Comments as feedback on essay: Compare the depiction of relationships in Poem at 39 and one other from the Edexcel anthology for IGCSE.

Rather a long-winded title for a short post. This essay, designed to practice the English Literature paper 1 section on the Anthology poems is aimed at a student who has just left my office worried and frustrated about his apparent inability to produce a ‘good’ response. The great thing is that he came to talk to me.

I am thinking about structure-slips for this boy and one or two others in his class. I am concerned about the possible lack of freedom of expression these give, but examples on twitter look rather terrific.  I will offer the SLIME structure to help the boys engage in a regular form of writing which is easily repeatable with practice and under pressure. Rather like Jimmy Anderson’s bowling action…

My points for this student to take away and consider are these (all of which were in his essay, scattered willy-nilly across the page.

S: Structure. Make it relevant but use it. You chose Do Not Go Gentle as your companion so you have 1 poem in Free Verse and 1 which is a Villanelle.  Brilliant – something to work with here.  For all poems in Free Verse, look for the lines or words which gain power by being placed in a way which is only possible because of the free verse – no rhyme, no set rhythm , no set line length – look for the short lines, the single words… In a Villanelle, the key device is repetition of lines in a set order, so use it. In this poem we see ‘Do not Go’ and ‘Rage, Rage’ as a repeated pair. Use this and talk about the build up of negative and positive imperatives which end with a clear positive action instruction -‘Rage, rage…’

L: Language. Let the repetition lead you into closer looks at language – you chose the ideas behind the lists of ‘types’ (wise men…) in Thomas’ poem, suggesting role  models and giving support to his view that his Dad is unique and should not give up. Walker is very direct recalling her dead father – ‘he taught me how’  -presumably how to live and function in the world and dwelling on the more mundane aspects of life – bank accounts for example.

I: Images (generally figurative language).  From this you can move to Walker’s Metaphor of her father in the kitchen ‘dancing/ in a yoga meditation’ which can be discussed both for the  structure which separates ‘dancing’ (joy, excitement) from the next line which is a surprise for the reader and may suggest the sense of inner peace her father -and she- finds in cooking. This will contrast with the use of colour in Thomas’ poem and you can choose one of the colours on which to develop a short comment.

M: Meaning. Here you can look at the differences. Both are parental-love poems, but significantly Walker’s father is dead, allowing a reflective poem which is as much about her as it is about her father, and Thomas’ father is dying which produces are rather more direct poem trying to influence his father’s behaviour as he approaches death. He uses imperatives repeatedly to urge this wild, drunken father to continue to live in that way. Walker sees the imperfections  -‘did not always mean / a beating’ yet also sees the kindness and generosity of spirit of this man.  IN short both show love and respect for their father.

E: Effect. A brief summary paragraph is all that is needed. One is reflective and contemplative, the other more urgent since the father is not yet dead. Both are deeply personal reflections on a very close relationship.