Post-Exam Thoughts: GCSE English Lit Unit 2 – 24 May 2012


Back in late February, when our English teacher told us that we’d be starting the preparatory work for our Poetry exam soon, I was one of the few (certainly one of the only boys) who didn’t let out a loud groan. The truth is, if deep, meaningful poems are explained to me so I can appreciate them in their full glory, I really love the joy of debating why a poet may have chosen one phrase over another, or the significance of connotations relating to a particular word.

WORDSWORTH: My annotated GCSE English Poetry anthology, 'Moon On The Tides'. (IMG_3367)


But the regurgitation of taught ideas on a named poem from the anthology – and then the subsequent comparison of those ideas to ideas presented in one other syllabus poem of the candidate’s choice – makes up only one of the two sections in the English Literature (Poetry Across Time) exam. The other section is an evaluation and analysis of a previously unseen poem, with a theme that could be on anything. Last year’s, for example, was Vicki Feaver’s Slow Reader, a poem which, as its name suggests, is about the difficulty of engaging a child in literature. However, armed with a handy method for approaching the dreaded unseen poem question, I was relatively confident as I entered the sweaty exam hall this afternoon.

I had difficulty deciding which of the two questions – and named poems – to choose, but eventually decided to compare the ways the poets use language to represent relationships in Grace Nichols’s Praise Song for My Mother and Simon Armitage’s The Manhunt. This, I think, may have been a bad decision: the types of love portrayed by both are very different, but The Manhunt is the one I knew I’d be able to write about best, and after about 50 minutes I think I managed to put together a decent response to the question.

I then moved on to the unseen poem, which was Isobel Thrilling’s Children In Wartime. Before entering the exam hall, I’d been worried I wouldn’t understand any of the poem at all, but fortunately, this was not the case, and I spent the remainder of the time looking in detail at the images created and the effect of the words.

Sirens ripped open
the warm silk of sleep;
we ricocheted to the shelter
moated by streets
that ran with darkness.
People said it was a storm,
but flak
had not the right sound
for rain;
thunder left such huge craters
of silence,
we knew this was no giant
playing bowls.
And later,
when I saw the jaw of glass,
where once had hung
my window spun with stars;
it seemed the sky
lay broken on my floor.

Children In Wartime, Isobel Thrilling

Overall, I’m not gutted with what I wrote – I think I gave it a good go. Sadly, even if I’ve done vaguely well in this paper, I fear my English Literature Unit 1 (Modern Texts) mark may pull me down significantly. Anyway, there’s no more I can do now. I’ve one more English exam to go (that’s the long 2hr 15min Language paper on Tuesday), but English Literature at least is now ‘done and dusted’.

Andrew Burdett

Andrew Burdett is a twenty-something from Maidenhead in Berkshire, working for ITV News.

5 Responses

  1. Roanna Benfield says:

    Thanks so much for posting the poem. I saw it in the exam and loved it! I am trying to amount a folder full of poems that I like and as soon as I read it I wanted a copy of it in my folder. Yours is the only website on which I’ve been able to find it without having to buy a book! I hope you did well. 😀

  2. Molly says:

    aah,did this poem today,strangly understood it 🙂

  3. Michael says:

    Yeah, I struggled with the choice. Must say, though, Sonnet 43 and Quickdraw to be an interesting pairing (mixed in with the interest was also utter distress that I’d chosen, possibly, the most difficult poem in the anthology, almost by accident).
    Despite this, the structural differences in the poem (Creating certainty and uncertainty) managed to provide me with the basis. I’d love to hear more about how you compared Manhunt to Praise Song!

    I found the unseen good too. At first, I was a bit upset because at my school we’ve done war’s affect on children to death (pardon the pun). However, the poem was certainly insightful, and I found I was making good responses throughout about the idea of ripped being permanent, the physical and emotional effects and the war terminology (“ricocheted”) sprinkled into the poem. It was certainly one that provoked my brain cells!

    • Sadly, I just ran out of time to include any of my multiple ideas behind the inclusion of “ricocheted”. We’ll see how it goes, though. Thanks for commenting and all the best. Andrew