4.1 Introduction
4.2 Guidelines literature
4.3 Tasks for literature
4.4 Three poems
4.5 The Little Prince
4.6 Malamud's Black
4.7 Guidelines for films
4.8 Tasks for films
4.9 Guidelines songs
4.10 Stranger than you
4.11 Bibliography

4.4 Three poems by Liz Lochhead to develop intercultural competence

Michaela Čaňková

Short biography of Liz Lochhead 

Scottish poet and playwright, Liz Lochhead, was born in 1947. After studying at the Glasgow School of Art, she lectured in the fine arts for 8 years before becoming a professional writer. In the early 1970s she joined a prestigious writers´ group (other members were e.g. Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Tom Leonard).

Liz Lochhead published her first collection of poems Memo for Spring (1972) with immediate success. Since then, she has published a number of poetry collections and has been included in[to] e.g. Penguin Modern Poets 4 (1995). Her latest work is a new collection of poetry The Colour of Black and White: Poems 1984 - 2003 (2003). She uses speech as she hears it around her. In her poetry written both in Scots and English, her language is poignant and humorous.

She has made her name particularly well known as a Scottish playwright. Her plays are often performed at the Edinburgh Festival and at the leading Scottish theatres. Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1989) and her translation and adaptation of Molière´s Tartuffe, both into Scots, have been highly acclaimed.

Liz Lochhead has received a number of prizes both for her poetry and her work for theatre and television.

Read the poems and do some of the recommended tasks and activities, adapting them to the needs and interests of your group of students.

1. Something I'm Not

(From Dreaming Frankenstein and Collected Poems 1967 - 1984, Polygon 2003) (from Memo for Spring, 1972)

familiar with, the tune
of their talking, comes tumbling before them
down the stairs which  (oh I forgot) it was my turn
to do again this week.
My neighbour and my neighbour's child. I nod, we're not
on speaking terms exactly.

I don't know much about her. Her dinners smell
different. Her husband's a busdriver,
so I believe.
She carries home her groceries in Grandfare bags
though I´ve seen her once or twice around the corner
at Shastri´s for spices and such.
(I always shop there - he's open till all hours
making good.) How does she feel?
Her children grow up with foreign accents,
swearing in fluent Glaswegian. Her face
is sullen. Her coat is drab plaid, hides
but for a hint at the hem, her sari's
gold embroidered gorgeousness. She has
a jewel in her nostril.
The golden hands with the almond nails
that push the pram turn blue
in this city's cold climate.


  1. Find information on the woman telling the story.
    (Possible answers: Glasgow, lives in a block of flats, goes shopping at Shastri's, is presumably not Indian but Glaswegian)
  2. Find information on the woman she´s talking about.
    (Possible answers: looks different, husband's a bus driver, buys groceries at Grandfare supermarket, shops at Shastri's occasionally, has at least two children that speak Glaswegian, her face is sad, her coat worn out, under it she's wearing a sari, has a jewel in her nose, her hands are blue with the cold, does not speak English to her child)
  3. Focus on the way the Glaswegian woman looks at her Indian neighbour. How does she relate to her and which expressions in the poem indicate that?
  4. Choose two from the given words which best express the way the Glaswegian woman feels towards her Indian neighbour.
    contempt    empathy    adversity    suspicion    love    pity    friendship    sympathy    fear
    In the poem, find the text that supports your decision.
  5. Discuss what the Indian woman might feel towards her Glaswegian neighbour.
  6. Jot down your expectations of the Indian woman's future, especially regarding her relationship to her children.
  7. Think of foreigners living in your village/town/country. Talk about them in small groups. Which countries are they from? What do you know about their lives? Do you know any of them personally? Tell the others.
  8. Write a similar poem from the point of view of the Indian woman. Start in the same way as the original: "Something I'm not familiar with ...  Her dinners smell different". Now continue from the Indian perspective.

(Here is a poem written by Helena Kaigerová, one of my literature students, a teacher at a secondary school in Prague, Czech Republic.)

Something I'm Not

familar with, the tune
of their talking, costumes tubmling before them
down the stairs which I did.
I know I have to.
My neighbour. I nod we're not
on speaking terms exactly.

I don't know much about her. Her dinners smell
different. Actually no smell at all.
Her husband's a tailor.
I know. People come every day.
I see her at Shastri's sometimes,
she may like what I like, my food, my folk.
How does she feel?
Like home? Unlike me. Her only child
is adult. No grandchildren. Silence everywhere.
Her coat is grey. Grey and
brown. This is the colour here: the sky,
the soil, the clothes and the souls.
Just her eyes are blue and rarely the sky.
Hopefully something bright will come,
at least daffodils in spring.

2. Poem on a Day Trip

(from Memo for Spring, 1972)

It's nice to go to Edinburgh.
Take the train in the opposite direction.
Passing through a hard land, a pitted
and pockmarked, slag-scarred, scraped land.
Coal. Colossus of pit-bings,
and the stubborn moors where Covenanters died.
Hartwood, Shotts, Fauldhouse, Breich -
something stirs me here
where the green veneer is thin,
the black-gut and the quarried ash-red
show in the gashes.
But the land changes
somewhere in the region of West and Mid Calder,
greener and gentler, rolling Lothians.
Edinburgh. Your names are grander -
Waverley, Newington, Corstorphine,
never Cowcaddens, Hillhead or Partick.
No mean city,
but genteel, grey and clean city
you diminish me -
make me feel my coat is cheap,
shabby, vulgar-coloured.
You make me aware of your architecture,
conscious of history and the way it has
of imposing itself upon people.
Princes Street. 
I rush for Woolworth´s anonymous aisles,
I feel at home here
you could be anywhere -
even in Glasgow  


  1. From the first and the last four lines guess where the speaker lives.
    (Possible answer: she lives in Glasgow and travels to Edinburgh)
  2. Imagine you are the speaker sitting on the train and looking out of the window. Trace the journey along the given line: 

    GLASGOW____________________________ EDINBURGH  

    To do so, divide the class into 3 groups: one dealing with the place names, the second with the images of the changing countryside and the third group with Edinburgh itself.

    Group 1: Try to locate the places on the map: some might be small villages/towns and the mountain ranges.

    (Possible answers:
    Glasgow area: Hartwood, Shotts, Fauldhouse, Breich, Cowcaddens, Hillhead, 
    The West and Mid Calder
    The Lothians
    Edinburgh area: Waverley, Newington, Corstorphine
    Edinburgh: Princes Street)

    Group 2: Elaborate on the images of the changing countryside.

    (Possible answers: 
    Glasgow area: hard land, pitted (with pits), pockmarked - not beautiful, with spots on its "face", slag scarred (marked by coal mining waste material left there), scraped (onomatopoeic), coal, stubborn (a reference to Covenanters - Scottish Presbyterians, a religious group from the 17th century protesting against religious policies of Charles I), green veneer is thin (not much greenery), black and red of quarries, gashes in the land.
     Rough. Glasgow is called "a mean city".

    Group 3: Describe Edinburgh as you get to know it from the text.

    (Possible answers:
    already the area around the city is gentler, greener, with rolling hills. The city is grand as well as the place names, it is also genteel (because it its importance and the kind of people who live there?), grey (perhaps because of its typical stone) and clean. It is full of architecture, history which has an affect on its people (it's "imposing" - in a negative way?))

    Speakers of each group report on their findings.

  3. Princes Street is the most exquisite shopping street in Edinburgh. Talk about how the speaker feels when walking there. Why does she prefer Woolworth's, one of the [cheaper] less classy supermarkets? Discuss in small groups.

    (Possible answers:
    she feels "diminished" - literally "small" - she is saying she does not fit in all the grandeur. That's why she goes to Woolworth: it is common, cheap and she is familiar with its atmosphere from Glasgow.)
  4. The poem was written in 1972. In 1990, Glasgow was the Cultural Capital of Europe. Thanks to this event, it was upgraded and has become a different place, equal and in some aspects superior to Edinburgh. At home, find an Internet text on today's Glasgow and prepare a short presentation about the changes for the class.
  5. Think of your country. Is there a place which has undergone a substantial change in the recent years? What kind of change is it? Is the change for better or for worse? Discuss.

3. For My Grandmother Knitting

(From Memo for Spring, 1972)

There is no need they say
but the needles still move
their rhythms in the working of your hands
as easily
as if your hands
were once again those sure and skilful hands
of the fisher-girl.

You are old now
and your grasp of things is not so good
but master of your moments then
deft and swift you slit the still-ticking quick silver fish.
Hard work it was too
of necessity.

But now they say there is no need
as the needles move
in the working of your hands
once the hands of the bride
with the hand-span waist
once the hands of the miner's wife
who scrubbed his back
in a tin bath by the coal fire
once the hands of the mother
of six who made do and mended
scraped and slaved slapped sometimes
when necessary.

But now they say there is no need
the kids they say grandma
have too much already
more than they can wear
too many scarves and cardigans -
gran you do too much
there´s no necessity.

At your window you wave
them goodbye Sunday.
With your painful hands
big on shrunken wrists.
Swollen-jointed. Red. Arthritic. Old.
But the needles still move
their rhythms in the working of your hands
as if your hands remembered
of their own accord the pattern
as if your hands had forgotten
how to stop.


  1. Think of your own grandmother and tell your classmate about her. Choose three adjectives to describe her. Compare the adjectives and thus the personalities of your grandmothers.  Is there a feature they all have in common?
  2. Read the poem silently and decide about the punctuation and the words you want to stress. Indicate this by inserting punctuation marks and by underlining words in the poem and then read it again, this time aloud to compare your own interpretation with that of the others.
  3. Talk in small groups to find out what we know from the poem about grandmother's life in the past.
    (Possible answers: worked hard all her life, was a fisher-girl, married a miner, had six children, worked for the others throughout her life)
  4. What is her life like now? Talk in small groups.
    (Possible answers: still keeps knitting though nobody cares, wants to be useful although "there is no need")
  5. The speaker changes the view (and the pronouns): once THEY is used, then SHE. Which part of her body does the speaker pay attention to? Quote from the poem to justify your answer.

    (Possible answers: THEY are the other members of the family, grandmother's hands and how they change throughout her life - 3rd, 5th and 6th stanzas).

  6. The words "need, necessity, necessary" appear in most stanzas: In small groups, discuss how their content changes: with the age of a person, changing times, different stages in life.
  7. Discuss the following questions in small groups:
    Are there different concepts of "being old" in different cultures?
    When is a person considered "old" then? Does he/she start dressing differently? Is he/she willing/able/ready to start learning new things?
    Does it depend more on an individual or the culture he/she comes from? Compare, for example, the situation in your home country and another country.

next chapter: 4.5 The Little Prince