Tag Archives: poetry

A month to go…..

… until GCSE and A levels start. Have you drafted your revision plan? Hopefully you’ve already made a good start on your revision. It’s still not too late to book a couple of lessons to sort out a tricky piece of the syllabus. Perhaps you struggle with the poetry section of the Literature paper or can’t get to grips with writing non-fiction?  Perhaps you need more practice with French listening? Two or three lessons could make all the difference to your final grade and push you up to that all important A or A*.


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The Laboratory by Robert Browning

I have to admit that despite owning a beautiful ancient copy of Browning’s poems I am not that familiar with many. The Victorian age seemed to fall between poetic periods that I have studied in detail and it’s only really Tennyson and Rossetti that I know well. The poems of Browning seem to be a popular choice for GCSE anthologies; The Last Duchess has figured in several, as has The Laboratory.

Presumably this is because both poems are excellent examples of the dramatic monologue and both convey a strong sense of the  persona of the narrator.

Most pupils seem to enjoy The Laboratory which provides a wealth of poetic devices to describe, abounding as it does in metaphor, alliteration and onomatopoeia. One of the main ways in which the persona of the narrator – unbalanced, amoral and verging on the pyschopathic – is conveyed is by Browning’s skilful use of rhyme and rhythm. The use of rhyming couplets within quatrains and a strong jaunty anapaestic metre helps to reinforce the narrator’s unhealthy anticipation of her rival’s planned demise. The whole atmosphere is one of unsettling Gothic melodrama.

Plenty for pupils to get their teeth into!

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Anthology themes

How do they go about choosing the poems to fit the various themes for the GCSE poetry anthologies? What are the criteria?

In previous years I have taught the AQA anthology but this year I am mainly teaching the Edxecel one.  Both anthologies are subdivided into clusters: Conflict, Relationships, Character and Voice and Places for AQA, and Relationships, Clashes and Collisions, Somewhere,anywhere, and Taking a Stand for Edexcel.

Imagine my surprise to find a poem that I taught under the theme of Conflict for AQA figures under the theme of Relationships for Edxecel.  Another poem that features under Character and Place for AQA ‘The Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning –  is under Relationships for Edexcel. No wonder pupils get confused! At least both boards are agreed on ‘Nettles’ by Vernon Scannell and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 – they both are in the Relationship clusters!

‘At the border.1979’ by Choman Hardi is not a poem that I personally would have picked  at all (but that’s another blog altogether!) but it originates from the poet’s collection ‘Life for us’ that deals with the violence of war and persecution, alongside the pain of displacement. Most of the other poems in the Relationship cluster for Edexcel are about love in one guise or another. There are so many wonderful love/relationship poems old and modern, English and other cultures – why pick one that at best has to be shoe-horned into its theme?

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