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 Jackie Kay explore relationships in Dusting the Phone? Compare her treatment of relationships to the poem Cozy Aplogia by Rita Dove.


  1. Overview: confessional, conversational tone in both poems. Kay's narrator jumps from subject to subject – a vivid portrait of someone in a dysfunctional relationship. Dove uses domestic detail and humour to convey a sense of a happy, well-tempered relationship.
  2. Use of figurative language: Kay personifies phone and sheets to illustrate the stressful relationship with the absent lover. Dove compares Fred to a knight in shining armour – gentle irony to establish their closely bonded relationship.
  3. Contrasting approaches to the relationship with the reader: Kay addresses reader directly, perhaps casts reader as the lover. Dove's use of ‘you’ is directly addressed to Fred. Kay draws reader into the unhappy relationship she describes, whereas Dove places reader in the position of a spectator, who sees details of a happy relationship.
  4. Conclusion: Kay and Dove use comparable techniques to explore two very different relationships. The key thing both poems have in common is vivid details and images that reveal the complex inner lives and fantasies of the poem’s speakers.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • How does Jackie Kay convey her thoughts about the modern world and daily life in Dusting the Phone?
  • How does Jackie Kay convey a sense of anxiety, discontent and frustration in Dusting the Phone?

Explore the study guide for 'Cozy Apologia'.

More about planning an essay.