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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Literature & Composition
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Poetry Essay Walkthrough

  • Where to Find the Questions
    • This lesson will cover the poetry essay from the 2010 free-response questions.(ap-2010-english-literature-free-response-questions.pdf)
    • The question appears on page 2 of the PDF.
    • The passage is a poem called “The Century Quilt” by Marilyn Nelson Waniek.
    • You are asked to “analyze how Waniek employs literary techniques to develop the complex meanings that the speaker attributes to The Century Quilt”, paying particular attention to “such literary elements as structure, imagery and tone.”
  • Reading the Passage
    • Remember, you are asking yourself two questions:
      • What’s the point of this passage?
      • How does the author get that point across?
    • What’s the point of this passage? The poet describes two blankets—her grandmother’s “Indian blanket” and a quilt apparently given to the poet herself. She speculates that under this quilt she, like the women of her family before her, might dream of her future.
    • How does the author get this point across?
      • Structure: The poet begins with short passages describing first the Indian blanket and then the quilt. She follows those with a long passage describing the dreams about the future.
      • Imagery: The poem’s imagery is notable for its use of color and movement—dancing, following.
      • Tone: The tone of the poem is thoughtful, even speculative, with a lot of “what if”?
  • Outlining the Essay
    • A typical essay on this passage might go like this:
    • Thesis: In this poem, Waniek combines remembered details of two blankets with speculation about the future, and uses poetic language and imagery throughout to express her worries, hopes, and dreams.
      • Structure: A paragraph about structure would talk about how the poet begins by describing her grandmother’s blanket, then describes her own quilt, but only spends half the poem on both physical objects—the second half of the poem is all about those dreams and what-ifs, those magical images that show the possibilities of the Century Quilt. This shows the progression of the poet’s ideas.
      • Imagery: A paragraph on imagery would focus on the opposition between the direct physical description of the two blankets and the dreamer, more metaphorical descriptions of the rest of the poet’s life—how the colors in the blanket blend with the colors of family members’ faces, and how the very real blankets somehow bring forth dreams of future children.
      • Tone: A paragraph about tone might focus on the way the author uses unexpected phrases (like “burnt umber pride and ochre gentleness”) to create a gentle, wistful tone that both recalls the past fondly and focuses on the future with thoughtful curiosity. Look at phrases like “my other child, as yet unconceived” for how the poet views her possible destiny.
      • Conclusion: While writing this essay, the opposition between physical description and abstract/metaphorical language really came into focus. The conclusion, therefore, would turn the contrast of memory and speculation into the contrast of the concrete and the abstract, tying it all together with the way this hopeful, almost wistful poem concludes—“I’d call it the Century Quilt, after its pattern of leaves.” If a quilt can get an abstract name like “Century Quilt” based on concrete imagery like pictures of leaves, you can easily spin off a concluding paragraph about Edgeworth’s combination of concrete and abstract imagery.
  • Tips and Tricks
    • Get your mechanics right—neat handwriting, correct grammar/spelling/punctuation, etc.
    • Make your first paragraph perfect.
    • Don’t wed yourself to your structure. If your ideas change as you’re writing, work it in. Perfectly structured essays are boring (and anything good written in just 40 minutes will not be perfectly structured).
    • Don’t restate the prompt. Paraphrase.
    • Don’t summarize. Use quotations to support your points, but analyze more than you quote.
    • Use clear transitions and topic sentences.
    • Don’t pad, and don’t ramble.
    • Have a hook and a conclusion.
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret
    • Be confident in your writing—no matter what you’re writing about!

Poetry Essay Walkthrough

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:16
  • Where to Find the Questions 0:30
    • From the 2010 free-response questions
    • Page 2 of the PDF
    • “The Century Quilt” by Marilyn Nelson Waniek
    • What are you being asked to do?
  • Reading the Passage 1:09
    • What's the point of this passage?
    • How does the author get that point across?
  • Reading the Passage, cont. 1:19
    • The answer to: What's the point of this passage?
    • The answer to: How does the author get this point across?
    • Structure
    • Imagery
    • Tone
  • Outlining the Essay 2:27
    • Thesis
    • Structure
    • Imagery
    • Tone
    • Conclusion
  • Tips and Tricks 5:29
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret 6:53