What are the essential ingredients you should try to integrate when discussing poetry? To me, they are
- Themes / ideas
- Feelings – poet
- Feelings – reader / personal response
- References (paraphrased)
- Links to other poems
- Linking phrases (to create flow)
- Context and/or biographical detail (where relevant)
Now check out this sample paragraph of critical analysis and see if you can figure out which colour refers to which of the elements listed above.
(ps. If you were in my class when we did this exercise today, just a quick warning, the colours are different so don’t allow that to confuse you when you’re poring over this trying to do your homework…)
“Living in Sin” offers a fascinating exploration of male/female relationships. As with “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”, the poem is built around a series of contrasts but this time Rich embraces free verse; the entire poem flows down the page in a series of lengthening run-on lines. The woman in the poem (presumably Rich herself) soon finds “dust upon the furniture of love” when she moves in with her lover. Her preoccupation with household chores (she “pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found a towel to dust the table-top”) is cleverly juxtaposed with his laid-back demeanour; he “shrugged at the mirror, rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes”. She brilliantly evokes her frustration as she focuses obsessively on dripping taps, grimy windows, empty beer bottles and leftover food (in many ways this reminds me of my own mother!). However, rather than simply blame the man (as she had previously done in AJT), here she begins to question the deeply ingrained gender roles which programme women to notice clutter and dirt. I love how she also recognises that obsessing over housework is somehow foolish (she is being “jeered by the minor demons”) and she admits that she envies his ability to prioritise his creativity (she admires his paintings, particularly his “cat stalking the picturesque amusing mouse”). Ultimately however, her anger and resentment at being reduced to nothing more than a ‘housewife’ boil over (like the coffee pot on the stove). I found the final image in the poem haunting and terribly sad, as depression sets in “throughout the night she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming like a relentless milkman up the stairs”.