My Third Oxford Interview - More Poetry!

Tilly Rose


Another interview…this was at once brilliant and totally nerve-wracking!


Again, I arrived half an hour beforehand to read through the four poems.


This time there were two tutors; one was the head of English who I had already interviewed me and the other was a male tutor who had interviewed the other half of the applicants the day before.


‘Let’s start with ‘My Sweet Old etcetera,’ said the male tutor.

This is a poem by E.E Cummings, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I discussed the different ways ‘etcetera’ was used; I described its common use in a list where it details continuation but talked about how in this poem it seems to be employed as a euphemism; a way of hiding from the horrors of war by cloaking any detail under the label ‘etcetera’. I also felt that it indicated the narrator’s intention to convey a lack of care about the subject of war which could, of course, be a facade to prevent him from having to think about it on an emotional level.


‘What about the capitalized Etcetera in the final line?’

I discussed how the narrator appeared to be describing a girl, with the capitalised ‘Etcetera’ making her name non-existent and meaningless or perhaps the narrator too was unable to think about her, for it caused too much pain.


‘What’s interesting about the syntax of the poem?’

I examined how the lines ‘what everyone was fighting’ and ‘for’ were split, literally creating a blank on the page, reflecting the futility and nonsensical nature of war. The stanzas were totally disjointed, showing the muddled thoughts of the various family members; in the lines ‘My mother hoped that/ I would die etcetera/bravely’ it is only when we remove the ‘etcetera’ that the lines actually make sense. There is also only one comma used in the entire poem, so we are not instructed as readers about how the lines ought to flow. This creates a sort for messiness and confusion which is reflective of the home front’s view of the war.


‘Let’s move onto the next poem. How do the form and content link?

I, unfortunately, can’t remember what this poem was called but I do know that I panicked when I heard the word ‘form’ again!

With a bit of guidance, however, I managed to observe how the poems had a rigid structure and rhyme scheme and never faltered from this throughout (again I never thought I was capable of spotting this but somehow I did when it really mattered!)

I said it reflected the way in which the landscape described appeared hard and cold and required a closer eye to depict the emotion (images of heat) under the hard exterior. They seemed to quite like this view but then kept asking more questions about form.

Do I know what form the poem is written in?'

Urm no.


Which words are particularly stressed?

I had no clue but guessed at a few.

What other poems have you read where form and content are intertwined?

I talked about Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Words, Wide Night’. I spoke about the use of punctuation as a tool of separation and the line breaks and enjambment creating the feeling of proximity and distance. I discussed how the solitary line at the end detailed how this was specifically a linguistic depiction of feelings.


‘Some critics have theories which show that not everything can be reflected in words, such as phrases like ‘‘I love you,’’ What do you think about this?’

I described how I felt phrases like ‘I love you’ could be detrimental because they are set phrases but do not fully detail the emotions which are encapsulated within love, they prevent us from using language effectively.


They brought up Roland Barthes somewhere in this discussion, he was a critic I had read in relation to ‘death of the author’ and I was afterwards annoyed that I didn’t throw in this little bit of knowledge.


However, I was quite pleased with how the interview had gone and when it finished the female tutor said, ‘Have you checked to see if you have any more interviews today?’ I had seen that some people had them at other colleges but hadn’t seen any with my name on and told her this. She looked confused and asked if I was sure, then told me to keep checking the board which made me think there was perhaps another one to come….


Top Tips

  • Think in the interview - this might sound silly but I hadn't noticed the formal aspects of the poems before I went in, it was only in the interview room that these ideas came to me.

  • Connect your unseen material to other texts/theories etc you have read - this applies to all subjects, making connections shows understanding and a broad range of knowledge.

  • Try not to show your panic - every time the word 'form' was mentioned I inwardly froze but then later surprised myself when I actually got the hang of some of it. You might be shocked at what you come up with under pressure.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up to get the latest content straight to your inbox!
arrow&v