Poetry essays

General advice on poetry essay:

  1. Length of your essay = absolute minimum 3 & a half pages (some people can and will write more in 50 minutes).
  2. It’s ok to deal with four poems (not all six you’ve studied) in your essay BUT KNOW at least 5 – it depends on the question asked which poems you’ll choose to discuss.
  3. Your essay MUST deal with WHAT THE POET SAYS (themes/ideas) and HOW THE POET SAYS IT (techniques). What techniques has the poet used in the quotes you’ve included AND WHY!!! (effect of the technique on the poem/reader).
  4. Focus on answering the question – first and last sentence of each paragraph must connect (what you will discuss/have discussed) to the question asked.
  5. Opening sentence of your essay – please don’t simply parrot back the question word for word. You must respond to the question immediately but there are more subtle ways to do it! “I agree fully” sentences are a yawn-fest for the examiner.
  6. Final sentences of your essay – personal response. What insight or wisdom have you gained from studying this poet. What feelings did his/her poetry evoke in you.

Good luck!

11 responses to “Poetry essays

  1. So is it best to give a poem to each paragraph and discuss each in depth with quotes and relate to q

    • You probably don’t want to hear this but there is no “right” way to do it. Some students will focus on a technique that recurs across a group of poems and form a paragraph around it; others will do a poem by poem analysis. Neither is ‘right’ ot ‘wrong’. The danger of the poem by poem approach is that your answer might come across as a disconnected discussion of individual poems when your job is to provide an overview of the poet’s work – recurring themes, techniques, ideas, emotions. So the links you establish between individual poems are very important and of course you MUST respond to ALL ASPECTS of the question asked.

      Maybe think about it this way instead – you choose an IDEA (any idea) that responds in some way to the question. Then you can discuss 2 poems which illustrate this idea – one poem in lots of detail, the other just mentioned in passing. That’s a page of writing (at least). Then select a different IDEA (any idea) which is also responding to the question asked. Discuss a poem in detail which illustrates this idea, you can mention another poem in passing if you wish. That’s two pages written.
      Then move on to idea 3 – same deal. Now you’ve written 3 pages. You top and tail it with a brief introduction and conclusion and there you go. Hope that helps… and always remember, the question asked is GOD, worship at the alter of the question asked – but this doesn’t mean you have no idea what you’ll write before you go into the exam. It means you know what you want to discuss, but are willing to adapt it to respond to the question asked!

  2. But what linking words or phrases can we use if we prefer the poem by poem analysis method?

    • Do what you do in the comparative.

      So for example “Plath’s obsession with surface and depth is not only evident in ‘Mirror’, but also dominates in her nature poetry. ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’, for example, plays with symbolism, leaving us unsure whether the surface meaning of the poem (she has ordered this box of bees and now must deal with the potential danger they represent) is all that’s going on, or whether the poem is also an exploration of her inner turmoil, with the clambering noise of the bees symbolising her thoughts which she cannot release for fear of the consequences, but neither can she live with them.

      I hope that makes some sense.

      The transition between paragraphs is extremely important if you are going to deal with the poems poem by poem.

      Also, you MUST ANSWER THE QUESTION ASKED THROUGHOUT YOUR ESSAY. This is THE most important thing to remember…

      Best of luck tomorrow!

  3. Do you need to know the poetic techniques? is it enough just to talk about how you understand the poem and the theme the poems raise?

    • Yes, you must be able to integrate a discussion of the poet’s style. It is not enough to focus on themes. What they say AND how they say it along with the emotions this creates.
      Try to integrate and interveave them. Don’t separate them out.

  4. What would you link Holy Sonnet XIV with?

    Secondly, does one need to memorise an essay down to each sentence? As, i can not write 4 pages in an hour-only 2.5

    • Know and understand your poet or play or whatever it is you’re studying. Write about it to deepen your understanding. But don’t memorise an entire essay and expect to vomit it up word for word on the day and do well. Whatever material you have in your brain you’ll need to adapt to make sure that you ANSWER THE QUESTION ASKED! Let me repeat, RESPOND TO THE QUESTION. If you don’t you’re snookered. As an aside, I struggled to write more than 3 pages in exams and made a conscious decision that while j could not write a lot, everything I did write would be relevant and succinct. It was bloody difficult to do that and truly madly deeply knowing my stuff is what saved me. Sorry if that’s a bit scary, but that’s what worked for me…

  5. What are common poetry questions? (i.e style, theme etc)

  6. Hi, just wondering if you write poetry essay in past or present tense?