The context in which a poem was written can sometimes tell you more about its themes, message and meaning.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • are aspects of the poet’s life reflected in the poem?
  • is the time or place in which it was written reflected in the poem?

You will need to research the poet’s background to discover answers to these questions. But if you do write about a poem and its context, be careful to include only details that reveal something about the poem.

Context of 'Dusting the Phone'

Poet and writer, Jackie Kay
It is suggested that this poem is a personal confession, but Jackie Kay has never confirmed this

Jackie Kay has written a number of autobiographical poems. Her first published collection, The Adoption Papers takes much of its inspiration from her own life. In an interview she revealed she was inspired by listening to other contemporary poets to write in her 'own voice' as she realised ‘You didn't have to pretend to be somebody else’.

Dusting the Phone has an autobiographical tone and a highly conversational 'own voice' appeal. However, Kay is playing with the reader's expectations - she suggests that her poem is a personal confession, but she never confirms the identity of the poem’s narrator.

More about commenting on context.