, have been recorded, on to a life journey and through to the idea of transforming the structure of life so that it is at one with nature.

Stanza 10

The last line creates the image of a grand design finally becoming human...your that of the reader or anyone? We are all paper, the lines on our skin a record of who we are, where we have been, where we might go and what we might become.

Literary/Poetic Devices in Tissue


When two or more words close to each other in a line begin with the same consonant, bringing added texture to sound:

lets the light....who was born to whom...smoothed and stroked...rivers make, roads...


When two or more words with similar-sounding vowels are close to each other in a line, as with:

the kind you find....might fly our lives like paper kites


A break in a line often caused by punctuation. For example:

died where and how, on which sepia date,


When a line runs on into the next without punctuation, maintaining momentum and sense. Enjambment appears quite frequently. For example:

If buildings were paper, I might

feel their drift, see how easily

they fall away on a sigh, a shift

in the direction of the wind.


Comparison between two things:

might fly our lives like paper kites


Being Alive, Bloodaxe, Neil Astley, 2004

© 2019 Andrew Spacey