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Poetry: the 'exploring' essay.

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poetry: the 'exploring' essay


Before you begin writing...

Re-read the poem(s) carefully and try to find the correct tone of voice with which to read it. This will help you read it as the poet intended it and you will become aware of the poet's attitude towards the subject matter.

Think about what kind of 'person' is speaking or telling the poem - the 'poetic voice'.

Think about who they are telling its 'story' to, as well as where and when (it may be an 'interior monologue' - a single voice talking to itself!).

Some poems are like one 'half' of a conversation - something like two people or friends talking. Thinking of a poem like this can reveal a lot and demystify the idea that poems are very 'special' and difficult.

Look at the sentences of the poem and work out what each one means.

Now look at how the sentences have been 'chopped up' for effect into the lines of the poem. Only poetry allows this odd way of dealing with sentences - it is an important aspect of poetic form.

Some lines end with a full stop and come to an abrupt end (called 'end-stopped'). What is the effect and purpose?

Some lines 'run on' into the next line or stanza (called enjambment).

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Ask yourself...

1. What is 'your' poem about generally (e.g. 'war') and in particular (e.g. 'the horror of fighting in trench warfare').

2. What is your surface meaning (e.g. 'that soldiers have lost all their pride') and your attitude towards your subject matter - your deeper layers of meaning (e.g. 'that the war has gone on too long and the truth of it needs to be told...')? That is, why did you write this poem? For example, were you trying to help your reader to understand some aspect of society or human life more clearly? Just what was your intention or purpose?

3. What motivated or inspired you to write about such a subject? Is it affected by the context (i.e. the time. place, conditions and situation) in which you live: your beliefs, values and attitudes compared, perhaps, to the general beliefs, attitudes and values of your society or its leaders (i.e. your society's dominant or prevailing ideologies)?

4. Were there any literary traditions or fashions that affected the form or style in which you wrote? Why was this?

5. What effect did you create using words, their shape sound or meaning, to capture and retain your reader's attention and interest and, having done this, involve them in your poem?


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Think about the title and how the poem opens then work through the ideas of the poem sequentially - perhaps stanza by stanza. Avoid starting half way through or at the end!  Use the ideas discussed above to help you do this.

Always consider the impact of the times and situation in which the author lived, thought and wrote. This is called the author's context: it will be this, at least in part, that has motivated or inspired the author to write such a story. Clearly this is important.

Poets might also be influenced by their context to follow a particular literary fashion or tradition. If so, consider how this has affected the telling and reception of the poem (consider particularly its form, structure and language style in comparison with other more traditional or modern poems you know).

The reader's context might also be important to consider, including your own of course. Readers from different contexts might interpret the poem differently - make sure to comment on this if different interpretations are likely.

Never make a major point without supporting what you say with direct evidence from the poem itself. To do this use a suitable short quotation and follow this with a close and detailed commentary that discusses the significance of the poet's choices of language and style in the quotation; this means discussing its effect on the reader and the poet's purpose in choosing this particular way to express an idea.

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