GCSE English Literature - Unseen Poetry Tutorial

Catrin Harris shares her Top tips for analysing GCSE English Unseen Poetry. 

The transcript it below...

Hi I'm Catrin, 

Today we're going to learn how to approach the unseen poetry in the GCSE exam. So you're sitting in the exam room and you are presented with a poem you've never seen before.  The first thing you need to do is read that poem; read the poem, read the title and read who the poet is. Then read the poem again, don't pick up your pencil, just read it and see what you can take from it. And then read the poem for the third time. On this third time pick up your pencil circle any words that you think are important, any rhyming structures and then you can proceed and write about it. When you want to think about writing about the poem, you want to think about the content. So what is being said in the poem? Now, this isn't the most important thing, but it is important that you understand something about the content of the poem if you're going to write about it. Don't worry if you don't get everything that's fine. So you want to be thinking about the content. Is it a poem from a sister to another sister? Is someone writing about their experience with the war? Is someone writing about going shopping? What's happening in the poem? 

Connected to the content is the theme. Is there a certain thing that the writer is trying to get the reader to think about?  The poet might have a specific agenda that he or she wants to approach. Are they talking about global warming? Are they talking about love? Are they talking about upset feelings? What are they talking about? The content and the theme are preliminary; they're the things you need to do at the start. But then you need to do get to it. You need to be thinking about the mood of the poem. Is it happy? Is it sad? How does it make you feel? When you read that poem for the first time, how did I make you feel? It can be a very personal response, but that personal response can aid you in your later writing. 

Then you need to approach three main things; form and structure, language used in the poem, and imagery. So when you're sitting down in the exam with your pencil waiting to go through the poem again, these are the three things you want to be looking out for. Firstly, what is the form of the poem? Is it one long verse/one stanza? Or is it four? Is it five? And why do you think that might be? If it's two perhaps there is a shift between the two verses. Perhaps one is happy and the other is sad. Perhaps the reader finds out something halfway through, sorry the writer... So, what is the form? That's really important to understand the structure of the poem. Then we talk about the structure, you need to think about any shifts that happen throughout. Does it start addressing the reader directly and then the end is more personal? Is it very open the whole way through? What's the structure of the poem? These two can really help you get your head around what the poem is trying to say.  Another thing that's quite important is in the form and structure section is rhyme. As you know, poems do not have to rhyme but they sometimes do, and if they do, why is the poet made that decision? Why are they rhyming? Does it create pace? Does it make it seem more lyrical/poetic? That's really important to think about, but remember, poems that have to rhyme.

Then onto language, the poem is made up of language and that can be really important to look at. You've got your nouns, adjectives, adverbs. What you need to do as an analyst is to think about the different ways that the poet has used language in this poem. Have they used a lot of verbs to make it a very exciting poem? Have they used short, small language to make the poem seem exciting, seem important, or perhaps even quite scary. Have they used everyday language like you'd use in the shop or have they used particularly descriptive, poetic language to describe a landscape. This is the language section, which is quite a big section when you think about English. Then the final section, imagery, is almost a bonus section. Sometimes in a poem the poet might decide to use a simile; comparing something to something else. For example, it was as black as night. Sometimes they may choose to use a metaphor describing the head teacher as a demon because they're scared of them. They might also choose to use personification and they're talking about how the kettle sang. The kettle doesn't really sing because it is an inanimate object. So those are three examples of uses of imagery that the poem could be using. You think about that. It's a bonus point because often the amount you said about form, structure and language will suffice. But imagery, if you can spot any imagery get it in there because it is really important.

What you need to remember, when looking at these three things, is that the poet has done them for a reason. If the poem is in the middle, you got the poet on one side and reader on the other. So what does the poets put into the poem to make it reach the reader? If he's put in a lot of negative words, negative phrases, and then that goes into the poem. When the reader reads it, they feel those negative emotions. So you need to think about why the poet did things. Everything that happens is done for a reason in a poem. You have to think about the effect of it. So if the kettle sings in a poem, why does the kettle sing? Because he wants to show that the kettles really loud, or because the kettle is quite melodious perhaps, or because the kettle is a comforting part of the kitchen. There's a reason for it. So that's where the final technique comes in, PQD, Point-Quote-Development. You make a point, say, the poet /or narrator /or the voice is sad. The quote, she says "she's crying". Development, (the is the important bit) you need to think about, what else can you gain from the poem, that says/that could explain why the poets crying and that's the development. So you make a point, you quote it (in the quotation marks) from the poem, and then you need to develop it. Link it to other areas of the poem, link it to the wider context. If you think that this is about the war, why must she crying? Develop it in that sense. 

That's the structure. You want to get the poem in front of you, read it, read it again, and then start going through with the pencil. You then want to generally get some idea of content and the theme. You want to think about your own personal response. What's the mood of the poem? And then you have these three important things to look at and use this technique Point-Quote-Development. That's all good luck :)

Hannah Ogahara