Here is an exemplar poetry essay, at GCSE standard, which analyses an unseen poem and attained full marks. The poetry essay was written by a student (aged 16) in exam conditions, taking approximately 30-35 minutes to complete.
How do you think the speaker feels about the child and his experience of learning to read and how does the poet present the speaker’s feelings?
The poem ‘Slow Reader’ by Vicki Feaver is about a boy who is multitalented at many practical things, but struggles to read. The poem explains the struggle and problems that the boy has and how he reacts to them. It explains the frustrations at how he’s given up and accepts that he has lost the battle, like a “fish returning to its elements”.
The first stanza is explaining the wonderful things the boy can do, how he can “make sculptures” and “tell jokes”. The start of the stanza is full of all these positive things but as the stanza gets nearer the end, the tone and atmosphere becomes somewhat negative. It says that the barrier is between the boy and being able to read is “impassable”, which ends the reader’s hopes for the boy, willing him to succeed in his quest. The second stanza carries on in the same vein, with cold and dark imagery such as “gristly meat” which makes the reader empathise with the boy, because the word “gristly” plays with one’s senses.
Feaver uses real life situations to emphasise how the boy struggles with reading. She says “he toys with the words letting them go cold”. This suggests that maybe the boy is not trying to learn very hard; or as serious as one first thought. The word “toy” suggests that it is all just a game and the boy wants it to carry on in the same fashion. The word “cold” could be interpreted as there is no joy for the boy when he is reading. Cold is the opposite of warm, and warmth is often associated with comfort and satisfaction. So, by using the using the word “cold” it implies that the boy does not feel these emotions when reading the words; they don’t mean much to him. Indeed, it suggests that the boy has no or little desire to learn, because he is “letting” it go cold. There is no fight in the boy to try and succeed.
The speaker also implies that he or she is trying to push the boy as hard as he or she can. The poem states, “until I relent and let him wriggle free”. This shows the determination of the speaker to succeed in his mission to help the boy learn to read, but sometimes it comes to no avail. The speaker tries and tries to push the boy to the limit, but sometimes he has to let the boy “wriggle free”. The reader can empathise with the speaker, because they feel his dismay and frustration at the boy’s lack of will and desire. Alternatively, it could be interpreted that it is not the boy’s fault and he is trying, but the barrier is “impassable”.
In conclusion, Feaver is trying to get across the message that some people do struggle with reading. Maybe she does this due to personal experiences or she has seen this happen to someone else. She tried to make the reader understand the problems that, not only the child faces, but also the person that is trying to teach - whether it be a teacher, a parent or a family member.
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