The unseen poetry question should be approached with optimism. If you worry about ‘not getting’ it, you probably won’t and your nerves will get the better of you. This question is not set out to trick you, it’s simply asking for you to engage with the ideas within the poem and the methods that the poet uses to express them.
The first thing that you need to do is READ the poem. Then read it again. Look at the key focus of the question and read the poem again (are you sensing a theme here?) highlighting areas that link to the question. When highlighting you should use your instinct as well as searching for literary devices; what is interesting/appealing/quirky/shocking… Other things to look out for are:
- Tone – formal/colloquial/positive/negative/ambiguous/strong/subtle…
- Word choices – verbs/adjectives/adverbs – any interesting choices?
- Simile/metaphor/personification – don’t just list them, and definitely don’t explain what they are! Explore the specific examples and effects in the poem.
- Alliteration/Assonance/Sibilance – how do the sound patterns in the poem mirror or contrast the ideas?
- Rhyme/rhythm – how do the poet’s choices impact the tone/ideas?
- Stanzas/line length/punctuation – can you make imaginative interpretations which link to the ideas in the poem?
- Other literary devices: oxymoron; onomatopoeia; caesura; enjambment; rhyming couplets; dialect; juxtaposition, repetition…
Don’t panic if techniques don’t jump out at you. You can write about tone, word choice, structure and imagery in every poem. Remember that the key is to show a detailed and developed appreciation of the writer’s ideas and methods. Higher marks go to analysis of the details (so support your ideas with short embedded quotations) and an evaluation of the writer’s methods.
To evaluate, you need to make a thoughtful and personal judgement of the poem. You could consider their presentation of the key idea by:
- Deciding whether you agree with their viewpoint.
- Considering how other readers would respond to the poem.
- Making an imaginative interpretation – perhaps based on personal knowledge/experience.
- Judging the effect of the writer’s methods – are they good or not and why?
Today’s Revision Activity:
With all this in mind, we read and explored an unseen poem as a starter in today’s lesson:
We started by reading to explore the ways that Frye presents death. We passed spider diagrams around for 7 minutes, each group having to expand on previous ideas; add quotations; offer alternative interpretations and analyse details. Here is what we came up with:
Overview of our ideas:
After this, we each attempted writing a paragraph to evaluate the writer’s ideas. We used the four prompts from above to come up with the following ideas:
To continue revision, we will use this approach on other unseen poems. Our anthologies are a great resource because they contain 48 other poems for us to practise with.