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Poem The Living Photograph: HOTs Questions + Answers

Complete the poem. Try not to refer to the text.

The Living Photograph


My small grandmother is tall there,
straight-back, white broderie anglaise (1)___________________,
pleated (2)____________, flat shoes, grey bun,
a kind, old (3)_________ round her eyes.
Her big hand (4)____________mine,
white hand in black hand.
Her sharp blue eyes look her own (5) ______________ in the eye.
It was (6) __________ after all; that look.
My tall grandmother became small.
Her back round and (7) _____________.
Her (8) _____________ forgot to boil.
She went to the (9) ____________ place grandmothers go.
Somewhere unknown, (10) ___________.
But there she is still,
in the photo with me at (11)____________,
the crinkled smile is still (12) _____________ , breathing.

Understanding the poem:

Stanza 1 tells us that in the photograph, grandmother looks “tall’ although she is supposed to be ‘small’. Her grandmother is still

youthful and has a “straight-back”. She is wearing a “white broderie anglaise shirt” and a “pleated skirt” which shows that she is a

woman of class, upper or middle. She is a kind and loving person. “Her big hand holds mine, white hand in black hand”-Perhaps,

the writer and her grandmother come from different ethnic background. The persona’s grandmother was a very brave person as she

was not afraid of death – “Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye.” Note that the poet used the present tense to describe

her grandmother.

In stanza 2, the persona refers to her grandma in past tense when describing her actual state before dying. Her grandmother began
to grow older and develop a hunch back. She had become forgetful as dementia sets in – “Her soup forgot to boil” before she died –

“She went to the awful place grandmothers go.” Perhaps as a young child, the persona didn’t understand what that place was, it

was just “unknown” and “unthinkable”.

Stanza 3 describes how the poet wants to remember her grandmother. The memory of her grandmother will definitely live on but

she doesn’t want to remember her as old and senile, but as how her grandmother was in the photo with her when she was only three

years old. She will always be remembered with her smile. Note that the present tense is used once again.

Language and Style

The language is clear and easy to understand. The Style is simple and direct to the point. There isn’t any clear rhyme scheme.

Tone and Mood

The tone heads towards a sense of strong family relationships. There is a lot of thought and love felt in the poem.

Point of View

The persona uses the words ‘my’ and ‘me’. Thus, it is in the first person point of view.

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Symbolism

The photograph symbolises the closeness between the grandmother and the persona. It highlights the feelings of the persona

towards her grandmother.

Themes

Positive image people create in remembrance of a departed person. Just like the persona we remember our dearly

departed persons by the great things about them. The persona wants to remember her grandma as how she was in the photo, not

the days before she died. When our loved ones die, we no longer see the ugly side of a person. We forget and forgive all their

shortcomings, when they die.

Coping with grief and loss. One excellent way to cope with grief and loss is to cling on the good memories of a person, instead

of remembering the bad. The persona coped with grief for the loss of her grandma by keeping it in her heart that although her

grandma is not with her anymore physically, she is still alive in her heart. She celebrates her grandmother’s life.

Moral Value

We must appreciate close family members while they are still alive. The poem teaches us that we must spend time with our loved

ones because when they are gone all that will be left are the memories of the time spent together.

Discussion

The poet, Jackie Kay, is half Scottish, half Nigerian, and she was adopted by a Scottish family. The persona could be the poet Ms

Jackie Kay herself, hence the “white hand in black hand”. The poet says that her grandmother is tall in the photo but later became

‘small’ as at the time the photo was taken her grandmother was younger. Her back was straight. Thus, she seemed taller. It could

also be because the writer was very young at the time -about three years old as mentioned in the last stanza. As her grandmother

grew older, her back became ‘round and hunched’. Therefore, she appeared ‘small’. Note that although the grandma is dead, she

refers to her in the present tense. This shows that she is alive in her heart, and that the state of her grandma in the photo is how she

wants to remember her. In the first stanza, the grandmother is strong and healthy in the photograph while in the second stanza the
grandmother is older and ill. In stanza 2, the grandmother is described in the past tense, this also shows that the persona is over the

tragedy; and her grandma is now dead. Overall, the poem is about how a photograph immortalises a person. This is shown in the

poem where she will always be remembered by the persona with the photograph although the grandmother is dead.

Exercise

1. Why do you think the grandmother wore flat shoes?


__________________________________________________________________________________

2. Why do you think the grandmother became small?


__________________________________________________________________________________

3. Why did the grandmother’s back become round and hunched?


__________________________________________________________________________________

4. According to the persona, where has the grandmother gone and why ‘there she is still’?
__________________________________________________________________________________

5. Why is the smile described as still living and breathing?


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__________________________________________________________________________________

6. Why did the grandmother go to that awful place?


__________________________________________________________________________________

7. Why was the place described as awful?


__________________________________________________________________________________

8. How do we know that the grandmother looked prim and proper?


__________________________________________________________________________________

9. ‘White hand in black hand’


What other feature mentioned in the stanza tell us the grandmother’s race? Provide reason to support
your answer.
Feature : __________________________________________________________________
Reason : __________________________________________________________________

10. ‘Her soup forgot to boil’


What other thing do you think the grandmother was likely to forget to do? Give a reason to support
your answer.
Thing : __________________________________________________________________
Reason : __________________________________________________________________

1. Why do you think her soup forgot to boil?


__________________________________________________________________
2.
Quality Evidence
Kind
Protective/caring
Fearless/ courageous
3. 'she went to the
Friendly
awful place grandmothers
go...
Do you think the persona understands about death? Provide a reason for answer,
Understanding: __________________________________________________________________.
Reason: ___________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________.

4. 'But there she is still'


How do you think the persona feels when she looks at the photograph? Provide a reason for your
answer.
Feeling : __________________________________________________________________
Reason : ___________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________.

5. Give one moral value one can learn from the poem.
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________

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