Tuesday, October 23, 2007

English 6058: Beyond the Anthology: Poetry and Its Contexts

Essay #2: the Poetry Book

Description and Goals

The purpose of this essay is to explore a poem (or group of poems) in the context of its publication in a book by an author, in order to inform its analysis, interpretation, and/or teaching. The contexts discussed up to this point in the course are still relevant and should be researched, but the focus of your analysis should be on the publication. Issues of multiple publications, revisions, manuscripts, and versions should be explored if relevant. In order to put the theory and research into practice, you have two options to fulfill this assignment:
  1. Write an essay in which you analyze and interpret a poem (or small group of poems), informed by the contexts specified above. Your essay's thesis should be an interpretation of the poem(s) supported by analysis of its textual elements as informed by research into the contexts relevant to the poem and it should employ a clear theoretical perspective.
  2. Write an essay about how to teach a poem (or small group of poems) employing the contexts specified above, and informed by a clear theoretical perspective. You must specify what population you wish to teach the poem(s) to as well as having clear educational goals. Based on this, your thesis should state the contexts you consider would be most relevant to achieve your educational objective with that target audience. Prepare a small unit of lesson plans (about 3) as an example of how you would teach the poem(s).


  1. Your primary research should be the book of poems, its sections, organization, progression, artwork, and other contexts that can inform the analysis of the poem(s).
  2. You may choose any book of poems you wish, as long as it is an original publication, rather than a "selected or collected poems" kind of collection.
  3. Your essay should be informed by research and literary theory. You may find, however that little has been written on entire books of poems, aside from reviews, so you may have to explore the context of the book on your own. I am at your service, if you need help. The quality of the research will be a factor in the evaluation, so I encourage you to use peer-refereed journals in your research. As far as theory is concerned, you don't need to align yourself with a specific theoretical perspective-- you can mix and match, if you are so inclined-- but you should be up front as to what your theoretical inclinations are. I recommend you write a statement of your theoretical position before you write your essay to guide your research and thought about the poem(s), and incorporate a version of this into your theoretical discussion that should be part of the essay.
  4. The essay should be approximately 1500-2000 words in length (6-8 pages), including lesson plans or supplementary materials. It should be formatted and documented in impeccable MLA Format (here's a good online resource, if you don't own a copy of the MLA Handbook: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/printable/557/).
  5. Proposal: E-mail me a brief description of what you plan to do for this essay. Specify the option you chose, the poem(s) you chose (if you chose a small group of poems, explain the rationale for the selection and/or grouping), and provide a tentative thesis. This is due by Wednesday, October 31. It's okay to change your topic, poem(s) and/or thesis after that-- your proposal is not cast in stone-- but let me know of radical departures from the proposal.
  6. The essay is due on Wednesday, November 14. Turn in a printed version at the beginning of class.


Your essay will be evaluated holistically, taking into consideration the following criteria:
  • Fulfillment of the assignment
  • Engagement with the poem(s)
  • Use of relevant contexts
  • Quality of the research
  • Logical development of the argument
  • Sentence structure, grammar, usage, and mechanics
Your essay will receive a letter grade, numerically interpretable on a 4-point scale. No revisions will be allowed, so please seek help before the essay is due, if needed.

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