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Introduction to the Poetry Essay for AP English Literature

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Introduction to the Poetry Essay

It's obvious to any reader that poetry is different from prose. And, writing about each is different also. This chapter will guide you through the expectations and processes associated with the AP Poetry section.

What is the purpose of the poetry essay?

The College Board wants to determine your facility in reading and interpreting a sustained piece of literature. You are required to understand the text and to analyze those techniques and devices the poet uses to achieve his or her purpose.

The AP Lit exam is designed to allow you to demonstrate your ease and fl uency with terminology, interpretation, and analysis. The level of your writing should be a direct refl ection of your critical thinking.

The AP Lit exam is looking for connections between analysis and interpretation. For example, when you fi nd a metaphor, you should identify it and connect it to the poet's intended purpose or meaning. You shouldn't just list items as you locate them. You must connect them to your interpretation.

Introduction To The Poetry Essay

Types of Prompts Used for the Poetry Essay

Not every poetry essay prompt is the same. Familiarizing yourself with the various types is critical. This familiarity will both increase your confidence and provide you with a format for poetry analysis.

What kinds of questions are asked for the poetry essay?

Let's look at several typical questions that have been used as prompts for the poetry essay on the AP Literature exam in the past:

  • How does the language of the poem refl ect the speaker's perceptions, and how does that language determine the reader's perception?
  • How does the poet reveal character? (i.e., diction, sound devices, imagery, allusion)
  • Discuss the similarities and differences between two poems. Consider style and theme.
  • Contrast the speakers' views toward a subject in two poems. Refer to form, tone, and imagery.
  • Discuss how poetic elements, such as language, structure, imagery, and point of view, convey meaning in a poem.
  • Given two poems, discuss what elements make one better than the other.
  • Relate the imagery, form, or theme of a particular section of a poem to another part of that same poem. Discuss changing attitude or perception of speaker or reader.
  • Analyze a poem's extended metaphor and how it reveals the poet's or speaker's attitude.
  • Discuss the way of life revealed in a poem. Refer to such poetic elements as tone, imagery, symbol, and verse form.
  • Discuss the poet's changing reaction to the subject developed in the poem.
  • Discuss how the form of the poem affects its meaning.

You should be prepared to write an essay based on any of these prompts. Apply these questions to poems you read throughout the year. Practice anticipating questions. Keep a running list of the kinds of questions your teacher asks. Practice. Practice.

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