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Writing Essays on Poetry - Victoria University, Australia

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DrRose Lucas
Writing Essays on Poetry
What is an essay?
To ‘try out’ ideas,essayerTo bring togethera) 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, andc) to learn from and to integrate what others have said about this text and/or topic (depending on what kind of essay)
What is an Essay?
An essay is also a mode of COMMUNICATION, and ultimately, a contribution to debate and knowledgeTherefore, it needs to bea) wellorganisedconceptuallyb) clearly address its topic/question and not wander off into other areasc) be fluent and grammatically correctd) include a bibliographye) BE READER FRIENDLY
Planning the Essay
All this requires ESSAY PLANNINGYou can’t just launch into an essay without careful work:Engaging with the primary textMaking sure you understand what is being asked of youWriting a one page plan to be your guide as you write
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.
Planning the Essay
Planning the Essay
Engageclosely 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 tohave:
All Essays Need…
An Introduction: whichgives an overview of your response to the topic (also called the argument, the thesis) in relation to the poems;Aseries of keypoints: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.ABibliography
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 (egLeonard). 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.
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 supportyourargument (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!)
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 –iecritics writing about these poems/poet and/or about the overarching topic.All secondary sources consulted will need to be included in your Bibliography.
Quoting Poetry
Youdon’tneed to footnote on subsequent occasions, and youdon’tneed to indicate line numbers.Poem titles are in single quote marks, ‘The Waste Land.’Titles of books are in italics:Selected Poems ofT.S.Eliot.Any quotations from a poem need to be in single quote marks, ‘April is thecruellestmonth.’If you decide to leave anything out of a quote, indicate this with ellipses…
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 /slashYou will need to cite the poem in your Bibliography in Primary References :T.S. Eliot,The Complete Poems.London: Faber and Faber, 1922.
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.
Quoting Secondary Sources
When you do quote secondary sources, be sure you indicateexactlywhat comes from the critic, preferably by quoting something specific from them. Don’t just put a reference at the end of apara; you must be explicit.Choose a referencing style for referring to secondary sources and bibliography.Harvardstyle (in-text):
Quoting Secondary Sources
However, as long as you are internally consistent, you are free to use a different style (e.g. footnotes instead ofin-text): referencing page:
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 andanalysethe poem – this is especially true for Essay 1 and for your informal presentations. We need readings of the poems, not biographies of poets.
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 indicateexactlywhat 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 aroundan analysis(form and content) ofthe poem in explicit relation to the ideas posed by the topic.
General Tips
Referenceallsecondary materialCheck 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).
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 draftingprocess.Writing is a craft to learnandideas may begin in the abstract, but they will take shape through writing as a communicative method.
Metaphysical Poetry
Term coined by Samuel Johnson (18thc. Writer) referring to group of 17thc poets:John Donne 1572-1631George Herbert 1593-1633Andrew Marvell 1621-1678ThomasTraherne1636-1674Henry Vaughan 1622-1695
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.Characterisedby the use of the literaryconceit: an ingenious and extended use of metaphor which usually governed the whole poem.
‘Death be not proud’
Death, be not proud, though some have called theeMighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;For those whom thouthink'stthou dost overthrowDie 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 wellAnd better than thy stroke; whyswell'stthou then?One short sleep past, we wake eternallyAnd death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.





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Writing Essays on Poetry - Victoria University, Australia