Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Studies in Poetry



I am looking back at some of my favorite courses I had designed and taught throughout the years. Perhaps they will be helpful templates for a few current teachers. Here is the fourth one:

BENEDICTINE UNIVERSITY
           
LITR 267, Studies in Poetry  (2012 and 2016)  
3 Credit Hours   8:00-9:15am Tuesday and Thursday
Instructor/Course Designer: Glen Brown                                      
Office: KN 270 Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 11:00-12:00 by appt.                                                         

REQUIRED TEXTS:

Collins, Billy. Aimless Love. New York: Random House, 2013. ISBN 978-0-679-64405-7

Dunn, Stephen. What Goes On, Selected and New Poems 1995-2009. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. ISBN 978-0-393-33855-3

Mueller, Lisel. Alive Together, New and Selected Poems. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-807-12128-3

Roberts, Len. The Silent Singer, New and Selected Poems. Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2001. ISBN 978-0-252-06952-9

COURSE DESCRIPTION:
                                                                                         
LITR 267, Studies in Poetry, introduces students to the analysis of poetic texts and forms and to the terminology and strategies essential to the interpretation of poetry.  Poems from various periods will be analyzed for their formal qualities and in their cultural context.  Students will practice strategies of reading, including reading poetry aloud, and produce analytical interpretations (literary explications) of poems studied.

ESSENTIAL STUDENT LEARNING GOALS FOR THE LITERARY AND RHETORICAL MODE OF INQUIRY:

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
a. Demonstrate critical thinking and analysis

2. Communication                                                                              
a. Express concepts and ideas clearly, creatively, and effectively in oral and written forms
b. Understand and interpret written, oral, visual, and aural forms of communication

4. Global Perspective
c. Understand the relationship between language and culture and communicate effectively and respectfully across cultural boundaries

6. Personal Growth
a. Develop intellectual curiosity and a desire for lifelong learning

7. Breadth of Knowledge and Integrative learning
a. Use knowledge, theories, and methods from the arts and humanities to raise and address questions germane to these areas of study

STUDENT OUTCOMES:

Standard I: Reading

Students will read a myriad of poems. They will understand both the essential meaning of these poems and their deeper, more inferential meaning.

1.1  Develop an appreciation for “good” poetry
1.2  Understand situation in a poem
1.3  Analyze speaker in a poem
1.4  Understand the psychological, social, political and/or historical values embodied in a poem
1.5  Recognize irony in a poem
1.6  Synthesize plot, speaker, setting, and irony to interpret theme in a poem
1.7  Understand the relationship among various literary elements (tone, diction, imagery, symbolism, and various figurative language) and a poem’s content and theme
1.8  Understand a poem and assess its relevance and rhetorical style in making an argument

Standard II: Writing

Students will write focused, insightful analyses of poetry.  They will be able to synthesize research in a coherent, well-supported, argumentative essay.  Their writing will be complex and grammatically sound and revised.

  
                  2.1 Analyze in-depth themes and the relationship of stylistic elements to theme 
                         in poetry
                  2.2 Develop a complex thesis with insightfulness and clarity
                  2.3 Connect ideas logically and clearly through a variety of sentence structures
                  2.4 Synthesize ideas skillfully through effective organization and emphasis 
                         of ideas
2.5 Argue effectively through use of deductive and/or inductive reasoning
                  2.6 Demonstrate increasing grammatical, syntactical, and stylistic mastery
                  2.7 Develop and utilize an effective vocabulary in writing and discussion 
                         of poetry
                  2.8 Demonstrate the use of appropriate diction to establish and maintain tone 
                        and voice
2.9 Analyze historical, cultural and social values to develop a global view of poetry and context
2.10 Interpret poetry in relation to ethical, ideological, and political systems

Standard III: Researching

Students will gather, evaluate, and synthesize information from a variety of sources in support of a given purpose:  informative, argumentative, etc.

                  4.1 Gather information from a variety of reliable sources
                  4.2 Refine their search as they progress
                  4.3 Develop sophisticated search methods
                  4.4 Develop increasing awareness of the varying degrees of quality 
                         and authenticity in sources
                  4.5 Analyze and synthesize research
                  4.6 Integrate and document research using MLA format

CLASSROOM ETIQUETTE: As we work together to create a classroom environment that is both conducive to learning and welcoming of all members of our class, students are expected to adhere to appropriate standards of behavior for an academic environment.  They include the following:

1)   Act collegially.  Although you may disagree with the ideas expressed by a classmate or the instructor, please express your disagreement civilly and without animosity or sarcasm.
2)   Please do not talk or whisper while another member of the class, including the instructor, is speaking.
3)   Please do not eat during class unless you have a medical condition that requires it.  Water, coffee, tea, or soft drinks are acceptable. (If you spill it, you will clean it.)
4)   Once class has begun, you should exit or enter the room only in special circumstances, and you should do so quickly and quietly so that you do not disturb the rest of the class.  If you know you must leave early due to an unavoidable conflict, let the instructor know in advance when and why you will be leaving early and, if possible, take a seat near the door.  If you must arrive late, let the instructor know in advance whenever possible.  Otherwise, speak with the instructor immediately after class.  Three late arrivals or early exits from class (more than 5 minutes) will count as one unexcused absence.
5)   You are expected to turn off your cell phone before you enter class.  If you use your cell phone in any manner during class (e.g. text messaging, games, etc.) you will be dismissed from class with an unexcused absence and forfeit any points that you might have earned during class.  Furthermore, any electronic communication and/or data storage device is prohibited during a test or quiz.  You will receive a zero for that assessment.

ATTENDANCE and PARTICIPATION: Because I believe everyone has something to contribute to our class, I believe that we are all responsible for attending college classes, which are public forums for the exchange of varying beliefs, values and assumptions. A student’s education is not an isolated and anti-social event. It is a reciprocation of mutual interests and goals. Not everything valuable in a class can be assessed through tests, quizzes and essays, or should be. However, I am not stressing attendance over learning and education. On the contrary, I am emphasizing the values of commitment and the responsibility to that obligation as part of a community of teachers and learners.

We have in-class group discussions that are dependent upon the contributions of each individual. In any class, a participating audience is indispensable for its success. In this way, we are all participants in one another’s education and opportunity for learning. Thus, partake fully in our class discussions.  Your ability to articulate your opinions in each class may also determine the difference between borderline grades. Participation in class is an essential requirement for earning an “A” or “B!”

Remember if you come to class without your materials and/or reveal that you did not read the assignment, you will be recorded absent.  Please take responsibility for your education and learning.  It is a profound opportunity and privilege that many people do not have, and it should never be squandered. Attend our class!  Your presence and involvement are indispensable gifts that we will bring to one another. 

Please note that more than three absences will affect your final grade. Each subsequent absence will lower your final grade one full grade.  If you are seriously ill and a contagion (e.g. you have the flu) or have an emergency, please notify me by e-mail that you will be absent.  It is imperative that you use your three excused absences legitimately and wisely.  Finally, note that three late arrivals (more than five minutes) will also equal one absence.

CONFERENCES:  You are strongly encouraged to meet with me during my office hours to discuss such concerns: help with the course material, your writing, or questions and discussions raised in class.         

TECHNOLOGY REQUIREMENT: While laptops can be useful, they can also be a hindrance to discussion.  All students who bring laptops, iPads, or smart phones to class should keep them closed unless using something specifically related to discussion.  Eye contact is important to me!  Students should provide the email address they use most frequently, preferably the ben.edu address. St. Martin’s, our recommended writing handbook at BU, provides exercises on grammar. Online material is available at http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/exercisecentral/QuizHome.aspx?CourseId=8 or under Student Resources on the Writing Program website.  Basic word processing skills are expected. 

GRADING GUIDELINES/RUBRIC:
The following descriptions are the basis for evaluation of all student writing:
1.  Content or ideas: their significance, insightfulness, soundness, clarity, development, and relevance to topic and purpose;
2.  Organization: structure or rhetorical methods used;
3.  Personal style: voice and tone, originality and interest;
4.  Vocabulary and diction: the choice and arrangement of words to convey meaning;
5.  Mechanics: syntax, punctuation, and spelling.

A 90-100% B 80-89% C 70-79% D 60-69% F -59% 

The “A” literary explications are simply outstanding.  They are eloquent, sophisticated, insightful, and emphatic in providing a convincing, arresting argument or reflection that makes your point. The explications are fully supported by quotations and paraphrases from the poems and other relevant critics and their claims. The writing uses proper documentation of sources and contains only minor mechanical errors, if any, and no significant lapses in diction or organization.  The writing and oral discussions are significant, interesting, informative, penetrating, lucid, and original.

The “B” literary explications are very good. Like the “A” essays and oral discussions, these analyses are also focused, supported, effective, and consistently written and tightly organized.  The writing uses proper documentation of sources and contains no major distracting errors in usage or mechanics. The writing is well developed with good supporting material and transitions.  The writing and discussions are also clear, free of jargon, and appealing.

The “C” literary explications are acceptable, but they are average responses that complete the assignment in a “routine” way.  In other words, they show limited evidence of engagement with the topic and make a minimum response to it.  [Procrastination is evident]. The writing uses proper documentation of sources and contains few distracting errors and few glaring platitudes or egregious mistakes in diction.  The reader/listener can follow and understand without difficulty, but the writing and discussions are not well supported and vigorous, nor are the ideas original and inspiring.

The “D” literary explications relate to the assignment but show no evidence of any engagement.  [Procrastination is also evident]. The writing is marred by enough errors in syntax and mechanics to seriously distract the reader and by vague, ambiguous diction and syntax that make it difficult to understand the content or the direction of the argument.  This reflection may also be a weak because it does not complete the required length or fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

The “F” literary explications show little relation to or engagement with the topic.  They show very little thought and are so poorly constructed and carelessly written that the reader/listener cannot follow the sequence of ideas.  Moreover, the explications are marred by so many errors in mechanics and usage that the message is extremely difficult to decipher.  It is evident that these reflections do not complete the required length or fulfill the requirements of the assigned topic. A plagiarized paper (see below), in part or whole, receives an “F” or “0” points.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS & DISTRIBUTION OF EARNED POINTS:

Two Practice Literary Explications (50 pts. Each)                                      100
In-Class Mid-term Literary Explication                                                        100
Two (3-4 page) Literary Explications (150 pts. each)                                300
Final Literary Explication on a Poet (4-6 page) Essay                                200
                                                                                                                           700

Students are expected to be partners in their educational experience and to periodically monitor their progress in the course.  Students may check grade status through D2L course site Gradebook.


LATE PAPERS/ONLINE RESPONSES WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.


ACADEMIC HONESTY:  The search for truth and the dissemination of knowledge are the central missions of a university.  Benedictine University pursues these missions in an environment guided by the Roman Catholic tradition and Benedictine heritage.  Integrity and honesty are, therefore, expected of all members of the University community, including students, faculty members, administration, and staff.  Actions such as cheating, plagiarism, collusion, fabrication, forgery, falsification, destruction, multiple submission, solicitation, and misrepresentation are violations of these expectations and constitute unacceptable behavior in the University community.  The penalties for such actions can range from a private verbal warning to expulsion from the University.  Violations will be reported to the Provost, and a permanent record of this infraction will be noted.  The University’s Academic Honesty Policy is available at http:/www.ben.edu/AHP; all students are expected to read and understand it.

PLAGIARISM is defined as the act of stealing ideas and/or the expressions from another person or source and representing them as your own work.  This includes quotations, paraphrasing, and the summarizing of another person’s ideas without proper documentation.  Furthermore, unless you have the explicit permission of the instructor, reusing your own work from other courses is considered self-plagiarism.  Plagiarism is a form of cheating and academic misconduct that can jeopardize your course grade and college career.  Remember to clearly distinguish between your own ideas and those you have read or heard elsewhere.  Be sure to include a works cited page with any paper in which you consult outside sources.  All written and typed assignments submitted for evaluation will be graded with the assumption that the student has read and understands the plagiarism statements and guidelines. Committing plagiarism will result in a grade of “0” on the assignment in question and is grounds for failure of the course or further action by the University.  If there are any questions or concerns regarding plagiarism and the documentation of sources, it is your responsibility to consult the instructor.  It is required that your two formal literary explications and final literary explication on a poet be submitted to D2L plagiarism software (Dropbox in D2L).

WRITING ZONE: Besides your peers who help students in the Writing Zone, the Student Success Center offers tutorial services in writing.  For further information, please visit the Student Success Center in Krasa Center, Room 012. 

AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA): If you have a documented learning, psychological or physical disability, you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations or services.  To request accommodations or services, please contact the Student Success Center, Krasa Center 012 at 630-829-6512. Nonetheless, all students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements.  The University will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.

ACADEMIC ACCOMMMODATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS OBLIGATIONS (AAFRO): A student whose religious obligation conflicts with a course requirement may request an academic accommodation from the instructor. Students must make such requests in writing by the end of the first week of class.


The student is responsible for the information in this syllabus and should ask for clarification for anything in this syllabus of which he or she is unsure.


DIRECTIONS FOR WRITING A LITERARY EXPLICATION OF A POEM:

Explication is a method of literary criticism involving a close and systematic examination of specific elements in a work.  The goal of explication is to explain to a reader the deeper relationships and meanings of each individual part of a poem and, subsequently, of the poem as a whole.

Your purpose in writing an essay of literary criticism is (1) to explain to a reader what you have discovered in a critical reading of a particular poem and (2) to interpret the meaning of the poem by subjecting its techniques to explication.

To write effectively about a poem, you must first answer a few basic questions: what happens and to whom?  What is the subject of the poem, that is, what do you discover when you delve beneath the surface and bring to light the deeper concerns of the poem?  And what is the theme of the poem, that is, the abstract concept the poet is attempting to make clear in his or her poem (or what the poet has to say about the true subject).

Your second step is to understand how the poet says something about the human condition through a particular technique, such as tone, diction, imagery, metaphor, point of view, symbolism, allusion, personification, irony, metrical pattern and/or structure, etc. (When you explicate a passage through an examination of some particular technique employed by the poet, you select a stanza that demonstrates, for example, imagery, metaphor, tone, diction, etc. and lead the reader into a deeper level of meaning in the poem).

Once you understand the subject and theme and how the poet reveals and emphasizes his or her theme through 2 or 3 poetic techniques, you then synthesize steps one and two and discover the meaning of the work.  In short, when writing about a poem, you first paraphrase the narrative to reveal the subject of the work; second, you analyze the techniques the writer uses to present his or her insights, experiences, philosophical points or observations about life and, last, synthesize the first two steps to deduce the meaning of the work: your purpose is to reveal the theme or the experience that broadens and expands your understanding of life or the meaning of what happens.  To arrive at a theme, for example, ask what does the work finally say about life?  What is its overall view of human existence?

WRITING YOUR LITERARY EXPLICATIONS:

When writing your essay (1) find and narrow the subject: select two or three techniques from the many that may be present in the poem, then select specific examples of each technique and prove how it reveals the theme; (2) determine your purpose and thesis; (3) consider your audience (our class); (4) gather and make preliminary notes; (5) organize the essay into a unified and coherent body, introduction, and conclusion; (6) develop the essay – never make a statement without explaining it – a well-developed essay consists of a detailed discussion of one specific area or observation about a work of literature.  Concentrate on an effective beginning and an effective conclusion; (7) prepare a finished draft and make the final revisions.  Cite all outside sources! Do not procrastinate!

When organizing the literary explication, the opening lines should contain background information calculated to capture the reader’s interest and aid his or her understanding.  You need to state a thesis: a brief statement in which you define as concisely as possible what you want to say about the poem.  The body of the essay must explain and amplify your interpretation and thesis.  The conclusion summarizes the vision you can bring to your interpretation or main statement.  In your conclusion, you can summarize the basic points of your essay and restate your thesis in another way, or you can make your final and most important point.  The latter is usually preferable.

The keys to achieving full development of purpose lie in a sound and logical outline of your main ideas (your thesis and topic sentences) and in complete explanation and proof of each of these ideas.  Each major subordinate idea or point that supports your thesis becomes a paragraph in your essay, and each paragraph consists of an essay in miniature.  A paragraph in the body of an essay usually opens with a topic sentence.  Following the topic sentence, you will need to offer a series of supporting remarks, which amplify and make clear your topic sentence. 

In addition, you will often need to provide your reader with appropriate quotations from the work of literature you are discussing or lines from the poem.  Explanations and quotations will make up the bulk of the content of your literary explication.  Both are often thought of as your proof and without adequate proof, your essay will not be convincing.

FINAL ESSAY ON A SELECTED POET:                                   

This research essay involves a poet who is essential and relevant to our class. Choose any poet named in this syllabus.  Your essay is in two sections:

  1. This poet’s life and works:  your biographical research should focus on events that influenced his or her creative vision and style.  Include key events in this poet’s life as you capture the uniqueness of his or her values, beliefs, assumptions, and influences that helped shape his or her thinking and creativity. Note: the majority of the material in this section requires an ample citing of sources.
  1. An explication of your favorite poem by this poet; thus, follow the directions for literary explications.
The essay is four-six pages in length, typed and double-spaced. When you have decided on a poet, please tell me so there are no duplications.

POETRY VOCABULARY TO LEARN (I will provide their definitions for you):
                                               
Diction --Denotation –Connotation –Imagery –Simile –Metaphor – Conceit –Personification –Apostrophe --Metonymy –Synecdoche --Symbolism –Allegory –Paradox –Hyperbole (Overstatement) --Understatement –Irony (Verbal, Dramatic, Situation) –Allusion –Tone --Alliteration –Assonance --Consonance –Cacophony --Feminine rhyme --Masculine rhyme --Internal rhyme --End rhyme --Approximate rhyme --Refrain --Rhythm --Meter --Stanza --Scansion --Free verse --End-stopped line –Run-on line --Blank verse --Onomatopoeia --Phonetic intensives --Continuous form --Stanzaic form --Fixed form --Limerick –Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet –Villanelle --Octave --Sestet --Shakespearean sonnet –Quatrain – Prose Poem --Haiku –Sentimental poetry --Rhetorical poetry --Didactic poetry --Point of view --Persona --Setting –Syntax –Chiasmus --Oxymoron –Anaphora –Asyndeton –Caesura –Pentameter –Spondee –Iambic –Dactylic –Couplet

COURSE OUTLINE       Literature 267 Studies in Poetry                                            
           
This schedule may be subject to changes by your instructor, which will be announced in class.  
Please bring the required books, materials, and assignments to class as designated, unless otherwise instructed. All assigned materials should be read by each date.  Each week, I will provide you with copies of the poems prior to the assignment due dates. Please bring these copies of the poems to class as assigned. 

Jan. 19:            Welcome to Literature 267, Studies in Poetry; “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden; “Lines for Winter” by Mark Strand, “Poetry Reading” by John Dickson, “poetry readings” by Charles Bukowski, “Poem for Magic [Johnson]” by Quincy Troupe.

Jan. 21:            “Argos” by Michael Collier, “An Individual History” by Michael Collier, “Drill” by Michael Collier, “Careers” by Stephen Dobyns, “Long Story” by Stephen Dobyns, “Loud Music” by Stephen Dobyns, “The Muses of Rooms” by Vern Rutsala.

Jan. 26:             “Cages” by James Frazee, “Birds of God” by Jack Hayes, “Scars” by Peter Meinke, “Testimony” by Corrine Hales, “Snake” by D.H. Lawrence, “The Lost Originals” by W.S. Merwin, “Traveling through the dark” by William Stafford.
                       
Jan. 28:            “Liberty” by Paul √Čluard, “Fugue” by John Dickson, “Hatred” by Wislawa Szymborska, “What I Can Tell You” by Gregory Djanikian, “The Aestheticians of Genocide” by Gregory Djanikian, “To a Terrorist” by Stephen Dunn.

Feb. 2:             A Poetry Workshop for Practice with Literary Explications: “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney and “For the Union Dead” by Robert Lowell.

Feb. 4:             “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen, “Arms and the Boy” by Wilfred Owen, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, “Sonnet” by Wilfred Owen, “The Next War” by Wilfred Owen, “Song of Napalm” by Bruce Weigl, “The Last Lie” by Bruce Weigl, “What Saves Us” by Bruce Weigl.

Feb. 9:             “Underwear” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “America” by Tony Hoagland,  “Operations” by Tony Hoagland, “Why the Young Men Are so Ugly” by Tony Hoagland, “What Narcissism Means to Me” by Tony Hoagland, “Zimmer's Head Thudding against the Blackboard” by Paul Zimmer, “Things My Grandfather Must Have Said” by Mark Cox. 

                        A Practice Literary Explication is due. 

Feb. 11:           A Poetry Workshop for Practice with Literary Explications: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats.

Feb. 16:           “Confession” by John Dickson, “Erasing the Taste of Love…” by John Dickson, “Case History” by John Dickson, “Poemectomy” by John Dickson,  “The Pines” by John Dickson, “Suicide Pact” by John Dickson, “The Girl on the Hill” by John Dickson, “The Ravenswood 'L'” by John Dickson.

Feb. 18:           “Body and Soul” by B.H. Fairchild, “Center Field” by Richard Jackson, “Sign for My Father, Who Stressed the Bunt” by David Bottoms, “How I Learned English” by Gregory Djanikian, “When I First Saw Snow” by Gregory Djanikian, “The Bad Boys of Junior High” by Gregory Djanikian.  

                        A Practice Literary Explication is due.

Feb. 23:             “A Space in the Air” by Jon Silkin, “Death of a Son” by Jon Silkin, “Meadow Mouse” by Theodore Roethke, “May” by Bruce Weigl, “Dog” by Jeff Stockwell, “Grimalkin” by Thomas Lynch, “Nelle Isle, 1949” by Philip Levine, The Price in the Eyes by Fred Voss.

Feb. 25:           “Sonnet 73” by William Shakespeare, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” by John   Donne, “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick, “Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas.

Mar. 1, 3, & 8                            Dunn, Stephen. What Goes On, Selected and New Poems 1995-2009. In addition to the book: “Don't Do That,” “Archaeology,” “Elsewhere,” “A Postmortem Guide,” “Beautiful Women,” “On the Way to Work,” “Sweetness,” “The Sudden Light and the Trees,” and “Tiger Face” by Stephen Dunn.  

Mar. 10:                                  Mid-Term In-Class Exam

Mar. 15, 17, & 29:                  Collins, Billy. Aimless Love. In addition to the book: “Days,” “Forgetfulness,” “Marginalia,” “Schoolsville,” “Shoveling Snow with Buddha,” “The Death of Allegory,” “The End of the World,” “Victoria's Secret,” and “Winter Syntax” by Billy Collins.

Mar. 31:                                  Workshop for Literary Explication #1 (Bring 2 copies of your “almost” final draft)  

Apr. 5, 7 & 12:                         Mueller, Lisel. Alive Together, New and Selected Poems

Your Final Literary Explication #1 is due on Apr. 7th.

Apr. 14:                                   Workshop for Literary Explication #2 (Bring 2 copies of your “almost” final draft). You should have selected your poet for your final essay.

Apr. 19, 21 & 26:                     Roberts, Len. The Silent Singer, New and Selected Poems.
In addition to the book: “My Mother Catalogues the Wrongs,” “The Disappearing Trick,” “Father,” “I Can't Forget You,” “Stealing,” and “The Block” by Len Roberts. Your Final Literary Explication #2 is due on Apr. 21.

Apr. 28:                                   “Eggs” by Susan Wood, “An Early Afterlife” by Linda Pastan, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath, “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath, “Burn Center” by Sharon Olds, “The Guild” by Sharon Olds.
                                                 
May 3:                                     Lyrical Poetry.

May 5:                                     Poetry Reading (You are bringing your two favorite poems to read to class) Your Final Essay on a Poet is due.

May 9-13                                 Final Exams Week: For this class, Carpe Diem et Carmina!


RELEVANT QUESTIONS ABOUT POETRY:
Your goal in reading a poem is to work towards understanding a theme: to know the difference between what a poem states and what the poem means.  Poetic elements you choose to address must create and convey what you think the poem means.  These questions may apply to any poem

  1. Who is the speaker in the poem?
  2. Is there an identifiable audience?
  3. What is the occasion?  What might be the poet’s purpose for writing this poem?
  4. What is the setting?
  5. What is the tone and mood of the poem and how are they achieved?
  6. Is there a structure or pattern to the poem? Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet? Villanelle? Are the lines iambic, trochaic, dactylic, anapestic?  Is there a metrical pattern that serves or reinforces meaning?  Any shifts in pattern and emphasis?
  7. Are there any examples of metaphor, simile, personification, chiasmus, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, synecdoche, metonymy, etc.?
  8. Are there any examples of paradox, overstatement, understatement (litotes), and irony?
  9. Is there a shift in point of view or shift in emphasis in the poem?
  10. Are there any allusions?
  11. In discussing diction and style, ask why this poet chose these words?  Any connotations, anaphora, asyndeton, caesura, etc.? 
  12. In discussing syntax, does the poet use periodic or loose sentences? Parallel structure?  Rhetorical questions?
  13. Is the poem allegorical? Are there any symbols?
  14. Are there examples of alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition?
  15. What kinds of imagery are used?  Is there a pattern?

GENERAL TIPS FOR READING AND ANALYZING POETRY:                                                  

Poetry requires very close reading, for nearly every word serves a specific purpose.  The following are some tips for actively reading and analyzing poetry:

  1. Define and analyze every word of the TITLE; pay attention not only to literal meaning but also to CONNOTATIVE MEANINGS as well.
  1. Define all UNFAMILIAR WORDS within the poem, making note of words that could have MULTIPLE MEANINGS.
  1. Place brackets around PUNS (play on words), HOMONYMS (words that sound the same but have different spelling and meaning), IMAGES, and SYMBOLS.  In the margin, write a few words that explain the meaning of different images and symbols.
  2. Circle every PRONOUN and write its noun above it.  Correct the order of SENTENCE INVERSIONS and paraphrase the lines.
  1. Write down the theme of the poem.  Underline THEME STATEMENTS within the poem.  Draw a circle around CHANGES IN ORGANIZATION of the poem.  Explain how the organization might be important to that theme.
  1. At the bottom of the poem, write a summary of the LITERAL LEVEL of the poem’s meaning (what the text actually says).  Re-phrase the poem in “plain-talk” English.  Write down some thoughts that move BEYOND THE LITERAL LEVEL: what is implied or hidden.
  1. Try to figure out what SITUATION the person who is narrating the poem is in.  (Imagine the external circumstances or the internal state of mind that you would have to be in before you wrote this poem).
  1. Offer a reasonable interpretation: that INTERPRETATION is best which is SIMPLEST, yet takes into account all the material in the poem.  Show the reader the path your mind took from the lines of the poem to the conclusions you reached in your interpretation.  In other words, explain fully enough how your mind moved from what you claim the poem says to what you claim the poem means.  Every conclusion you make in your interpretation must be SUPPORTABLE and SUPPORTED by passages from the poem itself.   


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