One of the things I’ve found most difficult when moving from GCSE to A-level within the subject of English Literature is how to advance essays accordingly – particularly unseen poetry essays. There’s no opportunity to prepare which means that you need to practise beforehand. Assessing whether or not you feel able to do this can really help you to decide if English Literature A-level is a good option. Therefore, I’ve included a sample essay below focusing on “The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled” by Leontia Flynn (from the Forward Anthology) and “The Cheapjack” by Jacob Polley (a sample unseen poem from his anthology Jackself). The question follows the standard structure of an Edexcel poetry paper; it includes a poem from the anthology and another which is unseen. The question itself is general enough that many perspectives can be given.
Compare the methods the poets use to present outsiders and those on the periphery of life.
Both “The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled” by Leontia Flynn and “The Cheapjack” by Jacob Polley convey the sense of desperation and the desire to connect felt by those on the periphery of life. Additionally, they suggest the missed opportunities and limitations they have experienced due to being an outsider. However, while “The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled” has a slightly more optimistic tone – perhaps suggesting that the small impact that the narrator has been able to make on the lives of others is still worthwhile – “The Cheapjack” finishes with no sense of resolution (which may suggest the narrator’s inability to act, despite their frustrations), which could convey the differing attitudes towards being an outsider.