Henry Reed’s World War II poem, ‘Naming of Parts’, is an influence, here.
5. The poem is not written as a continuous, realistic narrative: it tries to represent the fragmented experience we all have of the world, with pieces of highly charged information flying into our brains from many sources. Language itself breaks down under this pressure, sentences shrinking into short staccato questions, by the end.
6. The poem raises a question about individual, human love: is it possible in a world where war is taking place, however far away? As part of this, all the references to passion are distorted - e.g. she’s not sure if an intense experience actually happened (lines 13-14), and later, in phrase book language, she’s uncertain of the number of lovers involved and, finally, seems to feel that conflict - even at a distance - destroys the possibility of love.
FAQs from teachers and students
We are intrigued as to which country the speaker in the poem is located - England? Iraq? Elsewhere?
See 2, above.
Who is the "gentleman" or "gentlemen"? Why are they visiting?
See 6, above. In addition, there is supposed to be a little, gentle humour, here - there are some dramatic shifts of tone in the poem and this is one such place.
Why is the speaker in the poem stating "I am English woman" then later "I am an English woman”?
Good spot! That’s a typo in the anthology - it should be ‘I am an Englishwoman’ both times. I follow up with sorting this out.
Are her cases because she needs to escape from a place of danger? Is the bag referred to literal, metaphorical or both?
The bags, cases and boxes are metaphorical, for the speaker herself, though they are suggestive of forced migration. These lines, 26-28, are also genuine phrases from an old, tourist phrase book.