Poetry Analysis Essay Assignment For Grade

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Assignment #0: Presentation and Reading

As the title suggests, this assignment has two parts:

  1. At the beginning of each class, one student will make a 5-minute presentation that consists of: a brief biography of a poet to be discussed that day and a description of his/her style and themes. The goal of this presentation is to provide detailed information that may be useful for the class to approach the poet’s work.
  2. The presentation will conclude with a reading of a poem (or section from a long poem). This is not to be taken lightly: a good reading is a performance that interprets a poem, communicating your vision of its rhythms, tone, emotion, and ideas. You do not have to memorize the poem, but I expect you to come prepared.

Assignment #1: Analysis of sound

The goal of this assignment is to put in practice what you have learned about analyzing sound in poetry. For this assignment, you must select one poem from the textbook by Thomas Hardy and analyze its use of sound in a short essay of approximately 300 words. In order for you to write this essay I suggest the following steps to write your essay:

1. Description:

  • Scan the poem to determine its rhythm (which as you know, results from a conversation between natural cadence and the artifice of meter).
  • Determine the rhyme scheme (if any).
  • Identify repetition of stanzas, lines, phrases, words, or rhyme within a line (internal rhyme).
  • Identify alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia, and any other sound devices.

2. Analysis:

  • Find patterns and/or variations in the items you described above.
  • Seek to explain the poet’s choices in sound devices.
  • How are the sound devices meanginful in the poem?

3. Interpretation:

  • Connect sound with your interpretation of the poem.
  • What are the poet’s strategies for using sound in this poem?
  • How does understanding these strategies help us understand the poem?

4. Writing your essay:

  • Formulate a thesis statement that is based on the answers on part 3: interpretation.
  • Use the findings from parts 2 & 1 (in that order of preference) to support your thesis.
  • Select and organize your best evidence and write a short, efficient essay that proves your thesis.

You must post your essay to the course blog in the forum space provided. The last part of the assignment is to read an comment intelligently on a classmate’s analysis in a reply that is at least 50 words in length. Refer to the course calendar for deadlines.

Assignment #2: Lexical Analysis

The goal of this assignment is to put in practice what you have learned about analyzing sound in poetry. For this assignment, you must select one poem from the textbook by W. H. Auden and analyze its use of sound in a short essay of approximately 300 words. In order for you to write this essay I suggest the following steps:

1. Description:

  • Paraphrase the poem (put it into your own words, in “plain” English).
  • Identify key words in the poem. What are their denotations, connotation, and frames of reference? Why was a particular word choice and not a synonym?
  • Is there any ambiguity (more than one possible denotation)
  • Identify figures of speech: metaphors, similes, metonymy, allegory, symbols, oxymorons, paradoxes, hyperboles, personifications, etc.
  • Are any traditional metaphors or symbols employed? Is their meaning adopted in traditional ways or subverted in some way?

2. Analysis:

  • Find patterns and/or variations in the items you described above.
  • Seek to explain the poet’s choices in word choices and figures of speech.
  • How are these choices meanginful in the poem?

3. Interpretation:

  • Connect patterns of meaning with your interpretation of the poem.
  • What are the poet’s strategies for using word choices and figures of speech in this poem?
  • How does understanding these strategies help us understand the poem?

4. Writing your essay:

  • Formulate a thesis statement that is based on the answers on part 3: interpretation.
  • Use the findings from parts 2 & 1 (in that order of preference) to support your thesis.
  • Select and organize your best evidence and write a short, efficient essay that proves your thesis.

You must post your essay to the course blog in the forum space provided. The last part of the assignment is to read an comment intelligently on a classmate’s analysis in a reply that is at least 50 words in length. Refer to the course calendar for deadlines.

Assignment #3: African American Music and Poetry

For this assignment, you must listen to a collection I have prepared of classic African American Music and Poetry. It is a sampler of gospel, blues, jazz, rap, and poetry designed to give you a taste of their musical traditions, as well as show you how their poetry is informed by these traditions.

You can access this music (and videos) through the following playlist on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=…

The writing part of the assignment is a short essay (250-300 words) in which you analyze one piece as you would any poem (but briefly), in the context of the music and poetry in the collection. How can we construct an African American poetics based on the music of this collection? Your essay should address this question, using your analysis of the song/poem as support.

You must post your essay to the course blog in the forum space provided. The last part of the assignment is to read an comment intelligently on a classmate’s analysis in a reply that is at least 50 words in length. Refer to the course calendar for deadlines.

Essay #1: Analysis and Interpretation of a Modern Poem

Read a complete description for this assignment in the Essay #1 Assignment Sheet. Refer to the course calendar for deadline.

Essay #2: Research Paper on Contemporary Poet

The goal of this assignment is to formulate the poetics of a contemporary poet and demonstrate it through the analysis of several representative works by that poet. The Houghton Mifflin Free Online Dictionary defines poetics as:

1. Literary criticism that deals with the nature, forms, and laws of poetry.

2. A treatise on or study of poetry or aesthetics.

3. The practice of writing poetry; poetic composition.

In order for you to successfully write this essay I suggest the following steps:

  • Select a poet from Volume 2: Contemporary of the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Choose someone that hasn’t been thoroughly discussed in class. Be adventurous, or talk to me for recommendations based on poets or movements you’ve enjoyed.
  • Read read the introduction on the poet and all of the poet’s works in our anthology.
  • Research the poet, his/her life, poetry, affiliations with poets and/or poetic movement, essays or manifestos written by the poet, and articles written about their work.
  • Formulate what you think the poet’s poetics is all about. This is your thesis statement.
  • Choose 1 long poem or 2-3 short poems by that poet and analyze and interpret it/them in light of those poetics.
  • Write your essay. Proving your thesis, supporting it with selected analysis of the poems.

Refer to the course calendar for deadline.

Writing About Poetry

Summary:

Contributors: Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 12:51:36

Writing about poetry can be one of the most demanding tasks that many students face in a literature class. Poetry, by its very nature, makes demands on a writer who attempts to analyze it that other forms of literature do not. So how can you write a clear, confident, well-supported essay about poetry? This handout offers answers to some common questions about writing about poetry.

What's the Point?

In order to write effectively about poetry, one needs a clear idea of what the point of writing about poetry is. When you are assigned an analytical essay about a poem in an English class, the goal of the assignment is usually to argue a specific thesis about the poem, using your analysis of specific elements in the poem and how those elements relate to each other to support your thesis.

So why would your teacher give you such an assignment? What are the benefits of learning to write analytic essays about poetry? Several important reasons suggest themselves:

  • To help you learn to make a text-based argument. That is, to help you to defend ideas based on a text that is available to you and other readers. This sharpens your reasoning skills by forcing you to formulate an interpretation of something someone else has written and to support that interpretation by providing logically valid reasons why someone else who has read the poem should agree with your argument. This isn't a skill that is just important in academics, by the way. Lawyers, politicians, and journalists often find that they need to make use of similar skills.
  • To help you to understand what you are reading more fully. Nothing causes a person to make an extra effort to understand difficult material like the task of writing about it. Also, writing has a way of helping you to see things that you may have otherwise missed simply by causing you to think about how to frame your own analysis.
  • To help you enjoy poetry more! This may sound unlikely, but one of the real pleasures of poetry is the opportunity to wrestle with the text and co-create meaning with the author. When you put together a well-constructed analysis of the poem, you are not only showing that you understand what is there, you are also contributing to an ongoing conversation about the poem. If your reading is convincing enough, everyone who has read your essay will get a little more out of the poem because of your analysis.

What Should I Know about Writing about Poetry?

Most importantly, you should realize that a paper that you write about a poem or poems is an argument. Make sure that you have something specific that you want to say about the poem that you are discussing. This specific argument that you want to make about the poem will be your thesis. You will support this thesis by drawing examples and evidence from the poem itself. In order to make a credible argument about the poem, you will want to analyze how the poem works—what genre the poem fits into, what its themes are, and what poetic techniques and figures of speech are used.

What Can I Write About?

Theme: One place to start when writing about poetry is to look at any significant themes that emerge in the poetry. Does the poetry deal with themes related to love, death, war, or peace? What other themes show up in the poem? Are there particular historical events that are mentioned in the poem? What are the most important concepts that are addressed in the poem?

Genre: What kind of poem are you looking at? Is it an epic (a long poem on a heroic subject)? Is it a sonnet (a brief poem, usually consisting of fourteen lines)? Is it an ode? A satire? An elegy? A lyric? Does it fit into a specific literary movement such as Modernism, Romanticism, Neoclassicism, or Renaissance poetry? This is another place where you may need to do some research in an introductory poetry text or encyclopedia to find out what distinguishes specific genres and movements.

Versification: Look closely at the poem's rhyme and meter. Is there an identifiable rhyme scheme? Is there a set number of syllables in each line? The most common meter for poetry in English is iambic pentameter, which has five feet of two syllables each (thus the name "pentameter") in each of which the strongly stressed syllable follows the unstressed syllable. You can learn more about rhyme and meter by consulting our handout on sound and meter in poetry or the introduction to a standard textbook for poetry such as the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Also relevant to this category of concerns are techniques such as caesura (a pause in the middle of a line) and enjambment (continuing a grammatical sentence or clause from one line to the next). Is there anything that you can tell about the poem from the choices that the author has made in this area? For more information about important literary terms, see our handout on the subject.

Figures of speech: Are there literary devices being used that affect how you read the poem? Here are some examples of commonly discussed figures of speech:

  • metaphor: comparison between two unlike things
  • simile: comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as"
  • metonymy: one thing stands for something else that is closely related to it (For example, using the phrase "the crown" to refer to the king would be an example of metonymy.)
  • synecdoche: a part stands in for a whole (For example, in the phrase "all hands on deck," "hands" stands in for the people in the ship's crew.)
  • personification: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics
  • litotes: a double negative is used for poetic effect (example: not unlike, not displeased)
  • irony: a difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that may be drawn from them

Cultural Context: How does the poem you are looking at relate to the historical context in which it was written? For example, what's the cultural significance of Walt Whitman's famous elegy for Lincoln "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" in light of post-Civil War cultural trends in the U.S.A? How does John Donne's devotional poetry relate to the contentious religious climate in seventeenth-century England? These questions may take you out of the literature section of your library altogether and involve finding out about philosophy, history, religion, economics, music, or the visual arts.

What Style Should I Use?

It is useful to follow some standard conventions when writing about poetry. First, when you analyze a poem, it is best to use present tense rather than past tense for your verbs. Second, you will want to make use of numerous quotations from the poem and explain their meaning and their significance to your argument. After all, if you do not quote the poem itself when you are making an argument about it, you damage your credibility. If your teacher asks for outside criticism of the poem as well, you should also cite points made by other critics that are relevant to your argument. A third point to remember is that there are various citation formats for citing both the material you get from the poems themselves and the information you get from other critical sources. The most common citation format for writing about poetry is the Modern Language Association (MLA) format.

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