My Mother’s Kitchen by Choman Hardi

My Mother’s Kitchen is an anecdotal poem which explores the various items that a mother is handing down to her daughter as she moves away. The mother does not seem to care about these items, and is willing to give up all of her possessions and ‘start from scratch’ so she can move back ‘home’. The mother has moved round a lot in her life, ‘it is her ninth time’.

Structurally, the poem is divided into three stanzas of various lengths. The first being 7 lines, the second 5 and the third 8. The rhyme is almost not existent, apart from a final rhyming couplet of ‘trees’ and ‘bees’. The truncated structure can be interpreted as a reflection of the mother’s erratic life. As the person is constantly moving, the regularity of structure is disrupted, reflecting this movement. The varying stanza length could also be a representation of the differing sizes of the objects mentioned in the poem.

There are a great deal of time periods spanned within the poem. The majority of the poem is looking towards the possible future, with the future ‘will’. Yet, flashes of the present, ‘never’, and glimpses of the past ‘used to’ echo throughout the poem. This poem is a reflection of a human experience, with the in-between nature of the tenses reflecting the in-betweenness of the immigrating family – moving between one culture and another.

 

Context to My Mother’s Kitchen

The poem was written in 2003, following the aftermath of the war in Iraq. Hardi’s parents decided to go home, so they were packing up to leave. Hardi is quoted as reading ‘actually that my mother’s kitchen is very much an immigrant’s kitchen’. This poem is a reflection of the real life occurrence within Hardi’s life. You can read the full poem here.

 

My Mother’s Kitchen Analysis

Stanza One

The first stanza begins with Hardi drawing attention to the personal aspect of the poem. Indeed, the first stanza begins with ‘I’ and follows swiftly with ‘my.’ This poem is not only one of family, but one which is a retelling of the events of Hardi’s life, with the obvious personal case being employed as a reflection of this.

The first stanza is dominated by a running off list of items that Hardi’s mother will be handing down. As discovered later in the poem, they have very little sentimental value, and therefore they are glossed over quickly. The use of polysyndeton, ‘and’, shows how Hardi is almost remembering the items as they go. It seems that no one really wants or cares about the items listed. Moreover, the use of enjambment throughout the stanza allows for the list to quickly be rattled off when reading through the poem. When read aloud, the reader almost runs out of breath going through the list, it becomes a burden alike on reader and poet.

The end of the first stanza employs speech to give the mother an element of characterisation. The mother focuses on ‘yet’ and ‘soon’, with the incoming future a suggestion that the mother is looking forward to moving on with her life, and leaving these items behind. She is characterised as someone with something to look forward to, in this case, the promise of returning to Iraq.

Read more:   At The Border, 1979 by Choman Hardi

 

Stanza Two

Interestingly, the poet presents the poet as ‘escaping…home’. This concept of escape is strange, seeing as how surely ‘home’ should be a place of comfort and familiarity, not something to escape to. Hardi uses this concept of the defamiliarsation of ‘home’ to relate to the immigrant experience. The family has been away from their ‘home’ for so long that it has become different. Indeed, the changes the country would have gone through during the war are vast.

The plans the mother has when she gets home characterise her ‘excited’ nature. The tense used primarily with the mother is ‘will’, always looking forward to her homecoming. The loving quality of taking a space and ‘refurnish[ing]’ it points further to the care the mother has within the poem. Although not sentimental, when she returns home she is excited to have an element of permanence to her belongings.

The shorter final line stands out centrally in the middle of My Mother’s Kitchen. It is also following an end stop, and closed by one, giving the line complete grammatical isolation. The elevation of the lines draws the reader in to attempt to unpack it. The Mother has moved ‘nine’ different times. This seems extreme, but perhaps gives an insight into why she has so little regard for her belongings. Indeed, this time she is actually returning ‘home’, so an element of excitement is evoked by the permanence. The bluntness of the line also categorises the immigrant experience within the poem, the family has been moved around so much, it is understandable how they can so easily detach themselves from all they own.

 

Stanza Three

The third stanza looks further at the items which will be ‘lost’ to history. There is an element of detachment between the mother and the belongings, with the repetition of ‘never’ exemplifying how little she thinks about the ‘lost’ items. Within the first three lines we see the words ‘lost’, ‘leaving…behind’, and ‘regret.’, with this complete disregard for the objects reflecting her detachment.

The sombre tone that concludes the poem is isolated from the rest of My Mother’s Kitchen. The fifth line within the stanza ends abruptly, the final moment before the mother moves cemented by the end stop. The wistful look into the past allows the tone to flourish, with the ‘used to sing’ a nostalgic reminder of the past the mother is leaving behind.

The final couplet of My Mother’s Kitchen, rhyming on ‘bees’ and ‘trees’ illustrates this return to the familiar. The mother is now going home, and is finally going to have the stability which she lacked these past nine moves.

The final line of the poem is oddly regretful, Hardi longs for a past she never had, a give she could never receive. All of the items handed down to her, yet the one thing she wants, a sign of vitality, stability and nature, ‘vines’, will be lost forever to a history of instability.

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