Gillian Clarke Poems
Readings of ‘Catrin’ by Gillian Clarke and ‘The Deliverer’ by Tishani Doshi: The Use of Poetic Technique to Address the Impact of Childbirth
Doshi’s ‘The Deliverer’ is set in Kerala in a centre designed to help the children that have been rejected by society due to their gender, deformities and skin. The immorality of the scene depicted by the description of ‘naked in the streets’ and ‘stuffed’ into bags (referring to children) creates the semantic field of carelessness. These terms insinuate children are regarded as property not a living being deserving of care and love. This is reinforced by the dog that thinks the children are ‘bone or wood’ implying children are seen as an expendable and useless resource by parents unless they provide financial or societal benefit (male or fully able). A contrasting tone is shown within ‘Caitrin’ as the metaphor of ‘tight red rope of love’ (actually an umbilical cord) is used to convey the immediate and vehement emotional connection between the mother and the child. The use of ‘tight’ suggests the mother is immediately protective over her child, and Clarke uses enjambment in order to isolate this word at the end of a line emphasising its emotive impact. This contrasts with the objectification of children within ‘The Deliverer’ highlighting the social differences how the value of life is considered.
The fact the child was buried alive acts as a metaphor for how those considered inferior are at the bottom of society and seen as ‘dirt’. This links to the compassionless tone within the first three stanzas reflecting the lack of empathy shown by mothers and fathers, as they are ‘collect[ed]’ much like a useless commodity found in abundance contrasting the Western ideal of children. The title in itself has a double meaning as the deliverer could also be delivery from God highlighting how desperate the children are for some form of salvation which is shown to be provided by the American family in the fourth stanza. Additionally, the imagery of ‘waiting at the gates’ implies this is heaven to the child and they are the ‘Gods’ further inferring they had the ability to choose life or death for the child. The part in Milwaukee Airport draws many parallels to ‘Caitrin’ as the parents are entirely focused in the child and it is described as a ‘ceremony’ which implies childbirth/children are respected and given care, as shown within ‘Caitrin’ when the mother speaks of ‘tender[nes]’and ‘love’ creating a semantic field of care, much like in the stanzas five to eight. In ‘Caitrin’ the entire poem centres around the struggle of birth and the child whereas in ‘The Deliverer’ the childbirth is trivialised by placing it a single line and talking about it in a blasé manner – ‘body slither out from body’. The repetition of ‘body’ and its equivocal meaning of either being dead or the scientific term for our self-dehumanises both the child and the woman suggesting they are regarded by society as simply a vessel to produce babies.
The adjective ‘slither’ implies the action was committed with ease whereas the use of ‘struggle’ in ‘Caitrin’ suggests it was a hard task. This shows the stark contrast between the approach towards childbirth as ‘slither’ suggests it is a frequent occurrence whereas ‘struggle’ implies the act of childbirth is a considered decision both from an economical perspective and physical reinforcing the difference between western and Indian society. The contrast between the two realities is immediately shown in the fourth stanza when the Americans are described as doing ‘things right’. The connotations of ‘right’ are integral to the meaning of the poem as the morality of the Americans is emphasised by the use of ‘right’ and it reinforces the dramatic difference between the societies. The description of Kerala has no personal pronouns dehumanising the children whereas in the USA they repeatedly use ‘her’ implying she is more valued in this new world. The use of ‘touched’ and ‘crying’ creates a contrasting semantic field of care and emotive attachment, demonstrating how Doshi is insinuating women have the ability to create emotional attachments (in America) to children due to their privileged and ‘traditional’ lifestyle. The writer creates a theme of acceptance of this immorality In Kerala through the lack of emotive language and trivialisation of new life (‘covered in garbage’ and ‘tossed’) and combining this with the fact it is written from the perspective of a woman you could argue the writer is highlighting through literary devices that women in Kerala are disenfranchised by their society due to submission to men. This is shown by the fact after producing a child who is considered undesirable they simply ‘lie down for their men again’. The use of ‘lie down’ and how it suggests she is physically lower acts as a metaphor for women’s standing in society and how they are considered inferior.
The fact that in ‘Caitrin’ gender is not discussed once implies that in this more socially advanced society woman and men are both considered of equal worth. Reinforcing this the child is described as ‘defiant’ implying within this world people go against societal expectations and forge their own path as opposed to lying down and surmising to the patriarchy. There is an overbearing tone of entrapment of women due to economic pressure is displayed throughout as they are forced into immorality due to economic issues and these issues are a product of male dominance (‘lie’). Ambiguity is also prevalent as the term ‘collect’ has a double meaning of accumulation whilst also dehumanising the children to objects. This reiterates the vague morals of society and how they are twisted. In addition to this it reflects the tumultuous nature of their existence. This contrasts starkly with ‘Caitrin’ which highlights how the woman is free once the baby and mother become ‘separate’ implying they are more revered within their society. The consistent three-line stanzas in ‘The Deliverer’ is also used to convey the cyclical and perpetual nature of childbirth and how women are subject to this. This is contrasted by the two separate stanzas which highlight how childbirth is an infrequent carefully considered decision not forced upon the women.
Both poems are heavily influenced by the societies in which they are set. ‘The Deliverer’ attempts to convey the dramatic difference through very apparent volta placed at the point where the writer begins to describe American society. How the ‘clean’ and ‘disinfected room’ in ‘Caitlin’ appears so different to the ‘desolate hut’ in ‘The Deliverer’, showing the different societies’ perceptions and approaches to childbirth through physical environments.