How can I write an essay about a poem I’ve never seen or even heard of before?

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How can I write an essay about a poem I’ve never seen or even heard of before???

Sometimes poems can be daunting. But close reading a poem can also be fun, like working out a riddle or finishing a puzzle. Here are 10 steps on how to find out what’s really going on in a poem, and what makes it so great.

1) The first time you read, read s l o w l y and in your head. Try to think in simple terms about what is happening in the poem. After reading it the first time, if someone asks you: “What happened in the poem?”, your aim should be to respond with a very brief summary.

2) Now the juicy part! Always remember to have a pen/highlighter/pencil (or all of the above) to hand. Underline anything that immediately sticks out, sounds nice or even seems a little weird to you. Don’t overthink it, just relax and get highlighting.

3) Try to relate these little peculiarities that you’ve found to the content that you sussed out in step 1. Can you see any major themes forming? For example, a rhyme to do with flowers linking to poet’s message about the cycles of nature.

4) Time for an acronym. We’re going to use the LIST method. Read the poem again and look out for these different aspects of poetry and ask yourself these questions.

Language – how does the poem sound? What poetic devices are present? Alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, personification, hyperbole etc.? Read the poem carefully and see which you can find. It’s always handy to memorize a few poetic devices that you can search for.

Imagery – are there any amazing images? Any metaphors or similes that you can see? What do you imagine when you read the poem?

Structure – sometimes people find this one difficult, but actually it’s simple. How is the poem structured? What does it look like on the page? Is it in a funny shape? Does it mostly rhyme? Is it a classic love sonnet or a really really long epic poem?

ToneWho is speaking and what sort of mood are they in? Happy or sad? Do you think they’re hiding something? Do they have a message?

5) If you can make a good LIST, you’ll have plenty of material to write your essay. Once you have identified all these poetic devices, I want you to think about their effect. Why do you think the poet wrote that? Try to be creative, and always remember to back up your point with a reason.

6) Now you just need to round it all up. Start thinking about those themes from Step 3, and then read the poem again, slowly and thinking about all the different things you’ve come up with. Has your opinion on the poem changed at all?

7) Make a mind map of 3 themes or arguments, and add any points from your LIST that you think support these areas. Try to include an aspect from each element of LIST in every paragraph. For example, don’t write a paragraph only on the tone of the speaker in the poem. Balance it out with a bit of analysis on the language, imagery and structure as well.

8) Before you start writing the essay, think about the way you want to order your themes. Can you see an argument, a story or a cool theory about the poem forming? If you can, awesome! If you can show your own line of argument in your essay, you’ll be getting top marks. If you can’t, don’t worry – just try to write in an engaged way about what you think makes the poem interesting. Keep a natural flow between the themes of the paragraphs.

9) Your introduction should be brief; outline the content of your argument and then get going. Remember to start every paragraph with a punchy point, and then use your LIST to back up that point.  Show an example, explain your thinking behind it and then evaluate its importance. The last line of every paragraph should round it off, but also connect to the next paragraph. Finally, your conclusion should summarize your thoughts and back up any arguments you made.

10) It’s here! Step number 10: always check your work. Set aside some time to check from grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. When you’re writing with that amount of adrenaline, it’s easy to make simple mistakes. Correcting them can ensure you stay within your desired grade boundary.

And there you have it – how to write an essay on a poem you’ve never seen before. Remember, it’s all about what you make of the poem. The poet wrote the poem because they wanted a reaction out of their readers! There’s never any right or wrong answers.

Monica M.

About the author

is an online A Level English Literature tutor who has applied to tutor with MyTutor studying at Bristol University

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