Unseen poetry: tricky think time

When Run-DMC rapped, ‘It’s tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme, that’s right, on time,” in their hip hop classic  “It’s Tricky“, they could easily have been talking about the challenge of writing an unseen poetry analysis.


In exam conditions, when we feel under pressure to come up with answers immediately,  it’s very difficult to read and process information slowly and deliberately.  But that’s exactly what you need to aim for when thinking about your unseen poetry analysis.  Consider slowing yourself down to do some quality thinking then allowing things to speed up for the writing part of the task.  You should only do this once you have a set of notes or a plan.

Remember that with each reading of the poem you are looking improve the following ratio:


(what I get) versus (what I don’t get yet)

Be prepared for ‘What I don’t get yet’ to be greater than ‘what you get’ – this is the bit where you can get spooked by a poem.  Stand your ground.  Now change the balance by re-reading and testing your theories through methodically re-reading the poem.  You’ll need to do this a good number of times to achieve clarity.

Your first read-through will give you the basics: the subject matter

  • what it’s about or what happens in the poem

Your subsequent read-throughs should give you increased clarity regarding:

  • how the subject matter is being presented: poetic devices, language and structural choices which highlight key ideas about the subject matter;
  • why the author uses these things: the intended impact on the reader.

You will become clearer regarding:

  • how the speaker of the poem thinks or feels about the subject;
  • what the audience is supposed to think or feel about all this;
  • what the poem suggests about what it means to be human.

Only once you have some clarity should you begin writing your response.






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