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Poetry Unit 2 - The basics of the exam

So you have a poetry exam and you're ready to . You look at the poem and all you see is and you're feeling the exam is going like

The opening of this blog may seem strange and a bit unfamiliar to you but you have the tools to decipher the main idea. This is the same with the poetry exam. You have a short period of time to write in so every second counts. You can be prepared on every poem but still be stumped if your skills aren't honed and ready.

So let's start with your poetry toolkit. What do you have available to you?

First and foremost - the 6 Word Summaries we've made you do every lesson. Why have I made you do this? Your six word summaries give you at least 6 points you can make about a poem before you even get the question. You should never be stuck without a point to make because you've prepared 6n in advance.

The Clown Punk: Outcast, Pitied, Lonely, Misjudged, Loved, Feared.

This gives you 6 sentence openings:

'Simon Armitage presents the Clown Punk as ...'

Secondly - a high level back up.

Your one line wonder. Often the examiners get sick of seeing the same formulaic essays and sometimes it is nice to see something passionate and enthusiastic. Your one line wonder is your personal channel to the examiner and something you can use if your 6 word summary draws a blank with the particular question.

'A line that first captures me is '...' as the powerful use of imagery introduces to us a character who is complex yet yearning for a simple life.'

Thirdly - writing a lot about a little.

This is mentioned every year in the examiner's report. Can't think of many quotations to use? No problem! Just write a lot about the one you've found. This encourages our extended and abstract thinking by developing a range of different interpretations.

'The use of 'white' in the poem suggests the purity of the character but could hint at hidden depth of the character's dilemma. While highlighting the character's purity the poet could also be using white to symbolise the emptiness of the character perhaps hinting that the character is empty because of the pure way they lead their life. The lack of colour may suggest a lack of joy in the characters life all adding together to create the impression of a character who is isolated.'

All that from the word 'white'!

You've got all these skills to stop you from panicking when faced with the unknown element of the exam question and the unknown element of the unseen poem.

If all else fails:

Analysis (zooming in on key words)
Alternate Interpretations
Evaluation (zooming out to look at what ideas the poet seems to be exploring)
Compare (Section A only)

Here are a few Section A questions to practice on:

How does the poet present the idea of isolation in 'The Hunchback in the Park' and another poem of your choice?

How does the poet present desperation in 'Give' and another poem of your choice?

How does the poet present identity in 'Singh Song' and another poem of your choice?

How does the poet present power in 'My Last Duchess and another poem of your choice?

Here is an unseen poem for you to tackle:

What is the poet's attitude to different classes and how does she present that attitude to the reader?

a song in the front yard

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.
Gwendolyn Brooks
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