Assignments & evaluation

ENGL 349: Modern Poetry in English


Close reading essay (15%): about 2-2.5 pages, due January 28. Write a close-reading analysis of one of the sonnets indicated with an asterisk (*) on the Reading Schedule; alternatively, you may write your analysis on between 1-14 lines of any poem by Yeats or one of the featured War Poets (see reading schedule); as a third alternative, you may also write on any poem in the Norton Anthology that is 10 lines or less. The analysis should serve to support a clearly-expressed thesis statement. You may use reference works (dictionary, glossary, etc), but no secondary sources (i.e. criticism). See online resources on how to close read on the Writing Resources page. A sample close-reading is offered here, but see my caveats.

However, the best way to learn how to close-read is to read the poem many times carefully, questioning each word, each line break, each rhyme or avoidance of an obvious rhyme, etc…. Use the dictionary to discover nuances in the meaning of what might seem like obvious words. Compare the poem’s form (or lack of evident form) to other poems with which it shares its form, genre, phrasing, or themes. Another good idea is to read some critical articles on poetry–not necessarily on the same poem or poet–in order to see how close-reading is done in practice.

Some pointers.

  • Make sure you include the three parts of a good thesis statement: the What, How, and Why. State clearly what your are arguing. Suggest or state how you will support the argument (from the thesis, the reader should have a good sense of how you’ll go about supporting your argument: ask  yourself what will count as good evidence for your argument? how will you use this evidence to back up your claims?). State or suggest why you’re approaching the poem in this way (i.e., what does your argument contribute to our understanding of the poem? –This is the notorious “so what?” question.)
  • Be specific and precise in your use of terminology, but avoid using technical terms and descriptions for their own sake; for example, if your main analysis is not about meter, there is no need to describe or even mention the poem’s alternating use of iambs and anapests.
  • Avoid “impressionistic” descriptions or claims (for example, “the use of short, everyday words gives the poem a modern feel”). These often lack substance, and they almost always miss the point of analysis, which is to argue with evidence and logic. It’s not that your impressions are valid or true: it’s that they can’t be argued or proved. Often, an impressionistic claim is critical argument that someone didn’t get completed, so re-read your claims carefully, assessing whether they actually are arguments (the example above might be revised into “the use of short, everyday words contrasts with the poem’s traditional form, thus allowing the poet simultaneously to adopt and question inherited poetic genres”).
  • Avoid generalizations (for example, “Most poets are interested in language”–which is too obvious to need stating–or “Most readers prefer modernist over Victorian poets”–which is highly debatable and, in any case, not particularly informative). Focus on the poem at hand.
  • Avoid superfluous information about the poet or even the poem. For this analysis, you can assume that your reader knows the author and his/her date of birth, etc. Many assignments begin with something like “The poem ‘Oread’ was written by the American poet H.D., also known as Hilda Doolittle, and published in 1915 in the first Imagist Anthology. It exemplifies many tenets of Imagism, including extreme verbal compression, unexplained juxtapositions, and concreteness.” Well, we can learn from H.D. here. What are these two sentences really saying? This: “H.D.’s ‘Oread’ exemplifes many tenets of Imagism, including extreme verbal compression, unexplained juxtapositions, and concreteness.”
  • Avoid using the term “ideology” as a synonym of “idea.”

Report on scholarly article (15%): about 2-2.5 pages, due February 18. Details of this assignment are posted here. It will involve finding a scholarly article about one of the poems on the syllabus, then answering a few questions (to be posted shortly) about its argument and method.

Essay (40%): 5-7 pages, due April 1 (note extension from original date). The use of secondary sources is permissible and recommended but not required. Essay topics are posted here.

Participation (10%): includes in-class discussion, reading poems aloud in class, and submitting questions on a sonnet

Take-home exam (20%), due in my departmental mailbox by 4:00 on Friday April 10. No late submissions. The questions are posted here. A sample answer to a question about Modern Drama is posted here.

Bonus grades

Draft thesis statement: If you email me a working thesis statement by March 18 at midnight, I will send you brief comments on how to improve it for your essay. Based on the revisions to the thesis, you may earn up to 3% extra on the final essay mark. I will not consider any submission after the deadline.

Scansion diagnostic: there will be two in-class scansion diagnostic exercises (January 14 and March 4). The first is practice. The second may, depending on how you do on it, grant you up to 3% extra on the close reading or the report on a scholarly article (whichever received the lower grade). Some easy sources on English poetic meter and prosody are here and here.

Formatting and submission guidelines

All typed assignments must be submitted in hard copy (an e-copy must also be sent to my email address for insurance, but the hard copy is what counts as the submission). They must be formatted as such:

  • Times New Roman, 12-pt font
  • Normal margins (2.54 cm all round)
  • Double spacing
  • Double-sided printing is acceptable
  • MLA citation style for references
  • No cover page
  • No need for a separate page for the bibliography (include your works cited on the same page as your analysis, unless you have no space for it there)

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