A Level OCR English Literature: How to write an essay for poetry?

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csutton
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So, I'm studying Hamlet, A Streetcar Named Desire, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems

I've printed out the mark schemes, read through the examiner reports and I'm aware that the AOs are weighed differently according to which text it is.

Some questions:
HOW DO YOU WRITE AN ESSAY FOR POETRY? (Main one)
Would you go through the poem chronologically, or separate the paragraphs into things like: context, language, imagery, structure, tone, etc.
Do you include critics?

If anybody could just provide any help I would be so happy. If anybody could just point me towards some resources or something, like ANYTHING. I'm just so lost.
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Username1502
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So for my A-Level English course (Edexcel) we have a 24 mark question on poetry comparing two poems on a named theme given in the question.

So what you must do is, of course, start with an introduction. Make it eloquent but simple - don't over complicate it. Start with a few sentences (2 maybe) on what each poem is about on the most basic level, and perhaps mention if there are deeper meanings contained in the body of the symbols in the poems. Then a sentence talking about HOW EXACTLY these two poems are similar, or different RELATING TO THE NAMED GIVEN THEME IN THE QUESTION. Don't be vague and say "these poem's are similar", no, you need to be specific - WHY? Then, if it feels natural perhaps interrogate the question. If the question is asking about how the poets are exploring themes of societal pressures, begin to question if the poets are doing this in the first place:

"Yet, upon closer inspection, we can question if both the poets are in fact criticizing the modern pressures placed on us by our current society. Perhaps it could be argued that in both Duffy's and in Armitage's work we see a more optimistic outlook on these pressures: they push us to our limits."

That was complete and utter made-up crap, but I hope you get the point?


Then, start each paragraph with a comparative point ABOUT THE THEME. Do not base your opening topic sentence, and points, on tone/structure/language. NO. You base it on how the theme in the question is explored. Then in the body of the paragraph - this is where you analyse your tone etc. and this is where you hit your assessment objectives.

So for example, following on from the question I mentioned earlier:

"From the outset of both Armitage's and Duffy's poems, it is clear that the modern pressures that our society somehow controls our actions with are heavily associated with gender stereotypes and the pressure to conform to the quintessential man or woman figure. [then analyse how the poets do this through language and structure]."

You should start with analysing one poem's language in a paragraph AND THEN IN THAT SAME PARAGRAPH explore ow the other poet explores that same theme/point but with their language and structure and themes constantly drawing parallels and contrasts.

I do these paragraphs 3 times in an essay.

Keep the conclusion short, snappy, answer the question and perhaps be a little clever and twist the question:

"Ultimately then, while there are overt insinuations in both poems that the modern pressures pushed upon us by our social norms we have built up, are something which can be oppressive and controlling over us, we could read the poems from a more optimistic standpoint. Indeed, through the exploration of these pressures it seems that they somehow allow us to excel in our modern society which is competitive. It could even be argued from looking at Duffy's portrayal of the speaker's attitude to her changing surroundings, that we places these pressures on ourselves and simply blame our society."


Hope that's helped!!!

For my course we don't need to include critics or context for poetry - but check for your course!!
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UrsulaLangley
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I feel like with the new specification everyone is having to take a stab in the dark.

This reply may be a bit late but, my teacher explained the importance of covering all bases.

This is an example paragraph in which I received an A* and hopefully you can dissect it to form a structure which is useful for you. It's in relation to Christina Rossetti and A Doll's House comparison with the question being ‘Having strong principles is an essential element within fiction’.


Naivety means that the character is unable to perceive the true effects of their moral situation. Nora, does however finally understand the results of her prior principles of ‘protecting’ her husband when it is too late, her naivety had previously prevailed and therefore her predicament had worsened. The IOU that has forced her to be trapped due to the forged signature, was an act of kindness at the time, as she explains she did not wish to place her dying father in any more difficulty; however, this is now the cage that forces her to be trapped under the grasp of more than one man (Krogstad is the blackmailer). Nora refers to the IOU as a “beastly thing”, an animalistic association that shows its power upon her naivety. “Beastly” signifies that she now understands the consequences that her moral choice has created as she refers to it in a negative persona that has added her downfall. Nora now understands that this mere piece of paper can harm her and her reputation within the principles of society, yet, she did not know this at the time, exploring the idea of misunderstood morals; she did what she thought was the ‘better thing’. However, she still portrays moral corruption begging Mrs Linde to aid her escape from the predicament, rather than facing up to her mistakes (the morally correct thing). Critic Kate Millet suggests that Nora is blinded by her own selfishness to make the correct principle act as she “battles every convention (…) in order to maintain her toy-like position”, and her own personal security, rather than the protection of others around her. Her moral naivety is fuelled by her desire to maintain her reputation in society. Rossetti creates a similar desire to maintain one’s reputation in Twice, where the writer is begging God and another man for forgiveness for something (it is unsure as to what, but it can be interpreted as having lost her virginity) she did not thoroughly understand when she committed the act; similar to Nora’s IOU difficulty. Rossetti also explores the idea of moral naivety in Goblin Market when the anecdote of Jeanie acts as a warning to the reader and to Laura of the consequences of the act of ‘sucking’ the Goblin’s Fruit. An issue close to Rossetti’s heart due to her involvement in an institute of Fallen Women, at the time of writing Goblin Market, Rossetti wishes to show that the misunderstanding and naivety of ‘making love’ can actually ruin an individual’s prospects due to the principles of association within society. Naivety can lead to a misunderstanding of the immoral act that is to be committed, people may deem it as safe and unlikely to harm them, however the principles of society and those amongst it, can actually lead to the individual’s reputation being permanently tainted.


I know that the syntax is a bit poor, but this is something I am working on!
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username2981082
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(Original post by csutton)
Basically I have a rubbish teacher, and whenever I ask him a question about the course, he tells me to go on the OCR website, but not all of the information I need is on there.

So, I'm studying Hamlet, A Streetcar Named Desire, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems (he thought we were doing Goblin Market and Other Poems, he's useless).

So, can somebody actually tell me how to structure/what to put in an essay? I'm struggling so much, as he's told me to forget everything I've learnt at GCSE, yet is refusing to help me or my classmates, as there is "no model answer."

I've printed out the mark schemes, read through the examiner reports and I'm aware that the AOs are weighed differently according to which text it is.

Some questions:
HOW DO YOU WRITE AN ESSAY FOR POETRY? (Main one)
Would you go through the poem chronologically, or separate the paragraphs into things like: context, language, imagery, structure, tone, etc.
Do you include critics?

If anybody could just provide any help I would be so happy. If anybody could just point me towards some resources or something, like ANYTHING. I'm just so lost.
You can write an essay chronologically but it is much more difficult than writing a thematic essay. I would only tell someone to write an essay chronologically if they are a confident writer.

The easiest way to write an essay is to divide it into themes. This is true for poetry and novels. A thematic essay allows you to easily signpost your paragraphs and it makes it clearer to follow your argument. I would strongly advise against dividing your paragraph according to features of the poem. At A-Level, examiners do not want to see feature spotting. A-Level English Literature is more about thinking critically about your texts.

Here is an excerpt from a paragraph on one of my essays that I got a 1st on. Don't worry if you writing is not to the same standard. This is a 2nd year university essay after all. I would not be able to write like this 3 years ago. I just want you to see how the thematic structure of my essay has made my argument clearer.

'For James Fenimore Cooper, the natural laws that Natty Bumppo and John Mohegan favour cannot co-exist with the civilised laws of man that characters like Judge Temple are adamant in implementing. Yet, if a nation is to be born in America then the civilised law of man is the only way of achieving this and so this results in the natural law effectively being exiled. Therefore, Cooper has resolved the dispute by making civilised law the victor.

The first issue of contention between natural and civilised law is land ownership. The Pioneers is a ‘…book about origins.’[1] These origins often decide the wealth and land that some characters are entitled to, the most obvious example of this being Oliver Edwards becoming Mr Effingham. However, the land rights that characters have according to the natural law differs from civilised law. In Chapter 7, Cooper gives us an example of how civilised law views the rights people have to land: ‘before the Europeans…dispossessed the original owners of the soil, all that section of country which contains the New England state…were occupied by two great nations of Indians.’[2] Despite Cooper explicitly labelling the Indians as the ‘original owners’ of the land, characters like John Mohegan still have no right to claim the land despite his relatives being original owners of it. Yet, Oliver Edwards is able to claim his right to land on the very same idea. Edwards is able to achieve this due to civilised law creating a concept of European sovereignty.'

By using a thematic structure my reader can tell that my first paragraph is going to be about land ownership. Yes, do use critics. Using critics is something examiners love. Critics may also inspire you with new ways of thinking about the texts. However, don't be tempted to let the critic's voice overshadow your own. In the excerpt of my essay above, you can see that I have only used short quotes from critics, and have made my own argument come before theirs. A good book that will help you is Robert Eaglestone's 'Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students.' It is primarily aimed at 1st year university students but A-Levels is practically 1st year university work so it should be relevant. Not only does it help you with essay writing but it also has information on different types of critical interpretations. It is a classic literature guide and the best in my opinion. Another good book is Tory Young's 'Studying English Literature: A Practical Guide.' Again this is aimed at university students but will be useful to you as well. It is more about essay writing skills and examination techniques than Eaglestone. It is good in that it gives you sample essays of different grades and lists the positive and negative points about them.
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username2859752
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I study the OCR course and similar texts to you, I also do Rossetti and a Street Car.
In regards t the poetry essay this is normally done in comparison with another text. I am studying A Dolls House by Ibsen.
It's really really important to make sure you know your AO's for this essay as that will help you understand what you need to include and how much of it.
A03 - which is context and its significance is 50%
A04 - comparisons and linkage across texts is 25%
A01 - a well structured and coherent argument (so your points) - 12.5%
A05 - which is production and reception so your effect on the audience and critics is 12.5%
while there is no A02 included still put some of this in your essay as it helps provided the foundations for context and some AO1 and 4.

When writing an essay in regard to poetry it all depends on the question but some key things to talk about are
Language and Structure and the effect of these. Ensure you talk about these and then talk about your themes in relation to this.
1) So if you talk about the theme of power write how it is shown through the language or structure used. (A01)
2) Support you point with a quotation and analyse it (A02)
3) link this with another poem (or the other text you study) and support again with a quote. Use language such as similarly or contrasting to and again analyse... ( this ticks the box for your A04)
4) then talk about the context, why the poet may have done this, what was happening in society at the time and the response to this (A03 and A05)
5) then interweave in a critic if possible. this isn't necessary for all points.

Ensure that in each paragraph you reference back to your points but ensure there is little repetition.
Use keywords such as tone, imagery, language, connotation, symbolism, alluding to, implicitly and explicitly as well as phonological sound etc...
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