Can I have some help in the analysis of "Laundrette" by Liz Lochhead?We sit nebulous in stream It calms the air and makes the windows stream rippling the hinterland's big houses to a blur of...

Can I have some help in the analysis of "Laundrette" by Liz Lochhead?

We sit nebulous in stream

It calms the air and makes the windows stream

rippling the hinterland's big houses to a blur

of bedsits - not a patch on what they were before.

We stuff the tub, jam money in the slot

sit back on rickle chairs not

reading. The paperbacks in our pockets curl.

Our eyes are riveted. Our own colours whirl.

We pour in smithereens of soap. The machine sobs

through its cycle. The rhythm throbs

and changes. Sud drool and slobber in the churn.

Our duds don't know which way to turn.

The dark shoves one man in,

lugging a bundle like a wandering Jew. Linen

washed in public here.

We let out of the bag who we are.

This youngwife has a fine stack of sheets, each pair

a present. She admires their clean cut air

of colourschemes and being chosen. Are the dyes fast?

This christening lather will be the first test.

This woman us deadpan before the rinse and sluice

of the family in a bagwash. Let them stew in their juice

to a finale fankle, twisted, wrung out into rope,

hard to unravel. She sees a kaleidoscope.

For her to narrow her eyes and blow smoke at, his overalls

and pants ballooning, tangling with her smalls

and the teeshirts skinned from her wriggling son.

She has a weather eye for what might shrink or run.

This dour man does for himself. Before him,

half lost, his small possessions swim.

Cast off, random

they nose and nudge the porthole glass like flotsam.

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

The first part of an analysis of a poem is understanding what is being said! This may be a bit of a challenge with Lochhead's "Laundrette." The reason is that she takes Shakespearean plays on words and puns to new 20th century heights. The beginning of analysis, then, is a consultation with a good dictionary.

Let's take on a few of Lochhead's words and see if we can find our way. The first line presents a pun in the third word. "Nebulous" may mean unclear or vague. It may also mean cloud-like and hazy. While there may be a double meaning to Lochhead's choice of "nebulous," let's examine the more immediately sensible of the two. If we apply the meaning of cloud-like and hazy, we find an orientation to the setting of the poem: the setting is a laundromat where the air is so full of the steam of wash that a cloud has formed that is engulfing the patrons and streaming in droplets down the windows. This nebulous presence also establishes that the speaker is not alone, there are others in the laundrette, which is important later on when individual patrons are examined and described.

As the droplets stream "rippling" down, we look out the window beyond the laundrette and see big houses across the street ("the hinterland": areas remote from cultural centers) that have been rendered into "bedsits" (i.e., a room furnished with a sink in a mini-kitchenette, a chair and a bed, or accommodations for poor people)--nothing like the elegant homes they once were. Through this very interesting technique of following a nebulous cloud to the windows covered with rippling droplets and beyond to big houses turned into weekly room rentals, Lochhead expands the setting and describes the socio-economic level of the patrons of the laundrette.

We sit nebulous in stream
It calms the air and makes the windows stream
rippling the hinterland's big houses to a blur
of bedsits - not a patch on what they were before.

Let's drop down a bit to two instances of personification:

Our duds don't know which way to turn.
The dark shoves one man in,
lugging a bundle like a wandering Jew.

The focus has shifted from the patrons to the washing being done. The "duds," a colloquialism for clothes, in the first personification, are disoriented and "don't know which way to turn," which is a pun on the agitating action of the washing machines (which may be its own pun and part of the cause of the duds’ disorientation: agitation!).

The second personification redirects attention back to consideration of the patrons and paves the way for a psychological examination of some. The personified dark “shoves one man in." He is shoved either because he is reluctant to enter the nebulous steam of the soapy laundrette or because he is too weak under his load, "lugging a bundle," to manage to get through on his own--or both. The use of the simile "like a wandering Jew" leads to the conclusion that weakness and suffering are surely part of the man's story. The poem progresses by examining the  "youngwife" and the "deadpan" woman and the "dourman."

Some other words to look up for further understanding are:

rickle
smithereens
finale
fankle
flotsam

[I found each on TheFreeDictionary.com, which is an online catalogue of definitions from reputable established dictionaries like Collins English Dictionary and American Heritage Dictionary]

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