Glasgow 5th March 1971

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  • Topic: Poetry, Parable of the Good Samaritan, Style
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Intermediate 2 Critical Essay

Section C - Poetry – 45 minutes - 25 marks

Choose a poem which describes a scene or incident vividly. Briefly state what is being described and then go on to show how the poetic techniques used make the description vivid.

Poetic Techniques Link to Task Question

Edwin Morgan’s vivid visual poem “Glasgow 5 March 1971” deals with the themes of violence, crime, apathy and responsibility.This poem is all about street violence and how people don’t get involved. “Glasgow 5 March 1971” is a very dramatic visual poem about a “young man and his girl” who get pushed through a window by some thieves and are not helped by the passing drivers. The poet is commenting on the individualism of modern society and telling us not to stand by and watch others suffer and that we need to stop the violence in our society. It is about how society accepts violence without objecting, whilst pretending to object. In this poem, Morgan freezes a dramatic moment in time in a vivid manner. This essay will show how the poet uses an attention-grabbing opening, effective word choice and imagery to capture a moment in time which changes everything. It will then go on to show how realistic violence, everyday characters and an underlying message help to present the poet’s ideas and to add excitement and emotion to the incident he describes.

The first way Morgan dramatises the incident is through an attention grabbing opening. The very first four lines pull the reader into the moment:

“With a ragged diamond

of shattered plate glass
a young man and his girl
are falling backwards into a shop window.”

Morgan uses enjambment to create a sense of urgency to the poem. It becomes fast paced and exciting. The careful choice of words such as “ragged” and “shattered” have connotations of damage, and give us the impression that something is wrong, although we do not yet know what. This hooks the reader makes the opening lines seem breathless.

Excellent visual imagery is another way in which the incident described is brought to life:

“Their arms are starfished out

braced for impact,
their faces show surprise, shock
and the beginning of pain.”

This is one or Morgan’s “instamatic” poems, in which he freezes a single moment in time, like a photograph made from words. In this moment, he uses a metaphor “starfished” to describe the way their arms are spread-eagled for balance. The present-continuous tense is used. This creates the impression that it is happening in front of the reader, or perhaps is even a statement by Morgan that this kind of violence is always going on in our society. Finally, the visual imagery of the poem adds to its impact. The couple’s expressions are detailed by the poet to build on the drama, caught in the moment between the onset of shock and the arrival of pain.

In “Glasgow March 1971”, the poet creates a particularly vivid description of a violent incident. One of the most powerful ways he does this is by describing the injuries to the victims:

“The young man’s face is bristling with fragments of glass”

Morgan uses a metaphor to create a disturbing picture of the young man’s face. The shards of glass seem to make a beard, there are so many. This is effective because it shows us how many pieces are embedded, and how badly he will be scarred. Perhaps this is also symbolic of how this incident will change the young man and make him feel older/sadder. This is a very realistic scene, and this horrible image is one of the ways the scene is made vivid and memorable.

Morgan makes the scene seem realistic by using everyday, familiar characters who readers can recognise and identify with. For example, those attacked in the poem are described as “a young man and his girl”. The word...
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