Writing a response

You can sum up what you've discovered about a poem by writing an essay on it. You may write in response to a set question or title, like the ones on this page.

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

If you're writing in response to a given question or title, begin by highlighting any key words which stand out for you. Make sure you use these key words in your essay.

Example question

Compare the ways in which the poets present ideas about relationships in Climbing My Grandfather by Andrew Waterhouse and Letters from Yorkshire by Maura Dooley.


  1. Introduction: both explore relationships between two people. Waterhouse refers to a grandfather. Dooley does not specify who the speaker is talking about. Bonds are strong, despite time passing in Climbing My Grandfather and the distance in Letters from Yorkshire.
  2. Similar themes: relationship between two people who are not currently together at the same time and place. Physical closeness in the memory in Climbing My Grandfather. Maura Dooley compares lives in different places doing different things - letters bring them together across miles.
  3. Language and structure: mostly everyday speech patterns - readers can identify with these ordinary lives. Use of metaphor - links to power of emotions. Climbing My Grandfather is one long stanza - idea of long climb, Letters from Yorkshire is five stanzas of three lines - showing different ideas and scenes. Both use imagery from nature - mountaineering vocabulary in Climbing My Grandfather building an extended metaphor.
  4. Context: both draw on the strong poetic tradition of using images from nature to explore human emotions and a positive connection with the natural world. It's questioned in Letters from Yorkshire 'is your life more real...?', but the question is not answered so he, perhaps, does live a better life.
  5. Conclusion: both poems conclude on a sense of communication between speakers and another person. Climbing My Grandfather, 'pulse of his good heart', Letters from Yorkshire, 'our souls tap out messages'. For Waterhouse, who uses only past tense, there's a sense that feelings are clear. For Maura Dooley, who mingles past and present tenses, there's a sense that her feelings about the best way to live life are ambiguous, but she does still feel strong connection with the other person through the letters.

Some other essay questions to think about:

  • In Letters from Yorkshire by Maura Dooley and Dusting the Phone by Jackie Kay, the speakers describe feelings about communication with other people who they are parted from. What are the similarities and differences between the ways in which these poets present their feelings?
  • In Letters from Yorkshire by Maura Dooley, how does the speaker present her feelings about the letters she receives from another person in the poem?

Explore the study guide for 'Dusting the Phone'.

More about planning an essay.