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Writing Essays on Poetry

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1 Writing Essays on Poetry
Dr Rose Lucas

2 What is an essay? To ‘try out’ ideas, essayer To bring together
a) your particular responses to a piece of literature, b) engage directly with the topic, which, on some level, will be asking you to develop those particular perceptions into a broader discussion about a group of texts, or a particular question, and c) to learn from and to integrate what others have said about this text and/or topic (depending on what kind of essay)

3 What is an Essay? An essay is also a mode of COMMUNICATION, and ultimately, a contribution to debate and knowledge Therefore, it needs to be a) well organised conceptually b) clearly address its topic/question and not wander off into other areas c) be fluent and grammatically correct d) include a bibliography e) BE READER FRIENDLY

4 Planning the Essay All this requires ESSAY PLANNING
You can’t just launch into an essay without careful work: Engaging with the primary text Making sure you understand what is being asked of you Writing a one page plan to be your guide as you write

5 Planning Close Reading Essay
Read the poems and make selection of 2: Make decision about topic and about poems to be used. Give yourself plenty of time! Essays involve an evolution of critical and creative thinking, and can’t be ‘crammed’ with any great success. See the reading / thinking / writing / re-writing as part of a process – and a craft in itself.


7 Planning the Essay Engage closely with the topic. What exactly is it asking? How will you address it in relation to your chosen poems? Devise an essay plan (one page, dot points) in response to the above (i.e. the topic, close reading of poems, secondary reading). An essay needs to have:

8 All Essays Need… An Introduction: which gives an overview of your response to the topic (also called the argument, the thesis) in relation to the poems; A series of key points: which explicate that argument, and which usually correspond to the sequence of paragraphs; A Conclusion: which pulls together the threads of your discussion and directly mirrors the intro. No new material should be put into a conclusion. A Bibliography

9 Bibliographies A Bibliography always needs a separate page at the end of your essay. For Essay 1, you only need a Primary Sources section of a Bibliography: where did the poems come from (eg Leonard). Essay 2 will need both Primary and Secondary Sources in your Bibliography. Name of author, title of book in italics. Place of publication: Publishing house, date of publication. Leonard, John (Ed.), Seven Centuries of Poetry in English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

10 Writing the Essay Write a first draft. Allow this to ‘sit’ for a day or two, then return and edit. Read, revise, and always check back to the key criteria of topic and poems. Is it relevant to the topic? Have your shown how you derived your ideas from the poems? Have you used secondary sources to support your argument (not to make the argument for you)? (This is relevant for essay 2 only). Do final draft. Read aloud (to someone else, if you can find a sympathetic audience!)

11 The Long/Research Essay
The second essay will ask you to address a more conceptual topic across a range of poems. While you will still need to demonstrate close reading skills of your poetic examples, you will need to do this in the context of a broader set of ideas and you will also need to read and use secondary sources – ie critics writing about these poems/poet and/or about the overarching topic. All secondary sources consulted will need to be included in your Bibliography.

12 Quoting Poetry You don’t need to footnote on subsequent occasions, and you don’t need to indicate line numbers. Poem titles are in single quote marks, ‘The Waste Land.’ Titles of books are in italics: Selected Poems of T.S.Eliot. Any quotations from a poem need to be in single quote marks, ‘April is the cruellest month.’ If you decide to leave anything out of a quote, indicate this with ellipses…

13 Quoting Poetry Always make sure you quote from the poem you are writing about – succinctly and in a targeted way. Retain original punctuation, and indicate line breaks with a forward /slash You will need to cite the poem in your Bibliography in Primary References : T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems. London: Faber and Faber, 1922.

14 Quoting secondary sources
Do some general reading as per suggested lists. Make notes as you go, taking exact quotations and publishing info. Structure your essay as per Essay 1, but now also including the additional ideas of critics. Choose some relevant quotations. Be sure you don’t get swamped by others’ ideas; make sure that the argument you develop in your essay is your own voice that has evolved from your reading of the poems, your use of critics’ ideas and your engagement with the topic.

15 Quoting Secondary Sources
When you do quote secondary sources, be sure you indicate exactly what comes from the critic, preferably by quoting something specific from them. Don’t just put a reference at the end of a para; you must be explicit. Choose a referencing style for referring to secondary sources and bibliography. Harvard style (in-text):

16 Quoting Secondary Sources
However, as long as you are internally consistent, you are free to use a different style (e.g. footnotes instead of in-text): VU referencing page:

17 General Tips Don’t get too distracted by the background context of the poet or historical period. Some information around this can of course be useful: Plath was suicidal; Owen was writing during WWI etc. However, this should be a springboard only for you to discuss and analyse the poem – this is especially true for Essay 1 and for your informal presentations. We need readings of the poems, not biographies of poets.

18 General Tips Base your analysis of a poem on direct and relevant quotation (don’t ‘summarise’) Quote judiciously from secondary sources and show how relevant to your argument. Always indicate exactly what words and/or ideas you are deriving from a critic. Footnote or in-text reference. Don’t just describe what you see in a poem; base your discussion around an analysis (form and content) of the poem in explicit relation to the ideas posed by the topic.

19 General Tips Reference all secondary material
Check for grammatical structure and the clarity of written expression. Essays should be 1.5 spaced, on one side of page only; page numbers marked; adequate margins left for comments. Titles of poems should be in quote marks (‘Daffodils,’) titles of books should be italicized (Poems of William Wordsworth).

20 General Tips All essays should always be drafted at least once. Just like a poem, the essay form is a craft and will evolve and improve through a drafting process. Writing is a craft to learn and ideas may begin in the abstract, but they will take shape through writing as a communicative method.

21 Metaphysical Poetry Term coined by Samuel Johnson (18thc. Writer) referring to group of 17th c poets: John Donne George Herbert Andrew Marvell Thomas Traherne Henry Vaughan

22 Metaphysical Poetry The term generally referring to poetry which merged both a very grounded sense of the physical body and its experiences, and also the ‘more than physical’ – the intellectual, the spiritual. Characterised by the use of the literary conceit: an ingenious and extended use of metaphor which usually governed the whole poem.

23 ‘Death be not proud’ Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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