Category Archives: Poetry

Poetic techniques and notes on specific poets.

Sample Poetry Paragraph

What are the essential ingredients you should try to integrate when discussing poetry? To me, they are

  • Themes / ideas
  • Techniques
  • Feelings – poet
  • Feelings – reader / personal response
  • Quotes
  • 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 hiscat 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 inthroughout the night she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming like a relentless milkman up the stairs”.

Seamus Heaney RIP

to grab your sorrow by the throat

to grapple with it and lunge it heaving from your chest

and force it into words

is no easy task.

we spent hours together you and I.

you never saw me,

we never spoke,

now, we never will.

but in my mind I knew you –

and in your words, you knew us all –

and that,

my friend,

is enough.



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Writing Poetry

fancy pen
I am a Year 10 student in XXX. As part of the Middle Years Program, I am required to complete a Personal Project. For this project, I have chosen to write several poems, and put them into a book format. Your website has helped me understand what the components of a poem are, and the terminology surrounding poetry. I would be extremely grateful if you could help me further. Do you have any tips for students when they are writing poetry? In your opinion, should I plan first, and deliberately use poetry techniques, or should I let the ideas flow? I appreciate any advice you can give me, and this would honestly help me so much”
I received this email recently and figured I’d publish my reply in case it’s of any use to those of you out there suffering from poet’s block:
My advice is this: when I’m writing poetry I try to just let the ideas flow onto the page first. Whatever you are thinking and feeling spit it out.
Then I go back and look for the places where I’ve used the same idea more than once. I select the line which best expresses the idea in question and cross out the other lines which are simply saying the same thing in a different way.
I do this for all of the ideas at the core of the poem.
At the end of this process I’ll usually only end up keeping about one third of what I originally wrote.
So having gotten the ideas out, and then edited out the unnecessary repetition of ideas, I pretty much dismantle the poem and then build it up a second time, this time paying more attention not just to WHAT I want to say but also to HOW I want to express it. This is the point at which I become more deliberate in my use of poetic techniques.
Then I leave it for a day or two.
When I take my third pass at the poem, this is usually where it all starts to come together and start to resemble a proper poem rather than just a bunch of ideas thrown onto a page randomly.
I’m sure there are lots of ways of approaching poetry, but this is how I do it!
Hope that helps,

Sample answer unseen poetry

When tackling the unseen poem, discuss the three T’s – themes, tone and techniques AKA ideas, feelings and style of writing. Don’t feel you have to be complimentary about the entire poem and don’t feel you have to discuss every line. Oh, and obviously I’m at a big advantage here: the poem isn’t unseen to me because I wrote the bloody thing!


Blue = themes/ideas

Red = tone / feelings

Purple = techniques / style

Green = personal opinion / response

Bold = flow (connectives / linking phrases)


Write a personal response to the poem “Mother” by Evelyn O’Connor.


What first strikes me is the depth of love and admiration the poet feels for her mother. She compares her to the sun in an extended metaphor which runs the entire length of the poem. The comparison is a clever one, for how else would we survive without the warmth and protection offered to us by the sun and by our beloved mothers?

I also like how the transition from present to past is achieved as she “orbit[s] the past, a seething mass of nuclear energy” and offers us vivid images of her childhood through the use of very active verbsswimming…splashing…eating“. There’s a lovely music in the internal half-rhymes of  “so / don’t, past / mass, gingerbread men / then, eclipse / crisp” and the focus on food captures the innocent joy of being a kid:  she remembers “Easter chocolate nests, plum puddings at Christmas, gingerbread men and now and then éclairs oozing cream down greedy fingers“. The way the layout of the poem mimics the action being described also made me smile, as the cream – and the poem – flows down the page. For me this flashback sequence is the strongest section of the poem.

However, there are times when the rhymes don’t really work – “sea / library” seems a bit forced, and the poem borders on cliché on occasion, particularly when she observes “doubtless we could search to the ends of the earth for something you would not do for us“. Furthermore, for me the final line seems hopelessly naivethe sun keeps shining and never will die” although this could perhaps be testimony to the poet’s firm belief that she simply could not survive without her mother, who “never burn[s] out” and “never burn[s] up“.

Nonetheless, I do like how the poem captures the universal truth that it’s hard to really get to know your parents (“once I saw a solar eclipse…but it was over all too quickly and my vision blurred”) particularly if you grow up in a big family where there are “so many… always wanting, needing, asking, pleading, bleeding dry your store of selfless love“. The poem captures ‘big truths’ but perhaps not in a very original way.

Sample unseen poem


Evelyn O’Connor

Mother says “don’t look at the sun, it will blind you

so I don’t look at her.

I orbit the past, a seething mass of nuclear energy.


Sunspots float before my mind:

swimming in the pool, splashing in the sea, going to the library

eating Easter chocolate nests, plum puddings at Christmas,

gingerbread men and

now and then éclairs







Once I saw a solar eclipse

your edges suddenly clear and crisp,

burning strength into our bones.

But it was over all to quickly

and my vision blurred.


Then I confess I found you lost

convinced we had gobbled you up

so many of us always wanting, needing,

asking, pleading, bleeding dry your store of selfless love.


Yet you never burn out, you never burn up.


Doubtless we could search to the ends of the earth

for something you would not do for us

but why waste time?


The sun keeps shining and never will die.