Questions on the Unseen

Post-Mid Year Section A Review

You were invited to ask me questions about either poem, analysis / response skills or how to go about dealing with specific evidence on Mentimeter. As Prince Charming observes, better to be a toad than a t*rd! Find my responses below. Also remember to head over to the Essays section to read a selection of ‘good’ responses from the Mid Year Exam – the same password applies.

What do I do when I cannot understand both of the poems in the unseen?

It depends on what you mean by ‘cannot understand’! I’ll start by responding with a typical process and then answer your question more directly.

Responding to the Poem
For the Mid-Year Examination (2017 JC1), we opted for the generic prompt, ‘….ways in which your response is shaped by the poet’s use of language, style and form‘ instead of the more helpful, ‘…ways in which the use of language, style and form contribute to the poet’s portrayal of concern.’  With the concern listed for you (e.g. loneliness), we would expect you to read the entire poem in the light of that and break the concern down into relevant ideas (e.g. loneliness as part of modern life, domestic solitude). Given the generic prompt at the Mid-Years, we expected you to base your interpretation on the title, opening lines and closing lines of the poem. We wanted to give you some freedom with Q1a, to write about the persona’s respect for the father, the father’s commute and status in society, and the father ‘s situation at home, and with Q1b, to think about the fairy tales themselves and the telling of fairy tales to children by adults. Of course, the freedom afforded by this generic prompt can be detrimental… especially if you don’t immediately ‘get’ the poem in the first 5-10 minutes.

Assuming that you are facing a complete blank, we would recommend the systematic approach of analysing language, style and form, considering specific methods such as perspective, tone, diction, style imagery, figurative language, sound patterns and devices, mood, structure / progression, rhythm, rhyme and rhyme scheme in whichever combination suits you. Write about language in one paragraph, style in another and form in another. As you write about tone and diction for instance, you should be able to discuss, at least briefly, the persona’s attitude towards fairy tales. As you consider the allusions to fairy tales, you should be able to say something about how fantastical and ‘misleading’ fairy tales are in the light of… reality.

In any scenario, I’d just appeal to you to make a fair attempt at analysing and responding to the poem. Even if you think the ideas escape you, write about what you think the poem says with some tentativeness (‘The poem seems to suggest that fairy tales are…’). Even if the poem seems difficult, the approaches of identifying and analysing language, style and form will always apply!

Examination Strategy
If you feel stuck, you can “move on” and attempt the question later on, when (more) inspiration might strike!. This is quite commonsensical but worth stating nonetheless.

Also dedicate enough time to the unseen section no matter what. You might want to re-prioritise and spend a little more time on the other sections. That is fine… but you will need 50 min at the bare minimum. I’d recommend you still spend the full hour on the unseen.

From the perspective of examination psychology, one can sometimes choke or panic. Choking is when you are over-thinking or trying too hard to see what you have learned from your notes. In this case, just “let go” and start writing for a paragraph or two. Honestly, I struggle to get started writing anything but it gets easier — momentum is everything! Panicking resembles “blanking out” — when nothing seems to make sense. We’d advise you to go back to basics and cut the poem down to language, style, form and their relevant “purposes”. Sure, your examiner will probably remark about how mechanical your essay is, or how the understanding of the poem can be elaborated… but like we said, just make a fair attempt at it based on what you’ve learned!

> ‘.’ <

Is it possible to support a point using language, style and form, rather than using language/form/style only for 1 point?

In response to the above question, I recommended a systematic approach to language, style and form, with a paragraph allocated to each broad method. This works well when inspiration is low or if you are afraid of creative mess / freedom 😉

The answer to your question is an absolute YES. What are you suggesting is closer to an idea-based approach. In this instance, a paragraph is based around an idea, and you are able to summon different methods (e.g. sound patterns + diction, tone + progression) to support that idea. There is no “set” method to crafting your essay. Just ensure that you have:

  • Ample evidence for your method – do not just analyse one image when you should be examining a relevant pattern of images
  • Depth of analysis  closely analyse the methods that you have identified; avoid throwing in methods without really elaborating on how effects are created
  • Well-matched methods – some methods just “go together”. For instance, perspective should be analysed in conjunction with tone, and sound patterns can be analysed together with diction / imagery (i.e. the words themselves that produce those sounds).

> ‘.’ <

How do I better recognise literary techniques which are executed implicitly?

I’m not fully sure what you mean by ‘executed implicitly’ to be honest, so I’m going to make a fair attempt at answering your question!

My first guess is that these ‘implicit’ methods may be difficult to label, or strictly pinpoint as a set of words, images et al. In this case, I’d encourage you to focus on providing several bite-sized quotations (e.g. “word”, “word”, “two words”) that have a similar effect, and explaining the effect. I agree that it is cumbersome or counter-productive to label everything; the evidence and the effect(s) count more than the “method” sometimes.

My next inference is that you are referring to techniques that are not the “obvious” patterns of images, words or sounds we have taught you to identify systematically, and insisted that you do. Attempting to address the “implicit” methods, I’ll outline a few “mental models” you can adopt, so that you are ready to recognise any literary technique:

  1. Repetition and similarity / cumulation of words (e.g. adjectives that emphasise the father’s dishevelled appearance) and lines (e.g. consistently end-stopped lines)
  2. Irregularity / difference in use of words and lines (e.g. use of enjambment in a stanza made up of end-stopped lines)
  3. Irregularity / difference between stanzas and lines – you should be primed to see shifts in tone and ideas (also known as a ‘turn’ or ‘volta’ in a sonnet)
  4. Difference within similarity – when a similar word, image or feature produces a different effect, based on your intuition or understanding
  5. Similarity amidst difference – the two stanzas in ‘Father Returning Home’ fit this perfectly, showing how two different settings converge on the same idea of solitude
  6. Knowledge-dependent methods – one can only spot wordplay (e.g. puns) and allusions if one has the cultural capital, so it’s hard for us to “teach” this 😦 Case in point –  the play on “Grimm” in the title, “Grimm Story” would be less obvious if we didn’t provide you the context in the footnote! Some poems might also be set up as “replies” to other poems or texts. If an examiner sets such a poem, you can expect some form of explanation. The rule of thumb of poem-setting is still to choose something more universal and fair to all!

The above list is ultimately generic, and would be easier to illustrate with a poem in question. Look out for an analysis of a poem, perhaps on Paper 3 to tie in with the Promotional Examination, where I can really take the time to waltz you through the reading and analysis process. Meanwhile, keep at it and know that the unseen is something that can be mastered! 🙂

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