Analysis of Poem Tissue by Imtiaz Dharker

Updated on May 13, 2019
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker
Imtiaz Dharker | Source

Imtiaz Dharker and A Summary of Tissue

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 through.

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 poets own words:

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

Imtiaz Dharker, a 'Scottish Muslim Calvinist', is both 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 depth....to 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.

Religious Connection in the poem Tissue?

In Tissue the speaker refers to a piece of paper found in the back of a book, the Koran (for example) which is the holy book of the Muslim faith. On that paper are written the names of family members, suggesting a long relationship with the Koran and Allah, God.

Religion is seen as part of the fabric of life, another element within the extended metaphor.

Tissue


Paper that lets the light

shine through, this

is what could alter things.

Paper thinned by age or touching,


the kind you find in well-used books,

the back of the Koran, where a hand

has written in the names and histories,

who was born to whom,


the height and weight, who

died where and how, on which sepia date,

pages smoothed and stroked and turned

transparent with attention.


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.


Maps too. The sun shines through

their borderlines, the marks

that rivers make, roads,

railtracks, mountainfolds,


Fine slips from grocery shops

that say how much was sold

and what was paid by credit card

might fly our lives like paper kites.


An architect could use all this,

place layer over layer, luminous

script over numbers over line,

and never wish to build again with brick


or block, but let the daylight break

through capitals and monoliths,

through the shapes that pride can make,

find a way to trace a grand design


with living tissue, raise a structure

never meant to last,

of paper smoothed and stroked

and thinned to be transparent,


turned into your skin.

Analysis of Tissue Stanza by Stanza

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 use....by 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 for 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 use...an 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 skin...is 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

Alliteration

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...

Assonance

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

Caesura

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

died where and how, on which sepia date,

Enjambment

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.

Simile

Comparison between two things:

might fly our lives like paper kites

Tissue - The Sources

www.bloodaxe.com

Being Alive, Bloodaxe, Neil Astley, 2004

www.guardian.com

© 2019 Andrew Spacey

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