Essay Poetry Tips

"A Hawk is Never Just a Hawk. But Sometimes a Lamb is Just a Lamb."- Ms. Silva


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The Prompt

  • Read the prompt carefully. UNDERLINE each part of the question. Most likely, the prompt will ask you about a theme, subject,mood (the What) and how it is created (the How).
  • Think DEEPER meaning about the poem. Is the prompt asking you to consider a universal truth about the world, humanity, life and death, etc?
  • Refer back to the prompt again before you begin writing to be sure you are answering the question.

Reading the Poem (5 Minutes)

  • Read the title of the poem before you begin.
  • Read the poem at least twice - once for understanding (Subject, Theme, Title, Tone, Mood) and once for technique and details.
  • Read silently with your "out loud voice" in mind. Read to the punctuation and try to insert feeling.

Planning The Essay (3-5 Minutes)

  • Spend two-five minutes referring back to the prompt and planning the structure of your essay. Are you comparing/contrasting poems? Will you discuss the poem by technique? By stanza?
  • Sketch out your thesis and be sure you have addressed the WHAT and the HOW of the question.
  • Consider the main poetic techniques that you know well and can write about clearly. Avoid anything you do not know.

Writing the Essay (30 Minutes)

Construct an intro that is 3-6 sentences long. Jesse, make it brief and to the point. Save the good stuff for the body of the essay. Remember, no one likes to see the whole movie in the preview, but everyone likes a tasty sneak preview. Your intro should have:
  1. An engaging opening sentence that brings the reader of your essay directly into the main topic of your essay without spitting back the prompt.
  2. A clear pathway of the "WHAT" and the "HOW" required in the prompt.

When writing the body:
  • Use topic sentences that introduce the main ideas of each paragraph and transition the reader smoothly from point to point. Remember to review your transitions.
  • Make a claim that helps support your thesis and then support THAT claim with several examples from the poem. For example, if you claim that Donne's "The Flea" uses sensory tactile imagery to entice the subject into a physical affair, you need to back it up with at least 3-4 well-explained examples. In other words, develop your paragraphs fully. Don't create little paragraphs with 1-2 examples only.
  • Step up your vocabulary, especially when discussing what type of imagery is used (natural, bucolic, urban, corporeal, etc.) or what tone/mood are developed. DO NOT USE HAPPY, SAD, MAD, GLAD. My son knows those words, and he has been on this planet for only two years.
  • As you transition between paragraphs, stop for a second and ask yourself, "Am I answering the question or just writing insane stuff?" Don't get lost in the techniques. Instead, be sure you are focused on the prompt.
  • If you are writing a comparison, be sure your discussion of each poem is balanced and well-developed.
  • Watch you time. Check the clock.
  • When you need to wrap it up, find a smooth and quick way to conclude whatever you are saying and be done.

ABOVE ALL, SELL IT LIKE YOU OWN IT.