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Old 23rd May 2009, 08:45 PM   #1 (permalink)
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[English Literature]: Information Thread

English Literature A-level: Unseen Poetry - a single poem

Source taken from:http://www.s-cool.co.uk/alevel/engli...roduction.html

In your exam you may be expected to write an essay about a single poem.

Depending on the phrasing of the question you will have to focus on different issues.

It is important that you prepare for this by being familiar with the aspects covered in the Learn-it's.

The best way to analyse a poem properly is to have a number of questions ready which you can ask yourself about the poem.

S-cool has made sure that there are plenty of these for you to choose from in the Learn-it's. Make sure you memorise a number of these and then practise applying them to poems you have been given in class, or have at home.

The examination boards choose poems which they do not expect students to have any prior knowledge of and are looking for your personal response to the poem.

ce - Who is the poem for?

Before you can write about any poem you need to consider the following three questions:


Poems are written for different reasons. There are many different techniques which poets use:

Is the poem directed to a specific character? Is it narrating an incidentor is the poet reflecting on an issue? Is the poet exploring their own thoughts?


How do you think the poet wanted the poem to be read?

Much poetry is written to be read out loud. How should the poem be read?

Is it

a rap,
a ballad,
an elegy,
a lyric,
reflective,
persuasive,
rhythmic,
conversational?
Poetic Voice - How is the poem written?

Poems are written in many different ways. Very simply, you should consider if the poem is written in the first or third person. For example, is the poet writing the poem using "I", or acting as the narrator.

If the poet has written the poem in the first person, you need to consider whether the poet is writing their own ideas directly or taking on the role of another character. Also, the poem may express different points of view and voices in different stanzas.

How many different voices are there in the poem?
Do you associate more closely with one of the voices? If so, why?
Does the poem directly ask the reader questions or do you feel that the poet is challenging their own ideas in the poem?
Does the poet want you to feel a certain way or are they looking for you to answer a question?

Diction is the choice and use of words in the poem. The diction that the poet chooses obviously has a profound effect on the poem. It is important to consider whether the poet has used a specific type of language in the poem.

This may be:

conversational
reflective
dialect
formal
narrative
persuasive
Look carefully at the poem. Once you have established the dictionused, you should consider specific words or phrases which show this.

Cultural and social context

Analysing the cultural and social context of a poem can sometimes tell you quite a lot.

Try asking yourself these questions:

Does the diction give you clues as to when the poem was written?
Does the language seem traditional, modern, formal, or colloquial?
Has the poet used slang? Why? What would be lost if this slang were replaced with formal language?
What does the use of language tell you about when the poem was written? Does the poet uses phrases which are not used in modern times?
Are there words that are specific to a certain culture, age group or gender? Why have these words been used? Is the poem focusing specifically on a particular social group?
Dialect

Often poets use dialect in their poems. There are different reasons for the use of dialect and ways in which it is used.

Asking yourself the following questions will help you identify these:

Is the entire poem written in dialect?
What effect does the dialect create and what would be lost if the poem didn't use dialect?
Are only certain words written in dialect? If so, why? Are memories attached with the words?
Does the slang or dialect date the poem?
Is the dialect vital in conveying the cultural context of the poem?
Has the poet only used dialect in speech and only for certain characters?
Use of language - tense

The use of tense influences the way the reader interprets a poem.

Consider the following:

Which tenses does the poet use?
If the poem is written entirely in the past tense, then is the poet simply reflecting on what has happened? Or does the poet finish in the present tense, thus suggesting that what has happened in the past relates to the present?
Perhaps the poem is written in the present tense.

If so, is the poet creating an environment for the reader/listener to imagine? How successful is this?
Has the poet used the conditional tense (for example, "would", "could", "might", "should")? Is the poet exploring possibilities, or imagining? Is there a sense of persuasion in the poem?

In order to achieve a high grade, you should show an understanding of a poet's use of imagery in a poem. In order to do this, you should not only identify the images, but also consider what effect they have on the reader and their importance to the poem.

Make sure that you back up your ideas with specific examples, rather than just commenting generally.
When you use a quotation, explain why you have chosen the quotation and its importance. This displays close textual analysis.
Below are a number of issues that you should consider when writing about a poet's use of imagery. Obviously not all of these issues will apply for every poem. However, if you run through them then you will find writing about imagery much easier.

General questions

Consider where the poet has used any of these: simile, metaphor, conceit, symbolism, figurative language, extended metaphor.

What images has the poet used?
Why has the poet used these images?
What effect do the images have on the reader?
Mood of the imagery

Look out for use of: mood, tone, ideas, themes, feelings and irony.

How do the images link with the mood, tone and ideas of the poem?
What mood do the images create? Does this contrast with the rest of the poem?

Does the poet focus on movement, feeling, sound, taste or appearance in the images?
Which senses is the image trying to appeal to?
Number of images and extended metaphors

An extended metaphor is when the poet builds on a metaphor.

Has the poet focused on only one image or used a range of images? What effect does this create?
Has the poet taken one image and developed it through the poem?
Cultural importance of the image

Consider these words for your answer: cultural significance, religious, devotional, symbolic, thematic.

What does the poet's choice of image tell you about their cultural or historical background?
Do the images have a religious background?

Symbolism

Are the images meant to symbolise or represent something else?
Is there a theme linking the images used in the poem? Examples might include: love, death, fear, lust, religion, conflict, nature, violence. Does this add to your understanding of the poem?
The Five Senses:


Poets, in their writing, often focus on the different senses. A simple way of focusing on the effects of a poem is by looking at which of the five senses the poet describes.

Is the poet trying to appeal to the taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing of the reader? Perhaps the poet focuses on just one of the senses? What sensation does this create?

It is essential that you write about the structure and style of a poem in your exam if you want to achieve a high grade.

You must show an understanding of the techniques used by the poet and the idea that certain devices have been used to create particular effects. The prompts below will help you to write about structure and style.

Form

All poets have their own individual styles. However, there are a number of categories which poems fit into.

Ballad:

The ballad is a traditional form of poetry, which now takes many forms. The ballad develops a dramatic story.

There are different types of ballad: broadside, literary and traditional.

It is not important for you to know the differences between these genres: simply be aware that they exist. All three forms of ballad are written in song form.

Elegy:

The elegy is a poem written to mourn the death of a person. Something which resembles this style is called elegaic.


Lyric:

A lyric or lyrical poem is a short poem which explores or expresses a state of feeling rather than narrates an event. The phrase lyric suggests that the lines could be set to music, as with the lyrics of a song, but is not necessarily the case.

Narrative:

Narrative poetry, as the name suggests, is a poem where the poet describes an event or series of events. The poet may take on the role of a character in the story (1st person) or adopt the voice of the narrator (3rd person).

Ode:

The ode is like the lyrical poem but more detailed more complex and longer. It explores an idea - whether political, philosophical, intellectual, or personal - in detail.

Rap:

A modern style of poetry, often associated with heavy use of rhyme, word play and strong rhythm.


Shape poem:

Some poems are written in the shape of a particular object. Look carefully at the poem and see whether the shape poem resembles an image described in the poem. How has this influenced the way the poem is written?

Sonnet:

Two forms of sonnet are Petrarchan and Shakespearian. Both forms of sonnet were originally used to write love poetry. However, both styles have been used for other purposes.

Both styles are extremely complex forms of poetry and require skilful use by the poets due to their strict rhyme scheme. When reading sonnets,you should look carefully at how ideas develop or change between the different sections of the poems.


Use of stanzas

Many students grow up with the idea that poetry should be written in verses of four lines. This is possibly because of the popularity of the four line stanza, particularly in the ballad form.

However, from your study of poetry, you will have noticed that many different types of stanza are used.


There are many different lengths of stanza including couplets (2 lines), quatrains (4 lines), sestets (6 lines) and octaves.


If a poem consists of a series of quatrains but finishes with a couplet, you should question why. What effect does the short couplet have set against the quatrains?
If the number of lines in each stanza varies, what does that tell you about the content of each stanza? Are short stanzas less important or more focused?
Why has the poet divided the poem into different stanzas? What is contained in each stanza?
What occurs between stanzas? Do the poet?s ideas seem to jump?
Are the stanzas arranged chronologically?
Is an image developed in each stanza?
Poetry does not follow the same rules of punctuation as prose. Sometimes a poet may write a sentence which is divided into more than one stanza. If that happens, then why has the poet used the stanza to divide up the sentence? What effect does this create?

Line, length and pace

The length of lines in a poem can be a big clue towards understanding a poem.

Consider the following:

What effect does the line length have on the way you read the poem? If the poem is entirely made of short lines then do you read the poem quickly?
Has the poet put a single word or phrase on a separate line? Why? What does this suggest to the reader?

In poetry, there are three main forms which you need to consider when discussing rhythm:

blank verse
syllabic verse
free verse

Blank verse

Blank verse is a form of poetry most famously associated with the writing of Shakespeare. It uses an iambic pentameter but does not use rhyme.

Syllabic verse

Lines in syllabic verse follow a strict syllable pattern. When you read a poem, count the number of syllables in each line.

Do you notice a pattern?
What effect does this create?
Free verse

Free verse is a modern form of poetry where there are no rules regarding the structure or syllable count of the poems. This doesn't mean there is no rhythm, just that it doesn't follow a formal structure.

Rhyming couplets

A rhyming couplet is a pair of lines that rhyme. Writing in a series of rhyming couplets creates a definite rhythm to the poem. Also, single ideas are often contained within the couplet.

Sometimes poets use a couplet to conclude a poem or to stand out from the rest of the poem.

Often rhyming couplets will be lines of equal length in order to add to the sense of rhythm.

Irregularites in line length

If a poet breaks the rule of the number of syllables in a line, do not assume that it is poor poetry or a mistake.

Has the poet used a longer or shorter line and break in the rhythm in order to draw attention to that line?
Use of repetition

A common technique is the use of repetition in poetry. A poet may repeat a particular phrase.

Why is that phrase being repeated?
How does it relate to the overall theme of the poem?
Is the phrase altered in anyway?
Is the phrase a question or memory?
Does the repetition contribute to the rhythm?
Line, length and pace

The length of lines in a poem can be a big clue in understanding a poem.

Are all the lines of equal length?
If not, then which lines stand out, either as being long or short?
Does the poet draw attention to certain words because of the layout of the lines?
What effect does the line length have on the way you read the poem? If the poem is entirely made of short lines then do you read the poem quickly?
Has the poet put a single word or phrase on a separate line? Why? What does this suggest to the reader?
General questions

How is rhythm used to create a sense of energy, loss, pain, calm?
How does the rhythm of the poem reflect the mood or ideas of the poem?
Are specific sounds used, such as onomatopoeia?

Perhaps the first idea that students grasp about poetry is that rhyme is very important. Indeed it takes many years to shake off the idea that a poem must rhyme. From your studies you will know that this is not the case.

Good poets use rhyme for a specific purpose and in very different ways. Below you will see some of the different types of rhyme that are used as well as questions to help you focus on a poet's intentions regarding rhyme.

Rhyme - Key questions

Does the poet use rhyme? Why? Why not?
What effect does this use or absence of rhyme have?
Types of rhyme

Alliteration:

is repetition of first letters/sounds in words in order to create an effect, for example: "slow soft touch of spring".

Is alliteration used in place of or in addition to rhyme?
What effect does this have to the way the poem sounds?
Which words are used in alliteration?
Assonance:

is repetition of a particular vowel sound in words close to each other.

Consonance:

is repetition of a particular consonant sound in words close to each other.

For poems containing alliteration, assonance or consonance, consider the following:

Are the sounds hard or soft, long or short?
How does this link with the meaning of the words or mood of the poem?
Does the poet emphasise particular sounds to create a certain effect?
Half rhyme:

is when part of two or more words rhyme. For example meter and weather or cash and kosh.

Half rhyme is often used in poems with a rhyme scheme. It can prevent a rhyme scheme from sounding too forced.

Full rhyme:

When all of the words rhyme. For example meter and heater or cash and flash.


Rhyme scheme

Poets use rhyme in different ways. Some poets follow a definite rhyme scheme in their poetry. This means that they use a pattern. For example, they may have a poem with four line stanzas (quatrains).

The first and third line of each stanza may rhyme and the second and fourth rhyme. This rhyme scheme would be called abab.

Sometimes poets keep the same rhyming sound throughout a poem. More often, they follow the same pattern but change the sound.

For example, the first stanza may be abab but the second stanza uses different sounds and is cdcd. When reading a poem in an exam it is worth marking the rhyme scheme at the side to help you see the pattern.

A common mistake in exams is that students highlight the rhyme scheme, but do not explain the effect of the rhyme. You must say what effect the rhyme has on the audience.

Is rhyme used simply to attract the attention of the listener or does the poet want to draw attention to specific words?

Rhyming couplets

A rhyming couplet is a pair of lines which rhyme.

Writing in a series of rhyming couplets creates a definite rhythm to the poem. Also, single ideas are often contained within the couplet. Sometimes poets use a couplet to conclude a poem or to stand out from the rest of the poem.

Which words rhyme?

Do not be fooled into thinking that a poet only ever uses rhyme because it sounds nice. Look carefully at the words which rhyme.

Has the poet chosen key words to rhyme thus drawing attention to the words? Does the poet put rhyme in the middle of a sentence so that its purpose is to make the poem flow?
Are there lines which rhyme alongside those which don't? Why? Is there an irregular rhyme scheme?
How does the rhyme scheme influence the way the poem is read?

Make sure that you do this whenever writing about rhyme. Never just say what the rhyme scheme is - always explain how it works and its effect.

A poet uses all of his or her techniques in order to convey the theme and mood of a poem. In your essay you should show how the poet uses these methods to convey the theme. That is to say, you shouldn't talk about the theme as something separate from the poem.

A poet's choice of structure, imagery, voice, language, rhyme all influence the reader's understanding of the theme and create the sense of mood.

In your essay, you must make the theme of the poem explicit, and then go on to show how it is portrayed.

Think carefully about how the poem is written. If the poem appears to be about something very simple, ask yourself whether there is anything deeper behind it. Do elements of the poem have more than one meaning?

All of the examining boards reward originality of ideas. What is important is that you back up your statements with specific evidence. Remember that this is an English Literature exam, not a philosophical question.

Don't forget the purpose of the essay and get yourself lost in discussions of issues of love, death or religion. Always relate back to the poem.

Useful Questions

Does a theme develop during the poem?
Does the poet present alternative viewpoints?
Does the poet's attitude appear to change during the poem?
Has a specific event or series of experiences influenced the attitudes of the poet or the character in the poem?
Is there a distinction between the viewpoint expressed by one character and that of the poet?
Is more than one theme expressed in the poem?
Is the poem reflective, aggressive, persuasive or descriptive?
What words and techniques are used to create the mood?
Does the mood of the poem appear to change?
How is the reader left feeling at the end of the poem?
Does the poem appear to answer its own question or does it leave the reader uncertain?

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Re: [English Literature]: Information Thread

English Literature A-level: Poetry - open text

Source taken from: http://www.s-cool.co.uk/alevel/engli...roduction.html

In your exam you may be expected to write an essay about a collection of poetry which you have studied in class.

There are many skills which you will already be familiar with from your preparation for unseen poetry. These can also be applied to the open text. As you will have studied the poetry already, there are also several strategies that you can use before going into the exam.

In this section we will cover the main points for revision and techniques to apply in your exam. We will also consider the type of questions that may occur.

Reading individual poems

Before worrying about preparing for the exam essay, you need to concentrate on just reading the poems. It is important that you are familiar with the contents of the anthology.

Time spent simply dipping into the poetry is time well spent. As with all of the other texts, the more familiar you are with the text, the better.

In order to study a collection of poems, you need to read the poems in the following stages:

Pick a single poem and read it through out loud. Think about what the poem is saying and the rhythm in the poem.
Look at the poem in more detail. What questions does it raise? Does your impression change of the poem?
Study the poem more closely. Think about the following issues: (see notes for more details).
Poetic Voice
Diction
Use of Imagery
Form and Structure
Rhythm
Rhyme
Themes and Mood in the Poem[*]Make notes on each of these aspects of the poem. Try to condense all of your notes on to one piece of paper.[*]Write key information on the poem. Consult your teacher to find out how much annotation is allowed.[*]Repeat these stages for a number of poems.
Making links between the poems

Having read a number of the poems you should now be in a position to start considering the anthology as a whole.

While reading see if you can find natural links between the poems. Can you see similarities between certain poets? Do the different poets have particular styles or ideas that distinguish them from each other? Are there certain themes that keep cropping up? Which poems interest you the most and why? Are there any you find difficult to understand?

The poems may be grouped into certain categories in the anthology already. Naturally this makes life easier, but it does not mean that these are the only groupings, or that the examiner will pick poems from only one section.

Once you start to see links between the poems you can begin to organise your ideas about the anthology as a whole.

Write down a list of categories that crop up in your comparisons. For example:

Death
Imagery
Reflective Poem
Romantic
Autobiographical
Use of rhythm

Alongside each category write the name of the poems which you associate with this issue. Don't feel restricted to your initial list of categories. Ask fellow students and teachers to see which themes and issues they think are important.

Introductions and background notes

Often collections of poetry contain notes about the poems. These may include explanations as to why certain poems have been grouped together. Or the editor may include his/her own attitudes towards the poem. Some collections contain a glossary explaining specific vocabulary. Others include essays or quotations from critics about the poets and their poems.

Obviously these are very useful and can help you with your exam, but it is generally better to formulate your own ideas about the poetry first. They can provide a way in to the poetry and a helpful standpoint against which you can compare your own ideas. Whatever you do, don't regard them as the absolute truth. If you refer to them in your exam you must cite your source (say where the idea comes from), as if you've discovered them you can be sure that the examiner has as well.

Don't try to pass off other people's ideas as your own. This will lead to youlosing marks. On the other hand referring to other critics in order to clarify your own viewpoint will be rewarded.

What next?

Once you have read the poems and begun to compare them you are ready to move on to the next stage. There are three main types of anthology which you may have to study. They all share common approaches but have specific issues which you need to consider.

For that reason, they have been divided into the following three categories:

Anthologies by one poet
Anthologies of a particular period
Anthologies based on a certain theme

Once you have studied the poems in some detail, you will be familiar with some of the ideas and issues that are being raised.

The next stage is to consider how to compare the poems. This will be influenced to some extent by the type of anthology you are studying. In your exam you may be expected to write about a selection of poems by a particular poet, or from a particular period or about a certain theme or group.

Anthologies by a single poet

The anthology may consist of poems by a single writer. Do you notice a common theme running throughout the poet's work. Do there seem to be different and perhaps conflicting ideas?

Look carefully at the anthology. Does it include poetry from a particular episode in the poet's life, or does it include poetry from across a number of years? If the poetry spans the poet's life, do you notice any similarities or differences between poems of different stages in his life?

How have the poems been arranged in the book? Does this bear any relation to your own groupings of the poem? Can you link up poems according to their themes, form and use of language?

Remember that you are studying the poetry first. Do not reduce your studies to biographies. Reading about the background of the writer will definitely inform your reading, but if the poems have any merit then they should stand up as works of art in their own right, and not need several pages of footnotes in order to be appreciated.

Anthologies of a particular period

Your chosen text may be an anthology of poetry from a certain period of time.

It is quite likely that the anthology will include very different styles and ideas. A collection of poetry by the Romantics for example would show great variation between the works of Coleridge, Keats and Wordsworth.

In this situation it is important to consider the following:

Study the poetry of more than one poet so that you establish an understanding of the range of styles.
Choose at least two poets who have similarities and two who have differences so that you have both elements covered.
Be flexible in your approach. Look for similarities between poets who are on the whole very different and vice versa.
Consider enough poems by each author to be able to avoid making sweeping statements about a poet's work based on a single poem.
Look for differences in style and approach for poems about the same theme as well as differences in ideas.
Do you notice any common links between the collection of poets? Look for features distinctive of the period such as a form-ballad or figurative technique-conceit.
It is important to have an understanding of the social and historical context of the poetry. Researching this can be extremely interesting. However, be wary of turning your study into a Social Studies essay. Remember that your research is meant to enhance your appreciation of the literature.
Don't become preoccupied with discussing the idea. Always relate your study to the poetry itself.
Anthologies based on a certain theme

Some collections of poetry are based around a particular theme, for example Love, War, Nationality, Gender, Ethnicity. In this situation it is possible that the poetry will span a large number of years and wide range of attitudes. It is inevitable that there will be vast differences in approach and techniques used.

For this reason, you need to be careful in considering the similarities and differences. Look at the suggestions for poems from a particular period.

Break down the theme into categories.

How do they show their differences in opinion?
How do they show their differences in opinion?
What techniques do they use?
How does their choice of approach reflect their ideas?

Having begun to compare the poems, you need to consider how to organise your ideas. In this section there are suggestions to help you organise your comparisons and think about how to prepare most efficiently for the exam.

Developing your notes

After studying a number of poems you will need to consider organising yournotes. You will have found links between the poems (see previous Learn It). The next stage is to focus on the comparison in more detail. A good starting point for preparing your notes and comparing the poems is to use a table.

For example:


You can expand and adapt this tabular format to cover as many points as you can find.

Arranging your notes like this for different groupings of poetry will help you to develop a clearer overall impression of the poet, and provide useful notes for specific questions.

Background reading

It is helpful to use background texts and literary critics to stimulate your own ideas. However, do not rely on them. Always question their opinions. The examiners are looking to reward you for developing your own line of argument not merely regurgitating someone else's views - which may have been written decades ago.

Showing an awareness of different attitudes and using them to inform your ownreading will be rewarded. Learning the odd short quotation from a critic will be rewarded if you are then able to comment on the quotations in your own words.

Which poems should I prepare?

Once you have compared a number of poems you may notice that certain poems feature a number of issues. These poems may have striking features or similarities with theme, style and imagery. If you notice poems that can be compared for a range of aspects then it makes sense to focus on them.

Try to consider a variety of poems. Don't restrict yourself to only one poet,one theme or one group of poems. Chances are the question won't come up. In your exam it is most likely that you will be asked to focus on two or three poems in detail, so it is important that you prepare your notes carefully.

Annotating your text

A useful way to annotate your text is to colour code your poems.

Put a simple key in the back of your book, for example:


You can then use this to highlight key lines in the poems. It gives colour to your revision notes, and makes it much easier to refer to in the exam.

Ensure that any quotations used are relevant, short quotations are best. Consult with your teacher to find out just how much detail you can include.

Writing your own poem that links with a certain poem from the anthology can be a good idea.

Practice Questions

As with all of the other aspects of the exam, the best way to prepare for the exam is to try practice questions. Simply writing comparative essays of different poems is useful, but in the exam you are likely to have to focus on just a certain aspect. Writing essay plans is a good idea. It takes less time and helps you focus your reading.

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Re: [English Literature]: Information Thread

English Literature A-level: Poetry - open text

Source taken from: http://www.s-cool.co.uk/alevel/engli...roduction.html

In your exam you may be expected to write an essay about a collection of poetry which you have studied in class.

There are many skills which you will already be familiar with from your preparation for unseen poetry. These can also be applied to the open text. As you will have studied the poetry already, there are also several strategies that you can use before going into the exam.

In this section we will cover the main points for revision and techniques to apply in your exam. We will also consider the type of questions that may occur.

Reading individual poems

Before worrying about preparing for the exam essay, you need to concentrate on just reading the poems. It is important that you are familiar with the contents of the anthology.

Time spent simply dipping into the poetry is time well spent. As with all of the other texts, the more familiar you are with the text, the better.

In order to study a collection of poems, you need to read the poems in the following stages:

Pick a single poem and read it through out loud. Think about what the poem is saying and the rhythm in the poem.
Look at the poem in more detail. What questions does it raise? Does your impression change of the poem?
Study the poem more closely. Think about the following issues: (see notes for more details).
Poetic Voice
Diction
Use of Imagery
Form and Structure
Rhythm
Rhyme
Themes and Mood in the Poem[*]Make notes on each of these aspects of the poem. Try to condense all of your notes on to one piece of paper.[*]Write key information on the poem. Consult your teacher to find out how much annotation is allowed.[*]Repeat these stages for a number of poems.
Making links between the poems

Having read a number of the poems you should now be in a position to start considering the anthology as a whole.

While reading see if you can find natural links between the poems. Can you see similarities between certain poets? Do the different poets have particular styles or ideas that distinguish them from each other? Are there certain themes that keep cropping up? Which poems interest you the most and why? Are there any you find difficult to understand?

The poems may be grouped into certain categories in the anthology already. Naturally this makes life easier, but it does not mean that these are the only groupings, or that the examiner will pick poems from only one section.

Once you start to see links between the poems you can begin to organise your ideas about the anthology as a whole.

Write down a list of categories that crop up in your comparisons. For example:

Death
Imagery
Reflective Poem
Romantic
Autobiographical
Use of rhythm

Alongside each category write the name of the poems which you associate with this issue. Don't feel restricted to your initial list of categories. Ask fellow students and teachers to see which themes and issues they think are important.

Introductions and background notes

Often collections of poetry contain notes about the poems. These may include explanations as to why certain poems have been grouped together. Or the editor may include his/her own attitudes towards the poem. Some collections contain a glossary explaining specific vocabulary. Others include essays or quotations from critics about the poets and their poems.

Obviously these are very useful and can help you with your exam, but it is generally better to formulate your own ideas about the poetry first. They can provide a way in to the poetry and a helpful standpoint against which you can compare your own ideas. Whatever you do, don't regard them as the absolute truth. If you refer to them in your exam you must cite your source (say where the idea comes from), as if you've discovered them you can be sure that the examiner has as well.

Don't try to pass off other people's ideas as your own. This will lead to youlosing marks. On the other hand referring to other critics in order to clarify your own viewpoint will be rewarded.

What next?

Once you have read the poems and begun to compare them you are ready to move on to the next stage. There are three main types of anthology which you may have to study. They all share common approaches but have specific issues which you need to consider.

For that reason, they have been divided into the following three categories:

Anthologies by one poet
Anthologies of a particular period
Anthologies based on a certain theme

Once you have studied the poems in some detail, you will be familiar with some of the ideas and issues that are being raised.

The next stage is to consider how to compare the poems. This will be influenced to some extent by the type of anthology you are studying. In your exam you may be expected to write about a selection of poems by a particular poet, or from a particular period or about a certain theme or group.

Anthologies by a single poet

The anthology may consist of poems by a single writer. Do you notice a common theme running throughout the poet's work. Do there seem to be different and perhaps conflicting ideas?

Look carefully at the anthology. Does it include poetry from a particular episode in the poet's life, or does it include poetry from across a number of years? If the poetry spans the poet's life, do you notice any similarities or differences between poems of different stages in his life?

How have the poems been arranged in the book? Does this bear any relation to your own groupings of the poem? Can you link up poems according to their themes, form and use of language?

Remember that you are studying the poetry first. Do not reduce your studies to biographies. Reading about the background of the writer will definitely inform your reading, but if the poems have any merit then they should stand up as works of art in their own right, and not need several pages of footnotes in order to be appreciated.

Anthologies of a particular period

Your chosen text may be an anthology of poetry from a certain period of time.

It is quite likely that the anthology will include very different styles and ideas. A collection of poetry by the Romantics for example would show great variation between the works of Coleridge, Keats and Wordsworth.

In this situation it is important to consider the following:

Study the poetry of more than one poet so that you establish an understanding of the range of styles.
Choose at least two poets who have similarities and two who have differences so that you have both elements covered.
Be flexible in your approach. Look for similarities between poets who are on the whole very different and vice versa.
Consider enough poems by each author to be able to avoid making sweeping statements about a poet's work based on a single poem.
Look for differences in style and approach for poems about the same theme as well as differences in ideas.
Do you notice any common links between the collection of poets? Look for features distinctive of the period such as a form-ballad or figurative technique-conceit.
It is important to have an understanding of the social and historical context of the poetry. Researching this can be extremely interesting. However, be wary of turning your study into a Social Studies essay. Remember that your research is meant to enhance your appreciation of the literature.
Don't become preoccupied with discussing the idea. Always relate your study to the poetry itself.
Anthologies based on a certain theme

Some collections of poetry are based around a particular theme, for example Love, War, Nationality, Gender, Ethnicity. In this situation it is possible that the poetry will span a large number of years and wide range of attitudes. It is inevitable that there will be vast differences in approach and techniques used.

For this reason, you need to be careful in considering the similarities and differences. Look at the suggestions for poems from a particular period.

Break down the theme into categories.

How do they show their differences in opinion?
How do they show their differences in opinion?
What techniques do they use?
How does their choice of approach reflect their ideas?

Having begun to compare the poems, you need to consider how to organise your ideas. In this section there are suggestions to help you organise your comparisons and think about how to prepare most efficiently for the exam.

Developing your notes

After studying a number of poems you will need to consider organising yournotes. You will have found links between the poems (see previous Learn It). The next stage is to focus on the comparison in more detail. A good starting point for preparing your notes and comparing the poems is to use a table.

For example:


You can expand and adapt this tabular format to cover as many points as you can find.

Arranging your notes like this for different groupings of poetry will help you to develop a clearer overall impression of the poet, and provide useful notes for specific questions.

Background reading

It is helpful to use background texts and literary critics to stimulate your own ideas. However, do not rely on them. Always question their opinions. The examiners are looking to reward you for developing your own line of argument not merely regurgitating someone else's views - which may have been written decades ago.

Showing an awareness of different attitudes and using them to inform your ownreading will be rewarded. Learning the odd short quotation from a critic will be rewarded if you are then able to comment on the quotations in your own words.

Which poems should I prepare?

Once you have compared a number of poems you may notice that certain poems feature a number of issues. These poems may have striking features or similarities with theme, style and imagery. If you notice poems that can be compared for a range of aspects then it makes sense to focus on them.

Try to consider a variety of poems. Don't restrict yourself to only one poet,one theme or one group of poems. Chances are the question won't come up. In your exam it is most likely that you will be asked to focus on two or three poems in detail, so it is important that you prepare your notes carefully.

Annotating your text

A useful way to annotate your text is to colour code your poems.

Put a simple key in the back of your book, for example:


You can then use this to highlight key lines in the poems. It gives colour to your revision notes, and makes it much easier to refer to in the exam.

Ensure that any quotations used are relevant, short quotations are best. Consult with your teacher to find out just how much detail you can include.

Writing your own poem that links with a certain poem from the anthology can be a good idea.

Practice Questions

As with all of the other aspects of the exam, the best way to prepare for the exam is to try practice questions. Simply writing comparative essays of different poems is useful, but in the exam you are likely to have to focus on just a certain aspect. Writing essay plans is a good idea. It takes less time and helps you focus your reading.

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Re: [English Literature]: Information Thread

Whoa? A level lit is that tough?

My elective lit is alr killing me!

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Old 23rd May 2009, 10:15 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: [English Literature]: Information Thread

I have not taken A Level Literature before, but I hope the information posted is useful.

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