Q1: “Plants”, Olive Senior
In her poem “Plants”, Olive Senior explores the interactions between plants and humans, as well as their persistence in our society. However, she takes an unconventional approach as she builds relationships amongst the speaker, the audience, and the plants by focusing on characterizing the plants as intrusive and overpowering. Senior uses a variety of literary techniques such as personification, diction, and enjambment to emphasize the interconnectedness of the parasitic nature of plants on humankind.
By using diction and personifying the plants, Senior effectively creates an imbalance of power on the plants’ behalf. She describes roots that are “bent on conquest”, seedlings that “seek wide open spaces”, “armies of mangroves”, and burrs that have “colonizing ambitions”. Utilizing verbs such as “bent” and “seek” creates a sense of an action that the plants are carrying out and therefore humanizes them. She convinces the audience that plants aren’t just dormant organisms that live in the backdrop of our lives, but hold so much autonomy and power that they can be compared to other people. This relationship is given a negative tone with the phrases “colonizing ambitions” and “armies of mangroves”, implying that the plants have the capability of acting in such a way that they consume the areas around them. The reference to colonization also evokes images of exploitation and despair in the minds of the readers, thus paralleling the same tragedy with the actions of the plants. The word “colonizing” also allows the reader to infer that the plants behave in a similar manner to colonizers, feeding off the land and the people (in this, case society) for personal benefit and providing nothing in return. Furthermore, the use of the word “armies” incites images of weaponry and violence. Personification adds to this parasitic view of plants because it implies that as organisms comparable with humans, the plants are acting consciously to “conquest” and fulfill their “colonizing ambitions”. These comparisons convince the reader of the interconnectedness of the lives between plants and themselves, showing how prominent the plants are in the world around us. Senior uses personification and diction to highlight to the reader that plants are powerful creatures that can a significant negative impact on humankind.
Senior uses enjambment to depict the invasive nature of the plants on society. Enjambment creates a sense of displacement and almost discomfort as Senior urges the reader to hurry to the next line or stanza to complete a thought. This is most effectively displayed as she discusses the “parachuting seeds and other//airborne traffic dropping in” as well as advising the audience that “we must infer/a sinister not to say imperialistic//grand design” when considering plants. The enjambment teases the end of phrases and ideas when referring to “and other//airborne traffic” as well as starting with “we must infer” and giving the audience directions on what exactly they should infer on the next line with “a sinister not to say imperialistic//grand design”. This encourages the reader to progress from idea to idea in the very chaotic poem by providing a hook at the end of the lines. In addition, the awkward places at which the enjambment occurs has a jarring effect on the reader, paralleling the message of the poem that the plants are intrusive and dominating our world. By interrupting the flow of the words with enjambment, Senior embodies the nature of the plants in her poem, suggesting that plants take on the same invasive role in our world as well.
In conclusion, Olive Senior uses a variety of literary devices to emphasize her point to the audience that plants have taken on a role that is intrusive, parasitic, and destructive. She does so by characterization of the plants with personification and diction, thus creating gravitas and importance behind the actions of the plants as well as enjambment to highlight the invasive role that they play in society.