Dear Class #1

Dear class,

The writing you are doing so far is a pleasure to read. The 500 word discussion posts are focused and your close-reading skills are evident. The idea is to be engaging and informative. Your primary purpose is to discuss the qualities of the poem that make it interesting for us as students of ecopoetry. Remember that the statements about poetry, and the comments on poems as ecopoems, is useful for describing and contextualizing the text under discussion.

The commentaries are off to a good start. But there are important lessons to learn from these first drafts and much, much more work to do. We are publishing these commentaries on a web site designed for use, and you will be contributing editors. And so the expectations and standards are much higher than you may be accustomed.

I have taken the commentaries and put them in a Google Drive Folder for you to access and revise. I need each of you to send me your gmail address. (I have Danielle’s.) If you do not have a gmail account, please set one up and send me your gmail address. I will then share the folder with you so that you can work on the file by the deadlines. We can talk about how to use the comment feature in Google docs, if necessary.

(I will also be asking to meet with Heather and Kyle on Google Hangouts for a video conference, and so having a google account is necessary. If you are hang any technical difficulties, please let me know.)

When you have access to my notes on your commentaries please review them alongside the commentary template.

Paragraph 1

  1. textual information
  • texts have histories (manuscripts, versions, editions) that may be relevant
  • texts first appeared where (date and location) and then in book form
  • poem (verse) structure: lyric, narrative, dramatic
  1. contextual information
  • biographical
  • social/cultural
  • when the poem occurred in the arc of the poets career

Most first paragraphs will end in a transitional summary sentence to continue the commentary

Paragraph 2: Summary of the poem Descriptive account of form and content

  • relevant details of poem structure (octave/sestet, narrative book-length poem, etc.)
  • relation of poem to other poems or texts
  • relation of poem to social or cultural or historical context(s)
  • relevant summary of poetic features (language, imagery)
  • relevant lines, phrases, words quoted as evidence

Paragraph 3: Critical reception of poem Tradition of commentary and conversation about the poem. This is the section in which you will account for the received interpretation (hermeneutics) of the poem.

  • How was the poem received by contemporaries?
  • How has the poem been read by readers since its publication?
  • Are there critical debates or different ways of reading the poem?
  • How does the poem fit into a literary tradition?

Paragraph 4: Conclusion Informed comment about the significance and/or interest of the poem

The commentaries you have written need to be revised to include all of these features. In particular, each of you needs to do a much more work on paragraph 2 (the textual features of the poem) and 3 (the articles and essays and book chapters and books and major encyclopedias that mention the poem). Remember that one source will often lead to others in the notes or the bibliography. If there is a biography of the poet, look in the index to see if the poem is mentioned. We will do some work in the library (or you will need to spend some time in a college or university library) finding the sources that will help you complete your commentary. Please make use of the Reference Librarian, too. Their job is to help you with projects like this. I am here to help as well.

A good example of a sufficient Bibliography and Further Reading is a commentary by a former student on Emily Dickinson’s poem, “A Diamond on the Hand

Bibliography and Further Reading “A Timeline of Emily Dickinson’s Life.” Emily Dickinson Museum. Emily Dickinson Museum (2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2013); Emily Dickinson. “1108.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. (Boston: Bay Back Books, 1960. 500. Print); Scott Donaldson. “Emily Dickinson Face to Face by Martha Dickinson Bianchi.” Rev. for Emily Dickinson Face to Face by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. The New England Quarterly (44.1 [1971]: 161-63. Print); Morris U Schappes. Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Alfred Leete Hampson.” Rev. for Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminiscences by Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Alfred Leete Hampson. American Literature (5.1 [1933]: 82-85. Print); Martha Nell Smith & Ellen Louise Hart. “On Franklin’s Gifts and Ghosts.” The Emily Dickinson Journal (8.2 [1999]: 24-38. Print).

Another example that exemplifies attention to textual information and publication history can be seen in the first two paragraphs on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Village Blacksmith

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ballad, “The Village Blacksmith,” was first published in a New York Magazine, The Knickerbocker, in 1840. Shortly thereafter, in 1841, it appeared in Longfellow’s collection; Ballads and Other Poems. The poem takes the reader through the life of a blacksmith in town. Longfellow describes what the blacksmith looks like; describing his “large sinewy hands,” and “his face is like the tan.” Then Longfellow moves to how the blacksmith is “hardworking, well-liked and admired throughout the village” (150). The blacksmith is described as a vague member of Longfellow’s community, but in-fact wrote the ballad in memory of a specific blacksmith ancestor of his; Stephen Longfellow (Ziegler).

The ballad uses an eight-stanza variable rhyme scheme. A simile is used to describe the appearance of the blacksmith; “…The muscles of his brawny arms are strong as iron bands.” Here Longfellow is accentuating the Blacksmith’s abilities and strengths, many of which are unique and desirable among the community. The allure of the blacksmith is fortified through each stanza as Longfellow says only positive and admirable things about the blacksmith. “Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night’s repose. Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend, For the lesson thou hast taught!” (Longfellow 16). Not only does Longfellow describe the blacksmith as a good man but he stresses that the blacksmith is a hard working common man as well. He earns his sleep each night, which in the time of Longfellow is something commendable. The blacksmith is overall painted as a role model for other working people.

(Though this commentary is lacking sufficient further reading as this poem has been written about widely since its publication in the nineteenth century

When I created the American Poetry and Poetics web site, a couple of years ago, Danielle took notes on the qualities of a publishable commentary. She shared her notes with me last week:

How To Write a Commentary On a Poem

Use general information about poet/ poetry
Don’t use “I”
Research enough to know what I’m talking about
It is not a response paper- more information

What is it?
How is it read?
Quote poet
What have others said about the poem?
Enhance the reader’s understanding of the poet/poem
Build more of an authority of the poem
Use a writer’s perspective if appropriate
Talk about poem beginning, then middle, then end
Use sources in library
Bring in descriptive terms (couplet, ballad, etc.)

This is a helpful set of notes, though you will need to use the template as well.

Happy reading, and productive writing!


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