What does the word 'cardboard' denote in the poem "A Photograph" by Shirley Toulson? 

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estoverl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first line of Toulson's poem "A Photograph" she writes:

"The cardboard shows me how it was..."

The poem then goes on to describe an adult daughter, looking at an old photograph of her mother when she was only a child of about twelve at the beach with cousins. Her mother we learn later in the poem, has passed away about twelve years ago but had earlier in life shared the photograph with her daughter, laughing about the fun she and with the cousins. As the daughter looks at the photograph, she remembers the time with her mother as she shared the photograph, laughed and told her about the memory.

The word cardboard in the first line of the poem literally means the paper backing that the old photo is attached to as that was a common practice, the gluing of photos to a piece of cardboard for safe keeping. It is mentioned as the thing that "shows her how it was" because of the plain, stark, simplistic and quiet background that a plain piece of cardboard would give to a photo. In her earlier memory sharing the photo with her mother, it would have been her mother that "shows her how it was". The cold, plain, quiet cardboard she experiences the photograph with now sits in comparison to earlier times when her mother was alive and she shared the photograph with her. 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word "cardboard" appears in the first line of Shirley Toulson's poem "A Photograph." Here, the cardboard refers to an old picture of a mother and her two children. Older photographs either tended to be mounted on stiff cardboard or were printed on thick photo-stock (which could be described as cardboard).

The narrator is reflecting back on the time the photo was taken, twenty or thirty years prior.

For the narrator, the picture represents something much different than what it does for the mother. What this could mean is that, like cardboard, the photograph has layers (layers of memories, layers of how time comes back after looking at the photograph, and layers of different emotions felt when reminiscing over the past years since the photograph was taken).