Box Room Liz Lochhead Essay Contest

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1 Box RoomLiz Lochead

2 SummaryThis poem is by the Scottish poet Liz Lochhead. It tells the story of a young woman (the speaker of the poem) visiting her boyfriend's childhood home to stay for the weekend. The speaker meets the boyfriend's mother, and after a perfunctory meeting, is shown to the small bedroom (box room) where she will be sleeping. It is the boyfriend's old childhood bedroom. The mother makes several barbed remarks which attempts to undermine the speaker'. It is clear that the mother is very protective of her son and does not approve of the speaker as his current girlfriend.

3 What you need to know… Imagery
Minor Sentences: sentences without a verbWord ChoiceEnjambment: Deliberately cutting off a line in the middle of a phrase to emphasise a word at the beginning or end of a line.Parenthesis: A pair of brackets.Direct SpeechImagery

4 Rhyming schemeRepetitionQuestionsPersonificationPun / Word playSymbolism

5 OxymoronAmbiguous or double meanings

6 Minor Sentences“First the welcoming. Smiles all round. A space for handshakes.”These minor sentences sound awkward and forced. This reflects the awkwardness as the two women greet each other.They almost sound like stage directions which suggests the two women are simply acting out the roles they know they should play, but actually dislike one another.

7 Word Choice “Friend” : “pathetic / shrine”
The capital F suggests that the mother has chosen this word carefully – she sees the speaker as only a friend, not a girlfriend. She makes this attitude clear through what she says.“pathetic / shrine”A shrine is a holy place of worship, usually for a saint or god. The word suggests the mother clings to her son as if she worships him. The speaker’s disgust at this is conveyed by the word “pathetic” which is a slamming condemnation of the mother.

8 Word Choice “self-defence”
By describing her laugh as self-defence, the speaker shows that she is aware of the conflict between herself and the mother; she is ready to battle the mother to keep hold of her boyfriend.“you grin gilt-edged from long discarded selves”“gilt-edged” means the pictures are in frames of gold. This hints at how the mother has turned the room into a “shrine” for the son, idolising him. However, he has changed over time as these photos are of “selves” that he has left behind.

9 Word Choice “closeted so – its dark”
Conveys a sense of claustrophobia and darkness. The room is literally small, but it also suggests the speaker feels trapped in her relationship.

10 Enjambment “A space / for handshakes” “my position / is precarious”
“Space” is emphasised at the end of the first line, suggesting that although the women are shaking hands, there is a ‘distance’ between them. This space is physically represented on the page by the gap between the end of this line and the start of the next.“my position / is precarious”Placing “position” at the end of the line imitates on the page how precarious the girl feels about her situation (in the relationship.) She feels like she is ‘on the edge’.

11 Parenthesis (Oh, with concern for my comfort)
This is almost like an aside – a comment being made to the reader by the speaker. Here, we sense irony – the girlfriend suggests the mother doesn’t care at all about her comfort.(But where do I fit into the picture?)These brackets contain a rhetorical question the speaker is asking of herself. She has been prompted by the pictures on the wall, but is actually questioning her place in her boyfriend’s life.

12 Direct Speech “…This room was always his – when he comes home
It’s here for him. Unless of course’ she said,‘He brings a Friend.’ She smiled ‘ I hope the bedIs soft enough? He’ll make do tonightIn the lounge on a put-u-up. All rightFor a night or two. Once or twice beforeHe’s slept there. It’ll all be find I’m sure – ”The speaker quotes the mothers words directly. By doing this, she makes the reader consider the mother’s words carefully. We detect the mother’s sarcasm and subtle digs and hints. (“make do” “a night or two” “once or twice before” etc..)Quoting the mother directly perhaps also suggests the speaker is mocking the mother. Her dislike is very clear.

13 Imagery (Metaphor) “her pathetic shrine to your lost boyhood”
The speaker calls the boxroom a shrine. She is suggesting that the mother has deliberately kept memories of the boy’s childhood alive, by devoting herself to keeping the room exactly the same as it was.“She must think she can brush off time with dust.”Here the speaker suggests that dust represents time and that by dusting the room and keeping it clean, the mother is trying to stop the passage of time – trying to cling to her son’s childhood.

14 Imagery“Your bookshelves are crowded with previous prizes, a selection of plots grown thin.”Physical books are compared with the boyfriend’s past relationships – relationships which have ended. “Crowded” suggests he has had a lot of previous girlfriends. “Grown thin” suggests they ended because he became bored with them, like someone becoming bored by reading the same story over and over again.

15 2nd verseExplain how the speaker is feeling in this section. Does she still feel secure in her relationship?What is the change in tone?Identify two rhetorical questions. What effect do they create?Identify personification. Explain the image.Think about the word “shatters”. What is the significance of this word?

16 First the welcoming. Smiles all round. A space
For handshakes. Then she put me in my place –(Oh, with concern for my comfort).

17 ……………………………‘This room
Was always his – when he comes homeIt’s here for him. Unless of course,’ she said,‘He brings a Friend.’ She smiled ‘I hope the bedIs soft enough? He’ll make do tonightIn the lounge on the put-u-up. All right

18 For a night or two. Once or twice before
He’s slept there. It’ll all be fine I’m sure –Next door if you want to wash your face.’Leaving me ‘peace to unpack’ she goes.

19 ……………………….My weekend case
(Lightweight, glossy, made of some syntheticMiracle) and I are left alone in her patheticShrine to your lost boyhood. She mustThink she can brush off time with dustFrom model aeroplanes. I laugh it off in self defence.Who have come for a weekend to state my permanence.

20 Peace to unpack – but I found none
In this spare room which once contained you. (Dun-Coloured walls, one small window which used to frameYour old horizons). What can I blameFor my unrest, insomnia?

21 ……………………….Persistent fear
Elbows me, embedded deeply hereIn an outgrown bed (Narrow, but no narrowerThan the single bed we sometimes share).On every side you grin gilt edged from long-discarded selves(But where do I fit into the picture?)

22 …………………………………Your bookshelves
Are crowded with previous prizes, a selectionOf plots grown thin. Your egg collectionShatters me – that now you have no interestIn. (You just took one from each, you never wrecked a nest,You said).

23 Invited guest among abandoned objects, my position
Is precarious, closeted so – it’s dark, your past a premonitionI can’t close my eyes to, I shiver despiteThe electric blanket and the deceptive mildness of the night.

24 Thinking about Character
Task:Draw a three ringed Venn Diagram. Label each ring for each character: Speaker, Mother, Boyfriend

25 Thinking about Character
Task:Write out any parts of the poem which tell you something about the character in the appropriate ring. Explain in a few words what this tells you.Are there any overlaps? Write these into the crossing sections of the diagram.


27 Point (what I will show in this paragraph)
Evidence (quote from the poem)Explain (explain how this proves my point, unpack any techniques, and give a personal reaction to theme)Link back to question (show how this answers the question)©

28 Writing about Character
Task: To write a mini essay (3 paragraphs) about each of the 3 characters and their role in the poem.S: The speaker / mother / boyfriend is…..Q: We know this because “……..”U: Demonstrate that you understand the quotation.A: Analyse techniques used in the quotation. Use technical vocabulary to show how the reader is made aware of this aspect of character. Mention the reader’s response / reaction.

29 Writing about Character
Task: To write a mini essay (3 paragraphs) about each of the 3 characters and their role in the poem.P: The speaker / mother / boyfriend is…..E: We know this because “……..”E: Demonstrate that you understand the quotation. Analyse techniques used in the quotation. Use technical vocabulary to show how the reader is made aware of this aspect of character. Mention the reader’s response / reaction.L: Link back to the question. What does it tell you about their role in the poem?

30 Character Peer Assessment Is there a clear opening statement (P)?
Does the quotation link to the statement?Is there a clear analysis, demonstrating understanding of the quotation?Have they used technical language in their analysis?Is there a link to the question?

31 ThemePast Motherly love Love Childhood Loneliness Doubt Sleep Jealousy AmbiguityWrite an explanation, including quotations, about how each of these words fits into the poem.See if you can add to the list.

32 ToneWrite about a poem which features a contrast or variety of different tones.Show what techniques the writer uses to create these tones and go on to explain how they give you a clearer understanding of the poem’s subject.

33 Stanza 1 – tone of defiance / aggressiveness / sarcasm
QuotePoints for Evaluation(Oh with concern for my comfort)Sarcasm created by the aside in brackets.Pathetic ShrineConnotations of ‘pathetic’Connotations of ‘shrine’She must think she can brush off time with dust from model aeroplanesMetaphor – time& dustAccusatory tone: repetition of “she”Illustrates the mother’s relationship with the son.I laugh it off in self-defence.Connotations of “self-defence” suggest a battle between the women.“Laugh” shows speaker’s attitude.Who have come for a weekend to state my permanenceEmphasis of being last line of stanza 1, reflects how defiant and strong the speaker feels.“Permanence” – demonstrates speaker’s intentions.

34 Essay Writing: Introductions
TextAuthorGenreLink to QuestionSummary

35 Analysis: Step One Identify the Technique
NAME THE TECHNIQUE BEING USEDEXPLAIN WHAT IS BEING DESCRIBEDWhen talking about ________ Lochhead uses [name technique]……When describing ____________ Lochhead employs a [name technique]In lines ______ Lochhead uses [name technique] when describing _______________The use of [name technique] helps give the reader an impression of ____________Using [name technique] in lines ________ helps give the reader a picture of _________The poet describes ____________________ in line ________ using [name technique]

36 Step Two: Explain how the technique works
Word Choice – give connotationsImagery (similes & metaphors) – identify the 2 things being comparedPersonification – explain what is being personifiedEnjambment – explain what word is emphasised and where it isParenthesis – explain what words are in parenthesis and whyAmbiguous meaning – what are the two possible meanings?

37 Step Three: Explain the effect
EXPLAIN WHY THE TECHNIQUE IS USEDWHAT DOES IT TELL THE READER ABOUT THE THING BEING DESCRIBED?REITERATE HOW IT RELATES TO THE QUESTION?E.G.What does it tell us about the characters in the poem?What does it add to the reader’s understanding of the whole situation?What does it make the reader think about?What does it tell us about the poet’s message?How does it relate to Lochhead’s theme?How does it make you feel?

38 Useful Evaluative Phrases:
ShowsSuggestsHintsIndicatesDemonstratesImpliesGives the impression of/that...IllustratesEvokesConjures up the idea of...Creates a feeling of...Brings to mind...

39 Box Room’ by Liz Lochhead is a poem which describes the encounter between a girl (speaker) and her boyfriend’s mother when she visits to stay for the weekend. The girlfriend spends time in the ‘box room’ of the title (the boyfriend’s old bedroom). The poem describes her encounter with the boyfriend’s mother, as well as her observations when in the room. Through its first-person account of the girl’s stay, the poem suggests that her surroundings affect her deeply, undermining the confidence she had about her relationship and reducing her to doubt. The ending suggests that the girl realises her boyfriend is not who she thought he was, and that the relationship cannot continue.There are two clear tones present in the poem. The defiant, assertive tone of the first stanza presents the speaker’s strong attitude when in conflict with the mother. However, there is a shift in the second stanza to a more doubtful, uncertain tone when the speaker begins to question her relationship. These two different tones are created through a number of techniques, including: the use of parenthesis, word choice, metaphor, oxymoron, questions and syntax.

40 Later in stanza two, the doubtful tone which is now well established, is furthered by the description of the “abandoned objects” in the room. Seemingly innocuous childhood items begin to take on deeper significances for the speaker as she considers her relationship. She is left feeling like her relationship is hanging in the balance. This is emphasised through her use of enjambment in line 33.

41 QThe phrase “my position / is precarious” is split between the two lines so that the word “position” is at the end of the line.

42 U+A+TAlthough she is literally talking about her position: being in the box room, the clever use of the line break conveys a different idea too. Placing the word “position” at the end of the line literally puts it in a ‘precarious’ place on the page – hanging off the end of the line. This reflects what it describes; it mirrors how the girl feels her place in the relationship is uncertain and could be about to end. This adds to the tone of the stanza, emphasising the uncertainty and instability the poet clearly feels. Not only does her stay in the box room make her feel uncomfortable in the boyfriend’s house, it also makes her feel uncomfortable in the relationship.

43 ConclusionsOnce you’ve completed the main body of your essay, write a conclusion summing up your response.Recap on the techniques you have mentioned and link back to the question once more.

44 ConclusionWhile this poem appears to be a straightforward description of an insignificant experience, it is made clear that the events described have had a major impact on the speaker.Overall I feel … … towards the girl / mother because…Through her use of [list the techniques you have mentioned] Lochhead creates a dramatic and unsettling picture of a relationship breaking down. The message of the poem is clearly that someone’s background and past are an important part of their character, and that the past can affect the present in many ways. In the opening stanza the reader sides with the speaker, admiring her strength of character and wit when in conflict with the mother. By the end of the poem, our sympathy has been cemented as we fully appreciate the speaker’s vulnerabilities exposed in the equivocatory second stanza. It is largely Lochhead’s skilful use of the two contrasting tones which achieve this effect.

Liz Lochhead is one of nature’s talkers, asking as many questions as she answers, and her anecdotes are thick with mentions of friends: good friends; dear friends; oldest, closest, best. It’s impossible not to experience her conversation as an extension of her poetry; a looser, less structured version of what Carol Ann Duffy, in her foreword to Lochhead’s 2011 A Choosing: Selected Poems, called her “warm broth of quirky rhythms, streetwise speech patterns, showbiz pizzazz, tender lyricism and Scots”. Lochhead’s voice, as in her verse, is rich and sensitive, frank and cheerfully vernacular. And the themes are there, too: nationality; female experience; a profound awareness of time, how we move through it, and how it moves through us. Dates matter to her: she sprinkles them in the titles of her poems (“1953”, “5th April 1990”), and in conversation is careful to get them right, pinning her past down precisely, day by day, year by year. And it becomes clear that 31 December – the day on which we talk – is a date that matters more than most. Alongside its keenly felt symbolism, which this year is underscored by the fact that 2016 will usher in the final month of her five-year tenure as Makar, Scotland’s national poet, New Year’s Eve also marks the anniversary of her relationship with her husband, who died suddenly half a decade ago, and whose absence opened a hole at the heart of her life around which she’s been edging ever since.

The catalyst for our interview was the announcement, on 21st December, that Lochhead had been chosen to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry by a panel headed by Duffy, in her role as poet laureate. Lochhead is only the 11th woman to have been awarded the prize since its inception in 1933, and the eighth Scot, and she’s elated. “When Carol Ann phoned me, I was desperately stuck on a poem about the Scottish parliament, which I’d been working on for ages,” she says. “So for a couple of weeks I felt mocked by it: this great award and I couldn’t finish a bloody poem! But after I finally got it handed in, I was purely thrilled. When you look at the list of who’s had it – Michael Longley, Don Paterson, all the way back to WH Auden and Charles Causley, who’s one of my absolute favourites – it’s a huge honour. Of course, there’s those on the list you’ve never heard of, so it’s not necessarily a step towards posterity. But there you go. I’m delighted to be in such company. And I’m looking forward to having tea with the Queen.” She’s bought a dress.

It’s all a far cry from the “little ex-mining village just outside Motherwell” where she grew up. Lochhead was born in 1947. Her mother and father had just returned from the war, and their homecoming, far from triumphal, turned out to be a muted business, stale and blank. “After the war/ was the dull country I was born in”, writes Lochhead in a poem about her early childhood. Lacking a home of their own, her parents were “squashed in with one set of grandparents then another” for the first eight years of their marriage, before “finally moving into their new council house in the very beginning of 1953. In UK history, 1953 was coronation year, but in our family history it’s the year we got the house. There’s always that difference between capital-H history and your own.”

For Lochhead, the gap has narrowed dramatically over the intervening years. She published her first poetry collection, Memo for Spring, in 1972. It won her a Scottish Arts Council book award, and turned out to be the first rung of a ladder that she’s ascended with alacrity. Despite a successful parallel career as a playwright, it’s for her poetry that she’s best known; she was named poet laureate of Glasgow in 2005, and in 2011 took over from Edwin Morgan as Makar. The everyday, low-lit scenes of high streets and schoolrooms that fill her poems stand as a necessary counterpoint to the picture postcard Scotland of lochs and moors and mountaintops. Through her writing, Lochhead has twined herself into her country’s history, both as a figure in it, in her role as national laureate, and an author of it.

Makar's a muckle of an honour | Liz Lochhead

What’s surprising is how close she came to going another way. Her teachers urged her to read English at university but, aged 15 “and a rebel”, it was painting that drew her; she set her heart on the Glasgow School of Art. Once there, she had fun, got drunk, fell in and out of love and made great friends, but she found that, when it came to the work, she “wasn’t getting on very well. I’d lost track, really. I passed, but I’d got lost.” The fashion at the time was for abstracts, and the lack of narrative bothered her; she turned to poetry for release and never really turned back.

According to legend it was at this point that she joined a writing group hosted by the poet and academic Philip Hobsbaum. The list of members reads like a rollcall of recent Glaswegian literary history: Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, Tom Leonard and Jeff Torrington are all on the bill. But when I mention it, Lochhead hoots. “There was no ‘group’ – we keep trying to tell everyone. I’d gone along to an evening class Philip was running the year I left art school, when I didn’t have anyone to talk to about poetry, and I met Jeff there. But Alasdair I met through winning a poetry prize, and it was he who introduced me to Tom. We all knew Philip, but separately: it wasn’t a formal thing; we didn’t all meet and discuss our work. But it doesn’t matter how many times you tell people – they always want to call it a group.”

We knew Philip Hobsbaum separately. It doesn’t matter how often you tell people – they always want to call us a group

Perhaps, I suggest, the persistence of the myth comes out of a need for narrative, too; the notion of a crucible out of which she, Gray, Kelman and the others all emerged to write late-20th-century Scotland into being is a seductive one. Yes, she says, but it’s nonsense – and in any case, at the time, she had no clear sense of herself as a Scottish writer. For years, in fact, she was a rover. The year after Memo for Spring came out, she moved to Bristol, then to Turkey with her boyfriend of the time, who “was a Turkish Marxist”. After a spell back in Scotland and some travelling with friends she spent a couple of years in Canada before meeting a guy in New York. But at the start of 1980 she was offered a job as writer-in-residence at the College of Art in Dundee, “and I couldn’t resist it. Plus, I found I was fed up being a foreigner. My boyfriend and I lived in the West Village and I remember the guys from our building saying to him, ‘I really like that Irish girl you’re going out with.’ I was sick of being taken for a pan-Celt. I hadn’t felt particularly Scottish beforehand. But after I came back, I thought: I live here.”

She met Tom Logan 30 years ago last October, though it was two months later at a Hogmanay party that they got together. “It’s your When Harry Met Sally dream, isn’t it? To kiss the love of your life on New Year’s Eve – though I didn’t know that’s who he was at the time; I just knew he was gorgeous.” It’s been five-and-a-half years since he died, but the pain of it is still raw in her voice as she speaks. Grief, she’s found, is a sly and deceptive visitor; on the big days you wait in fear of the knock, but “that’s not how it works, really. The other week I needed to mop something up, and the cloth I pulled out was a cut-up bit from some of Tom’s pyjamas. That wasn’t a special day, but it’s little things like that that give you intense moments of pain.” Still, she says, “I do dread this time of year. Christmas isn’t too bad – I run away with a friend who doesn’t celebrate it and watch telly. But the next day’s my birthday, and then there’s New Year’s Eve, and you can’t avoid it in Scotland, you’ve got to bring in the bells. And we always celebrated the new year and our anniversary together.”

Her appointment as Makar came “about six months after Tom died, and if it had happened any other time I’d have said no. But I got the phone call completely out of the blue, and I turned to my sister and said, ‘God, what should I do?’ And she said, ‘What would Tom say?’” Again, the catch in her voice. She accepted the role, and “it was a lifesaver, actually. It forced me to get out and to work. I’ve barely had time to draw breath. I counted up every day I performed over the last year, and it came to 102.” She gives a bewildered laugh. “Honestly it’s been great, but I’m looking forward to the freedom. It’ll be good to go back to writing what comes. I need that now.”

Becoming Makar forced me to get out and work. I counted up every day I performed over the last year, and it came to 102

Something, it seems, has shifted. After five years’ constant and necessary distraction, Lochhead is ready to slow down and look around. She has taken up painting again and plans to turn Logan’s workroom into a studio. She has crossed out the whole of June in her diary, leaving it open to whatever blows through. Over recent months she has finally felt able to write about her loss, too. “I didn’t set out to write about grief. I’d accepted a commission to write about my favourite place. But it didn’t come alive until I thought about my real favourite place: our old caravan up by Fort William, where we’d escape whenever we had the chance. And it just came out. I find that often happens: you’re stuck with something until the point where you go, ‘To hell with it, I’ll tell the truth.’ And you do that quickly and rawly, and it’s fine.”

About 2016 itself, she’s “feeling very positive. I’ve a new collection coming out to mark the end of my term as Makar, and seeing the Queen will be a wonderful, surreal start to things.” The announcement itself, she reminds me, was made on “the darkest day of 2015 – which was lovely, because it’s the day the light turns. There’s more light already; it doesn’t feel like it yet, but there is. I wrote about it once, in a poem called “In the Mid-Midwinter”. The light comes back. The light always comes back.”

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