‘In Wales, wanting to be Italian’ by Imtiaz Dharker is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. These lines do not follow a specific pattern of rhyme, but there are moments of half or slant rhyme scattered throughout the text. For example, the endings of lines one and two of the first stanza are consonant rhymes, but not full rhymes. The same can be said about the endings of lines two and three of the third stanza. Assonance, or vowel rhyme, can be seen throughout the ends of the second stanza. All of these end-words employ an “o” sound, some short, some long.
As one might expect within contemporary poetry, there is no pattern of meter either. The lines are quite varied in length, some reaching ten words, others sticking to four or five.
Explore In Wales, wanting to be Italian
The poem begins with the speaker asking a question. This is only the first of many as she looks for the right descriptor for what it means to be young and what to be anywhere other than where “you” are. Throughout the text, the speaker gives a number of examples. She thinks of how someone would want to be French or Italian, rather than being from Bombay, Glasgow, or Wales.
This is a longing that comes with youth, and which is based around a false premise that someone, somewhere is living the perfect life. One that exists without troubles, mundane boredom, or routine of any kind.
You can read the full poem here.
One of the most important themes of ‘In Wales, wanting to be Italian’ is longing. In the text, it takes one particular form, longing for another life in which one feels they are special, or at least interesting. It can be seen through the examples of lives lived in Zanzibar and Italy. As well as in France where one can “shrug and pout” and be understood. The poet connects this longing specifically to young people who always think that another place is better than their own.
This leads directly into another important theme of ‘In Wales, wanting to be Italian’: identity. As the speaker considers the different ways that people live, she is also considering what her identity means to her, and how easily she would discard it if she could. She gives one interesting and specific example, Freddie Mercury, whose real name was Farrokh Bulsara. He was able to say he was from Zanzibar as it was his place birth, but at times ignored his Indian heritage. Mercury found it more investing to focus on Zanzibar than India, this is the exact kind of transition the speaker is talking about.
Analysis of In Wales, wanting to be Italian
Is there a name for that thing
you do when you are young?
Fremdlandischgehörenlust or perhaps
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker, who is the poet herself, begins by asking the listener a question. She is trying to figure out if there is a name for a specific thing,
[…] you do when you are young?
This “thing” is the longing one has to be someone else, or live somewhere else in the world. Dharker explained this sensation as similar to feeling as though real life is happening in another country, anywhere that “you” aren’t. She also relates the feeling to a youthful perspective. Any person could feel this, but specifically the emotion related to her own youth growing up in Glasgow and wanting to be elsewhere.
The poet suggests that maybe the word is in another language that she doesn’t know. She thinks that perhaps it is a German word. Or, since one does not come to mind, it still needs to be made up. Lines six and seven of the first stanza feature long, German seeming, imaginary words the poet chose as possibilities for these emotions. They are purposefully ridiculous and amusing.
The second stanza is shorter than the first, with only four lines. The speaker asks another question that takes up the entire stanza. She is again inquiring about “What it is called” to live somewhere and be “dying” to be someone or somewhere else. The speaker, at times, has been,
dying to be French, dying to shrug and pout
and make yourself understood
without saying a word?
These are interesting additions to the text as they speak to her desire for what she sees as a more interesting and cultured life, but also to a more solid connection with her own identity. These lines suggest that she wishes she was understood better, and thinks life might make more sense elsewhere.
Have you ever felt like that, being
from somewhere like Zanzibar?
The third stanza of ‘In Wales, wanting to be Italian’ is also a quatrain, meaning it contains four lines. As one might expect, it too is a long question. It is here that she mentions the famous lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury. She uses Mercury as an example of someone stretching their heritage to make themselves seem a little more interesting. The speaker contrasts Bombay, India with Zanzibar, Tanzania. She sees the latter is much preferable, just as she thinks Mercury did.
What is it called? Being sixteen
impossibly pointed shoes?
The fourth stanza of ‘In Wales, wanting to be Italian’ is longer at seven lines. There is another question, this one repetition of the opening line of the poem. She asks again, “What is it called?” The speaker wonders what word she should use for the feeling one has when they are “sixteen / in Wales” and dreaming of being “Italian.” With this solid identity in mind, she’d be,
able to say aloud,
without embarrassment, Bella! Bella!
The speaker would also spend time as she thinks Italians do, hanging out by a Vespa, smoking, and wearing “impossibly pointed shoes.” These are of course the most basic assumptions of what it means to be Italian, but they are what a young person dreaming of another life would know. These stereotypical ways of living do not come with the drab mundanity that in the real world, everyone experiences.