English Literature: How to Write a Poetry Essay
Many students experience writer’s block when they first begin writing a poetry essay. Poems are unwieldy beings which throw up all sorts of images, ideas, associations and emotions. As a result of this, it is not uncommon for a student to feel somewhat overwhelmed by their thoughts on a given poem and to struggle with transforming their reading of it into structured sentences and paragraphs. Here, planning is key. Plenty of students find it useful to follow a set plan to order their thoughts. Making a few notes under useful headings prior to writing the essay can give students the confidence they need to write a successful poetry essay. Below is an example of a plan that has proven useful to many.
Introduction: Ideas, Attitudes and FeelingsIn the introduction to a poetry essay, it is important that students signal that they know what the poem is about. Thinking about the ideas, attitudes and feelings expressed in the poem can be a handy way into getting a hold on its content. Is it a happy or a sad poem? What is the subject matter? What events occur in the poem? Is it about memory, the present moment or the future? What is the tone of the poem?
VoiceThe question students must ask themselves here is, ‘Who is speaking?’. In some poems, the speaker can be clearly identified. In others, the identity of the speaker may be a little more difficult to detect. Is the poem written in first person? Who is it written to? How old might the speaker be? Are they male of female?
StructureThe word ‘structure’ refers to the way in which the ideas, events or details of the poem are unfolded to the reader. For example, a poem might begin with a tone of uncertainty, move on to ask a series of demanding questions and then end on a note of resignation. It can be helpful to visually group together similar lines in a poem and see where the tone, language or subject matter shifts and changes.
LanguageWhen writing about poetry, the focus should be on the language that the poet uses. Alliteration, assonance, adjectives and adverbs should all be scrutinised. What effects do they create? Metaphor and similes should also be looked for. What images do they conjure up? It can be interesting to see what sort of objects appear in a given poem. For example, are there lots of objects that have to do with the world of work, or the beach, or wealth? Are there any clusters of words, or semantic fields, that relate to the same subject? Does the poet favour short or long words? Here, it is very important to give short quotations from the poem and explain the effects the poet’s language choices have.
FormThe form of a poem should not be confused with the structure of the poem. It refers to the way in which the poem is crafted. Rhyme, metre and stanza organisation are all key here. Is the poem long or short? Are lines grouped into stanzas? Does the poet use rhyme? Are rhyming couplets employed? Is the rhyme regular or irregular? Is there a uniform number of beats in each line? Which words rhyme together? Students should brush up on the literary terms that are used to describe the formal elements of poetry so that they are able to cite aspects of the poem as evidence for their points and explain the effects produced.
ConclusionJust as every essay should always have an introduction, a conclusion is also mandatory. Here, students should sum up the main points that have been made in the body of their essay. They might also like to close with a short discussion of which of the poem’s features most intrigued them and why.
Reading poems can be illuminating and thought provoking. Equally, writing an essay on poetry can prove a creative and engaging task. Crucially, the student should adopt an inquisitive and critical reading stance and pay attention to every choice the poet has made in the creation of their poem.
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Serin Sangma - 10-Jul-17 @ 4:29 PM
Since the dawn of man, writing has been used to communicate ideas. In academic settings, ideas are typically communicated using formal types of writing such as essays. Most academic essays contain an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introduction as, “A preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”
Michigan State University student Sally used to have a lot of difficulty writing introductions. Once she had suffered through writing dozens of painful introductions, she decided to look up some tips on how to introduce your essay, and after that she got a lot better.
Introductions can be tricky. Because the introduction is the first portion of your essay that the reader encounters, the stakes are fairly high for your introduction to be successful. A good introduction presents a broad overview of your topic and your thesis, and should convince the reader that it is worth their time to actually read the rest of your essay. Below are some tips that will make writing an introduction a little less daunting, and help us all to write essays that don’t make our professors want to bang their heads against the wall.
- Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. When I first started writing formal essays, I didn’t really know how broad to go with my intros. A brief paragraph on Hamlet would suddenly include irrelevant details about Shakespeare’s childhood, then grow out to be a history of Western literature, and then a history of the universe itself. Do not write an introduction like this; this kind of intro is confusing and makes the reader wonder where exactly you’re going with your essay.Your introduction should provide the reader with a sense of what they should expect out of your essay, not to expound upon every piece of knowledge ever developed by man. Go ahead and start relatively broad, then narrow to your thesis, but make sure you’re still on topic.
- Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context or evidence? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it? True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
- Provide a thesis. The majority of the time, your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. It is a typical convention to put your thesis as the last sentence of your first paragraph. My personal opinion is that it can sometimes be awkward to shove your thesis in one specific place if it doesn’t necessarily fit, but if your thesis works in that position, that is the best place for it. That being said, if you absolutely can’t include your thesis in that location, go ahead and stick it somewhere else.
- Provide only helpful, relevant information. Anecdotes can be an interesting opener to your essay, but only if the anecdote in question is truly relevant to your topic. Are you writing an essay about Maya Angelou? An anecdote about her childhood might be relevant, and even charming. Are you writing an essay about safety regulations in roller coasters? Go ahead and add an anecdote about a person who was injured while riding a roller coaster. Are you writing an essay about Moby Dick? Perhaps an anecdote about that time your friend read Moby Dick and hated it is not the best way to go. The same is true for statistics, quotes, and other types of information about your topic.
- Try to avoid clichés. Some types of introductions may have once been successful, but have been used so often that they have become tired and clichéd. Starting your essay with a definition is a good example of one of these conventions. At this point, starting with a definition is a bit boring, and will cause your reader to tune out.
- Don’t feel pressured to write your intro first. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what information is relevant to your introduction until you’ve written the piece itself. Personally, I find that my writer’s block is always strongest when writing the introduction. If you are having trouble with your intro, feel free to write some, or all, of your body paragraphs, and then come back to it. You might find it a bit easier to write your introduction once you’re more comfortable with the essay as a whole.
- Convince the reader that your essay is worth reading. Your reader should finish the introduction thinking that the essay is interesting or has some sort of relevance to their lives. A good introduction is engaging; it gets the audience thinking about the topic at hand and wondering how you will be proving your argument. Good ways to convince your reader that your essay is worthwhile is to provide information that the reader might question or disagree with. Once they are thinking about the topic, and wondering why you hold your position, they are more likely to be engaged in the rest of the essay.
Basically, a good introduction provides the reader with a brief overview of your topic and an explanation of your thesis. A good introduction is fresh, engaging, and interesting. Successful introductions don’t rely on clichés or irrelevant information to demonstrate their point. Be brief, be concise, be engaging. Good luck.