The Yellow Palm by Robert Minhinnick

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Today we are learning to …
• Understand and analyse The Yellow Palm by
Robert Minhinnick
Where? When? What?
Iran/Iraq War / First Persian Gulf War
1980-1988
First Gulf War - USA v Iraq (over Kuwait)
1990-1991
Robert Minhinnick
‘Robert Minhinnick is a
poet of the moment… his
best work takes you and
places you slap bang in
the middle of an
experience. Like a mini
tardis.’ (The Big Issue)
• Born 1952, South Wales
• A poet, essayist and novelist.
• Travelled widely - poems such as ‘The
Yellow Palm’ and ‘After the Stealth
Bomber’ refer to the first Gulf War and
draw on his visit to Iraq in 1998.
• Here he was informed about the many
varieties of palm trees in the city and their
importance for food andshade. He was
also told how the palm trees had suffered
from pollution and warfare.
• In a recent interview he said he does not
intend his poems to have a moral message
• The poet explains that he tries in his
poems to combine drama, colour and
texture
• He says, ‘I think in images and I like to
write in images. That's what writing is all
about’
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I watched a funeral pass –
all the women waving lilac stems
around a coffin made of glass
and the face of the man who lay within
who had breathed a poison gas.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I heard the call to prayer
and I stopped at the door of the golden mosque
to watch the faithful there
but there was blood on the walls and the muezzin’s eyes
were wild with his despair.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I saw a Cruise missile,
a slow and silver caravan
on its slow and silver mile,
and a beggar child turned up his face
and blessed it with a smile.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
under the yellow palms
I saw their branches hung with yellow dates
all sweeter than salaams,
and when that same child reached up to touch,
the fruit fell in his arms.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I met two blind beggars
And into their hands I pressed my hands
with a hundred black dinars;
and their salutes were those of the Imperial Guard I
n the Mother of all Wars.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I smelled the wide Tigris,
the river smell that lifts the air
in a city such as this;
but down on my head fell the barbarian sun
that knows no armistice.
The Yellow
Palm
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by Robert Minhinnick
Palestine
Street
Al-Rasheed
Street
• A major street in Baghdad (also called Falastin
Street).
• FUN FACT: the street that inspired the poet was
actually Al-Rasheed Street
• “I remember one interviewee telling me about
the hundreds of types of palm tree found in
Baghdad, and the effect of traffic pollution and
warfare on those trees.”
Key analysis points
1. Under Saddam Hussein there were many human rights abuses
within the country, notably against the Kurds. From 1980 to 1988
Iraq was at war with its neighbour Iran. In 1990 Iraq invaded
Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War. Most recently, in 2003, an
American-led coalition, including British forces, invaded.
2. Contextual detail gives us some idea of where the poem is set – currency
(dinars), quotation from Saddam Hussain (‘mother of all wars’), river
(Tigris)
3. The poem describes the effects of conflict on the people of the city.
4. The voice of the poem is that of someone observing events.
5. Each stanza/sentence focuses on detail of a specific ‘snapshot’ image
6. The poem focuses on a city marred by conflict, violence and suffering
7. Some positive images counteract this – can you find images or ideas
suggesting beauty, kindness, co-operation and peace?
1st image
introduces death
and grief.
No blame is attached here, we are just
given an objective presentation of grief.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I watched a funeral pass –
all the women waving lilac stems
around a coffin made of glass
and the face of the man who lay within
who had breathed a poison gas.
Look out for use of senses
and colour to bring
depiction of city to life.
Chemical weapons such as mustard gas
and chlorine gas were used against Iran
during the Iran–Iraq War and against the
Kurdish minority. Also echoes other
conflicts (e.g. WW1, gas chambers).
Repetition of first line in all
stanzas –effect?
Devout nature of the city’s
inhabitants is corroded by warfare.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I heard the call to prayer
and I stopped at the door of the golden mosque
to watch the faithful there
but there was blood on the walls and the muezzin’s eyes
were wild with his despair.
Muezzin – the person who calls the
faithful to prayer at mosque
Alliteration
emphasises certain
phrases and
details.
Even the soldiers
are presented as
victims.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I met two blind beggars
And into their hands I pressed my hands
Why ‘black’?
with a hundred black dinars;
and their salutes were those of the Imperial Guard
in the Mother of all Wars.
President Saddam
Hussein’s description of
the first Gulf War.
Imperial Guard – unit of volunteers (largely)
who originally served as Saddam Hussein’s
personal bodyguard – but their remit
broadened into wider military involvement.
No people in this stanza,
just a sensual description of
the city with the smell of
the river.
Words of war –
what others
are there?
Structure – each of the 6
self-contained stanzas is a
single, long sentence
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I smelled the wide Tigris,
River flowing
through
the river smell that lifts the air
Baghdad
in a city such as this;
but down on my head fell the barbarian sun
that knows no armistice.
Irony, that the city is
supposedly living in peace,
which the sun doesn’t
respect.
Personification: city under attack
from the sun – pervasiveness of war
and being under constant attack.
Lots of sibilance– why?
Cruise missile: a guided missile that can carry conventional,
chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Cruise missiles were
used by both ‘sides’ during the first Gulf War.
Striking imagery metaphor.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
I saw a Cruise missile,
a slow and silver caravan
on its slow and silver mile,
and a beggar child turned up his face
and blessed it with a smile.
Deliberate image of innocence - cruel
irony that the child ‘blessed’ the
apparently magical flying bomb with a
‘smile’ – an emphasis on the fact these are
peace-loving and innocent people.
CARAVAN:
1. group of travellers journeying
together for safety when passing
through deserts, hostile territory, etc.
2. a large covered vehicle for
conveying passengers, goods, etc.
A date-producing tree frequently
mentioned in the Qu’ran. The tree’s
leaves, bark and fruit are used for a
variety of purposes including
timber, rope, food and fuel.
an Arabic greeting meaning ‘peace’
used mainly by Muslims throughout
the world. In Middle East,
accompanied by two or three light
cheek kisses, usually between
people of the same gender.
As I made my way down Palestine Street
The Cruise missile
under the yellow palms
or the fruit?
I saw their branches hung with yellow dates
Cruise missile
likened to fruit?
all sweeter than salaams,
and when that same child reached up to touch,
the fruit fell in his arms.
Childhood innocence destroyed by war?
References to ‘salaams’ and the
beauty and bounty of the palm tree
counters the images of war and
violence – optimistic ending?
Ambiguous ending: alternative paths for the
future of Baghdad? Gathering bounty? Or
falling of the fruit? Or is the war seen by the
future as their ‘fruit’?
Questions
• The poem is full of colour. What impression do
the colours give of the city?
• Consider the voice of the speaker and the
tone of the poem. How does this contribute to
the impact of the poem?
• Is this an optimistic or a pessimistic poem?
Find evidence for either interpretation of the
poem.
Structure and form
• Loosely in the form of a ballad poem.
• From 14th century used to tell a tragic story. Very
traditional form.
• Simple language and images, repeated refrain,
rhyme scheme of ABCBDB.
• Usually 4 lines per stanzas, 6 here.
• Effect?
– Reassuring familiarity in an unfamiliar city?
– Allows us to concentrate on the disturbing images and
ideas rather than trying to ‘interpret’ the poem.
Structure and Form
• Well suited to presenting a view of the city and its people, crumbling under
constant conflict.
• The simplicity of the form has a powerful impact: intense and complex situation
told simply.
• 6 vignettes (snapshots, sketches) of life in the city which accumulate to show the
overall slow destruction of the city - made more poignant by the glimpses of
beauty and peace that appear (women with lilac flowers, prayer, mosque, smiles,
blessing, etc).
• Juxtaposition of beauty and peace with war and violence: ‘golden mosque’
despoiled with blood, the blind beggars are ghosts of former selves, a Cruise
missile entrances a child.
• • Sensual imagery – look carefully at the verbs showing what the poet does. This
suggests a place full of colour, life and movement, and a tangible tension with
the destruction and devastation which is also there.
• Ambiguity Minhinnick presents the reader with many contradictory details. In
Stanza 4, the smell of the Tigris ‘lifts’ the air, then ‘down … fell the barbarian
sun’. In Stanza 3, the act of giving is rewarded with a military salute. Is the city
rising or falling, or is its future perhaps in the balance?
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