If you’re studying the AQA Power and Conflict poetry anthology, chances are you’ve come across Tissue and The Émigrée already. These are two of the trickiest poems in the entire anthology, but they also contain loads of fantastic ideas and beautiful language.

So, what’s the best way to get started with revision?

To get your notes up to scratch, BBC Bitesize has a fantastic study guide on each. Firstly, read through each poem yourself. Then, go through the BBC notes (or your class materials), making annotations on the language each poet uses, their overall message, any interesting context and structural points.

In case you need them, here’s The Émigrée Study Guide (by Carol Rumens) and here’s the Tissue Study Guide (by Imtiaz Dharker).

You could even listen to the poems read out loud (YouTube is great for this), to really get a feel for the emotions, tone and pace. Ask yourself, how do they make you feel – and what’s your personal reaction to the words and ideas?

Here’s Tissue:

And here’s The Émigrée:

Once you’re familiar with the ideas and language in each poem, it’s time to start thinking about how you’d put all this into an essay. I’ve created a sample GSCE essay below, comparing the themes of memory and identity.

Have a read through this, thinking about which points you like (and might use yourself), and which points you’d either improve or remove.

Ready? Here goes…

In The Émigrée by Carol Rumens, the poet deals with themes of memory and identity. Compare this with one other poem of your choice.

In both The Émigrée by Carol Rumens and Tissue by Imtiaz Dharker, both poets reference themes of memory, identity and the passage of time. While Rumens uses a city as an extended metaphor for life and the process of change, Dharker uses the central motif of paper. Despite the difference in their choice of metaphor, both poems deal with the transient aspects of human life and the conflicts we all experience – whether societally, historically or personally.

In the first stanza of The Émigrée, the speaker describes memories of their childhood city, experienced “sunlight-clear”. The use of pathetic fallacy creates a positive image of the city, which juxtaposes with the speaker’s later adult understanding of its darker reality. There are already darker hints foreshadowed in this first stanza however, as the speaker describes being “branded by an impression of sunlight”. The verb “branded” has violent connotations, often when someone is punished and marked for being wrong. In a similar way, Dharker uses light as a central idea throughout the poem, with the opening line describing “paper that lets the light shine through”. Like Rumen’s childhood innocence, this light could represent hope, positivity or even divine intervention in the world. Later, Dharker describes how the “sun shines through” and how “daylight” breaks through manmade capitals and monoliths to trace a “grand design”. This biblical reference to God’s creation of the world suggests that even with manmade greed, false borders and walls – hope and light can still shine through.

Building on the idea of light and positivity breaking through darkness and boundaries (whether in memory or reality), both poems also juxtapose manmade barriers with natural forms. Rumens uses language reminiscent of televised news broadcasts, describing how “time rolls its tanks” and “frontiers rise between us, close like waves”. The personification of time creates a destructive and menacing impression, suggesting the speaker’s childhood city is descending into conflict. Furthermore, the comparison with waves creates an impression that these violent changes are experienced like an unstoppable force. These comparisons are also made by Dharker, with “rivers, “roads”, “railtracks” and “mountainfolds” all listed as “borderlines”. By using a mixture of manmade and natural forms, the shifting nature of (supposedly) constant and unchanging boundaries is revealed. Adding to this flowing, shifting nature – both poems also use enjambment (in addition irregular rhyme, rhythm and stanza length) to great extent. With lines flowing on to one another (as well as between stanzas) even the self-created boundaries of the poetic form are eroded.

While Imtiaz Dharker builds on her own personal experiences of multiculturalism and emigration (having moved from Pakistan to Glasgow as a young woman), Carol Rumens was born and raised in South London. Nonetheless, like Dharker, Rumens shares a fascination with elsewhere. Many of her poems reference themes of identity and emigration. In the last stanzas of Tissue, Dharker references buildings and structures made from “living tissue” that are “never meant to last”. This could suggest how human memory will outlast the capitals, monoliths, and even “well-used books” and “slips from grocery shops” that record our lives and history. Ultimately however, even this living tissue thins “to be transparent”, reminding us that “your skin” (like paper and everything around us) will eventually wear down and disappear. The reference to time and mortality is also referenced in the final stanza of The Émigrée, where Rumens describes accusations of “being dark in their free city”, hearing mutters of “death” and how her “shadow falls as evidence of sunlight”. These sinister associations suggest a city that’s now under totalitarian control, but also the speaker coming to terms with the death of her old identity. Even so, there’s still “evidence” of sunlight – suggesting that hope is still present, even in the darkest days.

In conclusion…

Over to you! How would you summarise the arguments I’ve made in each paragraph? Take each in turn (summarising each paragraph in a single sentence) and use this to form the basis of your conclusion.

Bonus: What other poems would make good comparisons with The Émigrée and Tissue? Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

  • The Émigrée and Kamikaze? – Culture / Memory
  • Tissue and Ozymandias? – Power / Identity
  • Are there any other poems that deal with ideas about time, the fragility of human life, changing identity and culture?

Have a go either adding your own paragraphs to this essay (there are plenty of points you can make that I haven’t mentioned!) or even writing another essay linking these poems with others in the anthology. This also should help you decide what to keep in your revision notes (and what to leave out).

I hope this helps your revision for the poetry section of the AQA English Literature GCSE exam – and gives you some ideas about how to write about both Tissue and The Émigrée! If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below… and most importantly, good luck for revision and final exams.

More Power and Conflict sample poetry essays:

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