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Poem for My Sister

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Prim Vudhichamnong

on 27 October 2014

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Transcript of Poem for My Sister

Liz Lochhead is a scottish poet and playwright.

She was born in Motherwell and raised in Newarthill, North Lanarkshire, and later attended Glasgow School of Art. She lectured in fine art for eight years before becoming a professional writer.

She also has a sister who is ten years younger.
What's the poem about? Who is it for?
The older sister is concerned about her younger sister growing up and making the wrong choices. She's scared that her sister will grow up to make mistakes and face the inevitable problems like she did. The younger sister wants to be like her older sister, according to the poem as she desperately tries to wear her sister's high heels and saying that they fit her perfectly when they did not. The poem also tells us that her younger sister is at a difficult stage of her life for she is stuck between being a child and being a teen, since she "wobbles" in the high heels.

The poem is in 1st person and its voice is of an older sister speaking of her younger sister as she reflects the issue of children (her sibling) growing up to herself. Although Lochhead's opinion and purpose of writing this poem may be personal since she has a younger sister who is ten years younger than her, this poem could be speaking out to the world in general too: conveying the fact that children often have issues as they grow up to become teens. The poem also tells us that there's a large age gap between the two sisters - meaning that the poem could be written especially for Lochhead's little sister.
Diction - Stanza 1
At first the choices of words in the first stanza creates a joyous atmosphere, full of happiness and movement: "likes," "strut," "admire," "perfectly." These words convey the fact that the little sister is innocent and hopeful as she struts around in her older sister's high heels.

However, the joyous atmosphere is destroyed soon after in the next line with a "but" followed by a string of negative words - which eradicates the previous flawless, innocent image. The word 'wobble' tells us how the little sister cannot physically cope with wearing grown up shoes, suggesting that she is wobbling between childhood and adulthood. The author strengthens the negative feeling of first stanza in the last two lines by adding in the word "hard." This tells us that the little sister is facing problems and hinting that not everything is easy.

The word “high heels” is also used. This suggests a sense of feminism and a lady-like appearance. Since high heels are rather hard to walk in, they limit the abilities of the person who wears it. Hence, an idea is suggested, stating that it’s difficult living the life of a woman.

My little sister likes to try my shoes,
to strut in them,
admire her spindle-thin twelve-year-old legs
in this season's styles.
She says they fit her perfectly,
but wobbles
on their high heels, they're
hard to balance.

I like to watch my little sister
playing hopscotch,
admire the neat hops-and-skips of her,
their quick peck,
never-missing their mark, not
over-stepping the line.
She is competent at peever.

I try to warn my little sister
about unsuitable shoes,
point out my own distorted feet, the callouses,
odd patches of hard skin.
I should not like to see her
in my shoes.
I wish she could stay
sure footed,
sensibly shod.
Liz Lochhead
Poem for My Sister
Poetic techniques
Season's styles
-for emphasis

High Heels
-for emphasis

Quick peck

This consonance and its sound suggests the short and fast movement of the younger sister's hops while playing hopscotch.

-Controlling metaphor
"I should not like to see her in my shoes, I wish she should stay sure footed, sensibly shod."
"...point out my own distorted feet, the callouses,..."

Shoes are compared to life as the older sister's distorted feet is compared to mistakes and problems that are faced in life (the consequences). This controlling metaphor creates a deeper meaning to the seemingly simple topic of the poem.

Liz Lochhead
Liz Lochhead
Varying lines?
Effects of short lines:
In stanza 1, short lines are used to emphasize the ''instability'' of the younger sister when she's at a difficult stage of her life.

"but wobbles''
''hard to balance

In stanza 2, the short lines are used to emphasize on the younger sister’s actions and movement. For example, "their quick peck."
This creates an effect that her little sister's movement whilst hopping was fast and short, thus creating some kind of image in our mind. (Not only does the short line suggests this but also the consonance, the word choices and the sound of the line.)

In stanza 3, short lines are used to emphasize the words
"shoes," "sure-footed"
"sensibly shod."
This tells us how much the older sister cares for her younger sister and is emphasizing on how important it is to stay put and avoid making mistakes in life.

Mood, Tone, Theme
The poem has multiple tones. At first, the tone is nostalgic for the word ''admire'' suggests so. As the poem progresses on, the tone becomes one of frustration and desperation, as the words ''try'' and ''wish'' are used. The older sister caring for her younger sister also suggests a tone of "concern" as shown in these lines:

"I should not like to see her
in my shoes,"

This poem revolves around sisterly love and care, as well as protecting a sibling. The theme is growing up and making choices. Overall, the general theme is the natural aging process in life which includes difficult stages and certain choices to be made (eg: transition of a child into an adolescent).

The mood of this poem is nostalgic for the older sister is reminiscing about her childhood days as she watches her little sister play hopscotch. This creates the mood of nostalgia as the reader goes through the poem with the voice of the older sister.

How does the poem convey its message?
*peever: scottish term for hopscotch
More on structure?
makes the poem flow continuously instead of the use of a usual rhythm and rhyme scheme. This makes the poem sound smooth as it moves forward. The enjambment also makes it seem as if the author is telling a story, for the effect of an enjambment is of a continuous movement, with no disruptions or any obvious rhythm.

is most likely used in this poem to help the rhythm flow and emphasize certain words rather than being an interruption.

"on their high heels, they're
hard to balance"

Without the
these lines won't make sense and won't flow as smoothly.

"point out my own distorted feet, the callouses,
odd patches of hard skin."

here is used to emphasize the consequences that the author had to face in life, along with listing the effects that the high heels has on the older sister.

The poem is written in free verses which means that there are varying line lengths and a lack of traditional meter with non rhyming lines. There are three stanzas in the poem.
Varying lines?
Effects of long lines:
Similar to the effects of enjambments, the use of long and continuous lines makes the poem flow swiftly as if the speaker is telling a story.

The fact that the author is using alternating short and long lines emphasizes on the difficulties and obstacles her little sister is facing and encourages the idea that her little sister is in an unsteady state, for she is "wobbling" between the stages of childhood and adulthood, at the state of becoming an adolescent.

As the lines become longer, they could also indicate how ,as time passes, the age of the younger sister also increases, which links to the theme of the poem: growing up.
Diction - Stanza 2
In the second stanza, we get the image of the little sister playing a game of hopscotch. There is a hidden meaning to it for the author chooses to compare this game, in which children love to play, to childhood. This tells us that the younger sister finds life easy as a child and is very comfortable and content in her childhood. The words "competent" and the phrases "never-missing their mark" and "not over-stepping the line" suggests so, since the author is saying that the little sister is very skilled in playing hopscotch and never crosses the boundaries (the line).

"I like to watch my little sister..." and "neat hops-and-skits of hers"

This phrase also tells us that the author likes to watch her little sister play hopscotch, for her little sister never steps over the line. The line could be representing the limits that the author had placed for her little sister. The author does not wish for her little sister to step over the line and face problems, hence the liking of watching her little sister play hopscotch, since her little sister is very good at it.

Diction - Stanza 3
In the third stanza, the word choices are negative, all of them being related to the effect of the high heels on the author's feet : "distorted feet," "callouses," "odd patches," "hard skin." The phrases also contain a negative feeling, for example: "I try to warn my little sister about unsuitable shoes." The author is using her high heels as a controlling metaphor for life and her feet as the mistakes that she had made and problems that she had faced, due to the choices she took (which then led to harsh consequences).

The author also seems to despise the choices that she had made as she tries to warn her little sister against taking a bad path in life and having to face potentially bad consequences. Considering the fact that her sister's 12, which is the age when children start becoming teens and would want to act independently as opposed to doing what adults would want them to do.
By Penny, Prim, Nicholas
The poet uses a controlling metaphor to convey the poem's message to the readers, comparing the author's high heels to her life. This creates the feelings of love, care and protection that the older sister feels for her younger sister. Moreover, this poem also tells us how the older sister admires her younger sister. To start, the author of the poem speaks about how her little sister likes to try on her high heels, the next stanza is about how the author likes to watch her little sister play hopscotch. Next, she goes back to speaking about high heels and talks about her distorted feet, callouses, etc. Additionally, the 'weird' structure of the poem and the alternating short and long lines convey "instability" - which is what the author's little sister is facing as she wobbles between childhood and the stage of adolescence. Other devices which influence the message of the poem could also be found.
For instance, the sibilance in the last two lines and how it emphasizes
the fact that the author wants her sister to stay "sure-footed"
and "sensibly shod."
Full transcript