Prescribed Poetry: What’s Needed In Your Answer And How To Begin Planning It

Prescribed Poetry: What’s Needed In Your Answer And How To Begin Planning It

What are you being asked to do?

The marker is told to look for a representative selection from the work of a poet that reflects the range of the poet’s themes and interests while also exhibiting his/ her characteristic style and viewpoint. In addition, the marker is told that the underlying nature of the task in this section is to engage with the poems of the poet you are writing on; in short, you must comment on the poet’s themes, interests and style through close examination of his/her poetry. The four questions in the Prescribed Poetry section of the exam in 2009 show this:

‘Derek Walcott explores tensions and conflicts in an inventive fashion.’
Do you agree with this assessment of his poetry? Write a response, supporting your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have studied.

‘John Keats presents abstract ideas in a style that is clear and direct.’
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this assessment of his poetry? Support your points with reference to the poetry on your course.

‘John Montague expresses his themes in a clear and precise fashion.’
You have asked by your local radio station to give a talk on the poetry of John Montague. Write out the text of the talk you would deliver in response to the above title. You should refer to both style and subject matter. Support the points you make by reference to the poetry on your course.

Elizabeth Bishop poses interesting questions delivered by means of a unique style.’
Do you agree with this assessment of her poetry? Your answer should focus on both themes and stylistic features. Support your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have studied.

These questions all require you to use a poet’s poetry (themes, interests, characteristic style and viewpoint etc) to respond to a statement (above in inverted commas). Thus, there are three things required of you in this section:

  1. To respond to a statement
  2. To focus on various features of the poet’s works
  3. To focus on specific poems

What do you need to have in these answers?

The marker is told to expect that you show study of at least six poems of the poet you answer on. In addition your answer has to contain the four qualities of Clarity of Purpose, Efficiency of Language use, Coherence of Delivery and Accuracy of Mechanics. Regardless of the poet you choose, your answer must always show study of six poems and contain these four qualities, so preparing a suitable answer structure beforehand that contains these will allow you to use this in the exam regardless of the poet or question you answer on.

The introduction brings about the first quality of your answer needed.

Efficiency of language use

This involves using your language suitably to complete the task. Included in this is your ability to structure your answer and your introduction is an important part of your answer structure. Any good introduction to a piece should tell its reader what it is about, and hence you should always place the following in the introduction to your prescribed poetry answer so as to introduce your answer, in which you will address a statement and include a representative selection of the poetry of a certain poet:

  1. The poet you are studying
  2. The statement you are responding to
  3. The paragraph topics you will use to answer the question, such as themes/ interests, style, viewpoint etc
  4. The poems you will focus on

In addition you can deal with one of the requirements (mentioned earlier) of your prescribed poetry answer here, showing study of six poems. If you mention in the introduction that you have studied six poems then you will have shown study of six poems, and you can then focus your answer to three or four poems. A suitable introduction would be something such as so:

I found the poetry of Thomas Kinsella fascinating, due to its unconventional nature. His poetry not only examines themes in fresh and unique ways, but also makes use of imagery and other stylistic tools such as personification to present his messages in a novel manner. The poems in which this is seen are Thinking of Mr. D, Mirror in February, Hen Woman, Model School, Inchicore, Echo and His Father’s Hands.

The introduction not only responds to the statement but also indicates what the rest of the answer will focus on; it reveals that you will focus on the poets’ themes/ interests, style, viewpoint etc, while also showing study of six poems. As a result the marker has an idea of how you will respond to the statement, and will see that you know what has to be in the answer and that you are planning to have your answer contain this.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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