Read the full analysis of the poem Living Space by Imitiaz Dharker below. In this poem, she represents life in a less-privileged household. However, Dharker displays a strong sense of optimism and hope that may be unexpected in the poem’s setting.
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- Parallel – extending in the same direction; coordinate
- Beams – structural elements used to support weight in a building
- Crookedly Bent or twisted – not in a straight line
- Thrust – push in a specific direction
- Seams – the place where two pieces of material are held together
- Miraculous – extraordinary, supernatural
- Slanted – sloping
There are just not enough straight lines. That is the problem. None of the walls and floors are flat or parallel. Beams are held crookedly off supports thrusting upwards. Nails barely keep bits of wood hanging together. The whole structure leans dangerously, it’s a miracle it’s still standing. Into this rough frame house, someone has squeezed in to make a living space and even stores eggs in a wire cage, the delicate items hung at the dark edge, their white shine gathering in light as if they were the bright but thin walls of faith.
The poem ‘Living Space’ represents life in a less-privileged household. However, Dharker displays a strong sense of optimism and hope that may be unexpected in the poem’s setting. Whichever way you look at it, the poet’s voice remains encouraging, friendly, and light-hearted. Although the speaker does not portray poverty as a disgrace, she seems dissatisfied that there are no plans to mend the houses in the poem – ‘Beams balance crookedly…’ and ‘Nails clutch at open seams.’
The speaker uses real objects, for example, ‘these eggs in a wire basket’, to explain the way of life in ‘Living Space’. In developing societies, wire baskets are used for trapping rats. Implying that eggs are stored in rat traps gives the impression of a carefree world where people understand and tolerate each other. Although the living spaces are enough and dangerous, the people who live in them still have faith and determination to live.
Imagery – ‘Living Space’ is a poem rich with images that effectively convey the poet’s message. Dharker’s decision to focus on the faults around the home makes her message clear. She also maintains that the situation, however difficult, cannot stop existence. Her language is gentle and clear and is written in short, succinct sentences.
Adverbs – like ‘crookedly’, show how haphazard and unsafe the houses like those in the poem are. It is not difficult to visualise a congested slum area. The poet may have used the word ‘dangerously’ to suggest the real dangers of building collapse that is present in these areas.
Irony – it is a well-known fact that there is limited living space in Mumbai. Yet the poem is titled Living Space, something which has different connotations to people who are better off. Another tinge of irony may be discerned from the fact that the people in the poem seem content with their environment.
Sibilance – ‘someone has squeezed / a living space’ – the repeated ‘s’ sounds in these lines, coupled with the constrictive verb ‘squeezed’ convey a sense of claustrophobia and compression.
The poem contains a total of 88 words – excluding the title. The short and succinct nature of the poem drives the point home effectively. The reader gathers insight from the first line, ‘There are not just straight lines’. There, Dharker expresses a scene of disorganization. The poet communicates that beyond the structures, the social-economic affairs in ‘Living Space’ are disorderly right from the off.
This could also be a meta-reference to the poem itself. There are not enough straight lines (aka lines of poetry) to really describe the sad situation of the people living in these spaces.
Enjambment – ‘Beams / balance crookedly on supports / thrust off the vertical’, ‘Into this rough frame, / someone has squeezed / a living space’. Enjambment is often used like this in the poem, especially when the poet reflects on the state of the houses. Using enjambment, the poem is given an off-kilter rhythm that doesn’t read smoothly at first glance. The enjambment is also a visual metaphor for the slapdash construction of the living space being described – the beams are all over the place, just like the first few lines of the poem.
Caesura – the poem also opens with two caesurae. This is where a full stop breaks up a line in the middle. ‘Straight lines. That // is the problem’. This pause followed by a stanza break gives the line a strange look and feel, as it finishes unexpectedly. And it even continues with another enjambment. Again, these techniques are used to represent the messy arrangement of the construction in the house is described.
Rhyme – there are several instances of rhyming words that appear at the end of lines, to connect specific concepts together in meaning. These include, but are not limited to, ‘beams’ rhyming with ‘seams’; ‘crookedly’ with ‘dangerously’; ‘space’ and ‘place’; and ‘white’ with light’.
The rhyme scheme is irregular – it does not disturb the readers’ attention to the core message. It also represents the chaotic and unordered nature of the house is described – but there is some structure that remains.
The poet had the slums of Mumbai in mind in this work. Note that Mumbai is the destination of people from all over India who seek a better life. Such residences are made from easily available but sometimes dangerous materials like wooden beams, iron sheets and tarpaulin. In Africa, mud houses are not uncommon in poverty-stricken areas.
Imitiaz Dharker was born in Pakistan but grew up in Scotland. she has published collections of poems, often addressing the role of women in modern society, and others convey themes of identity and the search for meaning. She won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.
Her work echoes across diverse cultures. She has an avid interest in film production and has worked as a film director. Living Space celebrates life in these spaces as a miracle. Dharker does not depict poverty as a disgrace, but as a transition point towards better possibilities.
One of the primary intentions of the poem is to describe the living standards of people in less developed countries. However, Imtiaz Dharker seizes the moment to comment on those living in poverty. The following attitudes can be traced in Living Space.
The wonder of hope from people in poor conditions: the poem expresses wonder at how life can go on smoothly in such a place. The ‘bright’ walls of faith are hopeful signs for the future. They gather light as if they are growing. The poet describes them as ‘thin’ and ‘fragile’ however, which shows that although they have hope – nothing is secure.
Poverty is dangerous but people continue: the owner of this living space ‘dared’ to store eggs there. The nails ‘clutch at open seams’ to keep them together. The structure is ‘miraculous’ in how it survives. Despite their impoverished condition, people try their hardest to keep life going.
Faith and hope can protect: although they are fragile emotions, having hope and faith is a growing process. It gathers strength the more it endures. They are described as a wall, a fragile and thin one, but it keeps the dark and slanted universe away somewhat.
TASK: Research examples of different ways people arrange their living spaces around the world. Write a poem about it, or a short description of the one that inspires you the most.
- Living spaces
TASK: Pick two of these themes, make a mind map and add four separate quotations from the story that relates to it. Make a short analysis, explaining how and why each one relates to your theme. What, in your opinion, is the author’s final message or statement about each theme that you chose?