Introduction to English 1114: Reading Poetry
course site - approach
This course will introduce you to various ways of appreciating and analyzing poetry — from traditional written poems to music lyrics and other multi-genre forms in which poetry plays a major role. It’s my view that conventional, on-the-page poetry is wonderful, but the way poetry is used in musical and visual forms makes it more varied and accessible.
In this section of Reading Poetry you know all your assignments and exam topics in advance. This can be a bit overwhelming, since there are many items to look at. Yet if you read this page carefully and get a sense of where to find things, you shouldn’t be overwhelmed for long. In addition, because you know exactly what to read and prepare, you should be able to structure your time efficiently during the term.
Detailed requirements for each class, for the essays, and for the exams are in the schedule. During the term you’ll be required to write two take-home essays and two exams, and to contribute to group work. The mid-term and final exam both require you to write two short essays. During the exams you are allowed to consult your texts and a scratch outline.
readings — worksheets
The schedule contains links to texts that you’ll need to download from the Internet. Other texts are in the Readings pages — such as Readings: Weeks 2-4. For some of the topics, there are special worksheets (for example, WS Hamlet or WS Lemonade), some of which contain required readings.
This page explains the nature of post-secondary English courses: to increase writing skills, analytical skills, original argument, and critical thought. It also highlights the standard academic essay format.
Look closely at the pages on essay structure and on how to write essays on poetry. Because these pages contain samples of the type of writing I hope to see from you, I suggest returning to them before handing in a paper or doing an exam. Pay attention to things such as how to connect thesis statements to topic sentences, how to integrate quotes, and how to make arguments rather than observations or assertions.
Because we’ll be analyzing many song lyrics, I’ve included pages on describing music. These are followed by samples of boardwork from previous classes — containing graphics alongside thesis statements. These examples should help you to come up with creative visualizations and to formulate your own thesis statements. Here is an example on two WWI poems by Wilfred Owen:
six categories: 1 — 2-5 — 6
Make sure to take a good look at the three pages on the following six categories: 1. Space — 2-5: Time, character, relationship, and theme — 6: Style. Poets generally use a variety of poetic techniques in one poem, and often the verbal density is so great that it’s difficult to know where to begin. This is where the six categories come in useful: by focusing on one category, you can analyze the poem’s structure in terms of a particular aspect. This limits or refines your scope and allows you to concentrate on one aspect, instead of being overwhelmed by the various criss-crossing strategies. You can therefore come up with a specific argument. Analyzing one aspect can also serve as an entry point to explore other aspects. Hopefully, you can then see your chosen category in relation to the more complex structures of the poem.
In this first-year class I bring in a variety of critical perspectives, such as history, gender, and genre (especially music and drama). The historical and biographical context of the poem is of course extremely important, yet we’ll focus most of our time on close reading — that is, on analysis that explores the structure of the text and comes up with arguments about how it works.
The following illustrates my emphasis in this class:
(Authorial Intention) (Postmodernism)
Biography Reader Response Gender
Genre Music Drama
Explication de texte* Structuralism
* “explication often involves a line-by-line or episode-by-episode commentary on what is going on in a text. While initially this might seem reasonably innocuous, explication de texte, and explication per se, is an interpretative process where the resulting new knowledge, new insights or new meanings, are open to subsequent debate and disaffirmation by others” (“Explication,” Wikipedia).
In general, avoid approaches that take you away from the text itself, and avoid padding your essay with biographical and historical information. Unless you show why outside context is crucial to your interpretation of the text, it’s better to leave it out and get to your own argument about the text itself.