The question

Section one

The question for the poetry section of the Unit one English Literature exam will be the same every year, but the poems will always be different.

For higher tier, the question is: Write about both poems and their effect on you. Show how they are similar and how they are different.

For foundation tier, the layout of the question is as follows: Write about both poems and their effect on you. Show how they are similar and how they are different.

You may write about each poem separately and then compare them, or make comparisons where appropriate in your answer as a whole.

You may wish to include some or all of these points:

  • the content of the poems – what they are about
  • the ideas the poets may have wanted us to think about
  • the mood or atmosphere of the poems
  • how they are written – words and phrases you find interesting, the way they are organised, and so on
  • your responses to the poems, including how they are similar and how they are different

The poems will be contemporary and will be linked together, usually by topic, although they could approach this topic in very different ways.

There will be a brief description of what the poems are about above the question – you must read this carefully as it is there to help you.

Example question:

Section two

Spend about one hour on this section. Think carefully about the poems before you write your answer.

In the first of the following poems, Names, a woman’s life is described through the different names that she uses at different times. The second poem, In Oak Terrace, describes an old woman who lives on her own.

Higher tier and lower tier: Write about both poems and their effect on you. Show how they are similar and how they are different.

You may write about each poem separately and then compare them, or make comparisons where appropriate in your answer as a whole.

You may wish to include some or all of these points:

  • the content of the poems – what they are about
  • the ideas the poets may have wanted us to think about
  • the mood or atmosphere of the poems
  • how they are written – words and phrases you find interesting, the way they are organised, and so on
  • your responses to the poems, including how they are similar and how they are different

Names

by Wendy Cope
She was Eliza for a few weeks
when she was a baby –
Eliza Lily. Soon it changed to Lil.
Later she was Miss Steward in the baker’s shop
And then ‘my love’, ‘my darling’, Mother.
Widowed at thirty, she went back to work
As Mrs Hand. Her daughter grew up,
Married and gave birth.
Now she was Nanna. ‘Everybody
Calls me Nanna,’ she would say to visitors.
And so they did – friends, tradesmen, the doctor.
In the geriatric ward
They used the patients’ Christian names.
‘Lil,’ we said, ‘or Nanna,’
But it wasn’t in her file
And for those last bewildered weeks
She was Eliza once again.

In Oak Terrace

by Tony Connor
Old and alone, she sits at nights,
Nodding before the television.
The house is quiet now. She knits,
rises to put the kettle on,
watches a cowboy’s killing, reads
the local Births and Deaths, and falls
asleep at ‘Growing stock-piles of war-heads’.
A world that threatens worse ills
fades. She dreams of life spent
in the one house: suffers again
poverty, sickness, abandonment,
a child’s death, a brother’s brain
melting to madness. Seventy years
of common trouble; the kettle sings.
At midnight she says her silly prayers,
And takes her teeth out, and collects her night-things.

Making a start

You should spend up to 15 minutes reading the poems and planning your answer, then 45 minutes writing your response (allowing some time to check through your answer at the end).

Start by reading the poems twice and asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are the poems about?
  • How do the poems make me feel?
  • Are the poets trying to make me think about a particular issue or give me a message about something?
  • Are the poems positive or negative overall? In what particular ways?
  • What kind of mood or atmosphere is created in the poems? How is this done?
  • Are there any words that stand out as creating a particular effect or feeling?
  • How are the poems organised? Why might this be? (For example, is this linked to the mood or content?)
  • What do you think of each of the poems?
  • How are the poems connected?
  • Are they giving the reader the same type of message?
  • Are the themes linked?
  • Do they use language and imagery in similar or different ways?
  • Do the poets use form and structure in similar or different ways?
  • What type of mood or atmosphere is created in each poem? How do these compare? Have the writers used similar or different techniques to do this?