Writing a response

When writing an essay about your interpretation of, or response to, a poem, you should consider the points below.

Essay-writing tips

  • Write a plan first, noting what you'll include in each paragraph.
  • Begin with a brief overview of the poem.
  • Go on to mention themes, form, structure, rhythm and language.
  • Mention a range of views or perspectives.
  • Compare the poem to another one.
  • Mention any relevant details about the context of the poem.
  • Conclude with a firm judgement about the poem.
  • Support all you say with details or quotes from the poem.

Key words

A good approach to begin with is to highlight any key words which stand out for you. Make sure you use these key words in your essay.

Example question

How does Beatrice Garland present her ideas about blame and forgiveness in family life in her poem Kamikaze?

Considerations

  1. Overview: Garland presents poem in seven, six-line stanzas with impact. Starts with third-person description with daughter imagining her father making his decision to turn back. Then moves to first-person description of how daughter remembers his family - blaming and punishing him with their silence.
  2. Form and structure of the poem: different narrators (third-person, then first-person) mark changes in perspective which brings the reader close to the storyteller. Suggests ideas around blame have changed over time.
  3. Poet imagines the pilot's moments in the cockpit: filled with the language of vivid impressions (colour, light, dark, taste, touch) and with metaphor and simile ('tuna, the dark prince', 'like a flag'). Emphasises father's discovery of how much he wants to live. Conversational, relaxed rhythm and language suggests speaker takes a balanced, thoughtful view.
  4. Simple and factual final stanzas: shift in time and speaker - this emphasises the surprise twist that the pilot decided to turn back. Final three lines show the stark reflection that his life was lonely and sad on his return, that he may have thought he made the wrong decision; this appears tragic and senseless to the reader.
  5. Different views: one view suggests the starkness of the conclusion to the poem may imply a refusal by the daughter to be tender - perhaps she continues to blame her father. Other view suggests the memories are too painful dwell on.
  6. Conclusion: Garland uses changes in narrator and tense to signal how our views change over time. The daughter does not blame the pilot, but simply lets the facts, as she imagines them to be, speak for him. His response is presented as human and natural. The confessional tone and the sharing of the story with a new generation suggest a forgiving attitude.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • Compare how the writers of Kamikaze and The Émigrée deal with memories and the past.
  • How does Beatrice Garland convey a sense of place and time in her poem Kamikaze?

Read more about planning an essay.