1. Ignoring the question: if you are asked for a personal response to a poet’s work, every paragraph must contain at least two sentences which include the word “I”. If you are given a statement to discuss, keep using the words from the question (and synonyms) and showing how what you’re discussing is relevant to the question asked. Don’t just rewrite the question at the end of every paragraph and hope this will do – it won’t!

  2. Writing the name of the poem incorrectly (or worse getting the name of the poem wrong!). When you write the name of a poem, use capital letters and quotation marks eg “The War Horse”, “A Constable Calls”

  1. Lack of quotes! The sure sign of a bluffer. Quotes provide proof that you

    (a)know the poems and (b) can back up any statements you make with concrete evidence.

  1. Quotes at the beginning of sentences/paragraphs. Never write down the quote and then comment on it. This suggests you’re just throwing the quote on the page and then making up something to say about it. Bad idea! The rule is statement FOLLOWED by quote. This way you show you are in control of what you want to say.
  1. Telling the STORY of the poem – sum up what the poem is about in ONE or two sentences. Leave it at that. Your job is to analyse the way the ideas are expressed (techniques), the feelings the poem contains & creates in you, the way ideas recur and develop from poem to poem. Comment on the ideas rather than just saying what ideas the poem contains.

  1. Lack of personal response! You need to show that studying this poet has changed your perspective on life, taught you something valuable, opened your eyes to an issue you had previously ignored, provoked an emotional response, connected to something in your own life. Your job is to convince the reader that this poet is worth a closer look. However, don’t ramble off on a tangent about yourself (there was this one time, at band camp… yawn!). Ultimately you are offering a detailed analysis of the poetry, not a diary of your life. A good rule of thumb is to confine personal response to two sentences per paragraph.

  1. Long rambling sentences, paragraphs that sprawl to over a page, pointless repetition. Try to form the sentence in your head before you write it down. DO NOT vomit onto the page. If you can say what you need to say neatly and concisely in 2 sentences instead of 6 – DO. Try to avoid saying the same thing a couple of different ways. Make your point and move on. The examiner is looking for economy of language: each sentence is crammed with information; no idea or quote is ever repeated; essay is carefully structured into neat paragraphs; linking phrases are used to create flow from idea to idea and from paragraph to paragraph.
  1. Poem by poem analysis which doesn’t establish links between them – you are giving an overview of the poet’s work, showing how the poems fit together, analysing common themes or recurring techniques. Do not just write three mini essays on individual poems. Link them! Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. This topic sentence can be thematic, stylistic or tonal.

e.g. THEMATIC = “Boland explores historical events from a deeply personal and individual viewpoint”

e.g. STYLISTIC = “Eavan Boland makes wonderful use of contrast in many of her poems, to bring each issue she deals with into sharper focus”

e.g. TONAL = “Boland masterfully evokes the depth of human suffering in her poems”

7 Responses to Studied poetry: mistakes.

  1. I find your advice really invaluable. could you send me the name of website with the quiz where you clock up medicine for third world. Many thanks Mary.

  2. LCstudent says:

    Would you reccommend answering a question by dedicating a paragraph to each poem and dealing with them separately or by picking out points and using a few poems per paragraph to back your points up?

    • You must show an appreciation of a poet’s oeuvre and this means you have to make links and connections between poems, showing how themes are explored in multiple poems, how stylistic features recur, how the poet’s work evolves and develops. You are not really giving an overview of the poet’s ideas, obsessions and style if you just deal with poems in isolation. There is nothing wrong with dedicating a paragraph to each poem but once you’ve discussed the first poem you must then weave in references which link back to what you’ve already discussed and which indicate a change or development in the poet’s style and/or thematic concerns. If your essay comes across as a series of completely disconnected paragraphs that could have been plonked onto the page in any order then you’re not doing it right. I recommend you select and discuss two poems which share themes or stylistic features, one in detail and one in passing. Then move on to the next two, again discussing one in detail and one in passing. This shows a depth of knowledge but also an appreciation of the similarities and/or differences between poems written by the same author. As you move from one paragraph to the next, ensure that you ‘flow’ into the next poem or idea by indicating similarities or differences, or by referencing when the poem was written (as X’s work develops, we see a deeper concern with Y emerge, and a more sophisticated use of metaphors / personification / a switch from formal structure to free verse…). Hope that helps!

  3. Stephen mccooey says:

    I know you probably don’t like getting asked this but how many pages you be expected to write?

  4. LC 2017 says:

    Hi, great piece!
    I only used max 2 small quotes per poem in my LC, on John keats. is this sufficient?

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