Writing a response

When you have settled on a suitable poem, you should note down a variety of links between the poems. The key thing to do when comparing poems is to note the points where they are similar and the points where they differ.

When writing an essay comparing your two poems you should consider the points below.

Essay-writing tips

A good approach to begin with is to highlight any key terms which stand out for you.

In the sample question the key term you must think about is ‘conflicting identities’.

Make sure you use the key term frequently throughout your essay.

Begin by introducing both poems, giving a brief overview of their main subject or message. You MUST refer to the key terms in your introduction.

You will be expected to compare and contrast the poets’ use of features such as theme, form, structure, rhythm, language and figures of speech.

Remember to avoid simply identifying what techniques or approaches poets use. Aim to show an understanding of how form, language and structure create meanings and effects.

Make sure you are comparing and contrasting the poems throughout.

Your essay should be peppered with comparing words and phrases such as "similarly...", "in contrast to this…" and "this can also be seen in…".

Mention any relevant details about the context of the poem.

You will not get marks for context which is not linked directly to the question.

For example, don’t simply write down everything you know about the poet if it is not relevant to the question.

Support all you say with details or quotes from the poem.

This may mean quoting a full line at times, but could also involve detailed analysis of one significant word.

If you were to compare Docker with Belfast Confetti by Ciaran Carson for example, you could use some of the following points:

  • Both poets are from Northern Ireland and write about the conflict there.
  • Like Docker, Belfast Confetti references the conflict between Catholics and Protestants.
  • Both poems have connections with the shipyards. The title of Belfast Confetti is a slang reference to the nuts, bolts and other metal items from shipbuilding that were used for throwing at people during riots.
  • Heaney wrote Docker before the Troubles officially began, while Belfast Confetti was published in 1990 after over twenty years of conflict and riots.
  • Carson describes a very public riot involving many people, while Heaney focuses on the hatred of one individual. Despite this, both poems show the extent of the conflict between those of differing beliefs.
  • Heaney’s poem is written in four quatrains with regular lines, generally of ten syllables. This creates a regular slow-paced rhythm, reflecting the silent unmoving man. In contrast, the chaotic pace of Carson’s poem reflects the confusion and pace of the riot - suggested by the fragmented structure, differing line lengths and punctuation.
  • The violent imagery used in Docker to show the bigotry of the docker himself could be compared with the violence contained in Carson’s title, imagery and reference to weapons.

When writing about these similarities and differences you should discuss the methods used by the poets.

Look at the earlier sections on themes, language, form and structure to get ideas.

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