Essay 2

Essay 2 - “Poems in Dialogue” #

Due Friday, 3/17 at 22:00; revisions due in two weeks (4/31, 22:00). Conferences between 3/20-3/24: sign up using calendly.

Prompt #

Poems often use language in surprising or provocative ways. Though it may be difficult to pinpoint specifically where your interest in a poem or poet’s work lies, you are likely to be drawn to poems which produce a lingering sense of irresolution—a sense that there’s something “left over” even after you’ve spent some time figuring out its meaning or analyzing its form.

Your task in this essay is to articulate how a poem or pair of poems provokes or poses a question which you are able to address at length through an analysis of the poetic materials.

  • The question should be both open and specific enough that it can be answered through the close reading of a pair of poems or a single longer poem, and possibly through reference to a secondary text, such as a piece of prose writing by the author. You should be able to investigate this question over the span of four pages without feeling like the question has been fully resolved.
  • In choosing to write about two poems or two sections of a longer poem, you will have to choose which to start with. It will be crucial to have a clear sense of the different roles the poems play in your investigation of the question. It may be the case that one poem produces the question and the other resolves or adds something to the question: a follow-up question, a more specific take on the question, or some kind of a response. Or, it may be the case that both poems together generate the same question, and that each provides a different response.
  • You might discuss how the poetic material articulates a particular attitude to or conception of a familiar topic or theme (e.g. self, love, death, nature). If you do this, you will need to link the topic/theme, or "what," with some kind of formal structure, or "how."
  • Some possible objects of analysis include line, enjambment, parataxis/hypotaxis, apostrophe, prosopopoeia, repetition, rhyme, meter, and voice.

Specifications #

  1. Capture the reader's attention and produce a sense of intrigue in the opening paragraph. Make it clear why the poetic material you have chosen is interesting or important by discussing the topics or forms of interest in it, and by citing some historical or biographical information on the poet that feels relevant to your interests. You don't need to link the materials to your question immediately or explicitly, but you may do so if it feels appropriate. This material should, in any case, make evident what the stakes are in asking and addressing a question that arises from the poem(s).
  2. Close the introduction (paragraph one or two) with a question or contrastive claim that motivates the rest of your essay. This is your "thesis statement."
    • Note that the “answer” should give a sense of how you will respond, but not a complete answer. You don’t want to spoil the rest of the argument by being too detailed, but you also don’t want to leave the reader in the dark on how you will address the question or claim at hand. You may want to list out the main topics of your body paragraphs in the “apodosis” or answer/consequent clause. If your thesis takes the form of a contrastive claim, then
  3. Provide vivid evidence of your claims by quoting directly and concisely from the text. Include block quotes where appropriate, i.e. to provide important context, or where you plan on engaging in prolonged commentary on the quote in question. Make decisions on citation length by imagining your reader: where might they need more assistance in seeing the detailed observations or thought processes behind your claims?
  4. The last paragraph should recapitulate what you discovered or discussed in the essay and then return to the original thesis statement. Did the essay resolve whatever curiosity led you to write about the poems? Try to identify any points which have not been fully resolved, and from there suggest a further route of inquiry.
  5. Sequence the paragraphs in an intentional fashion. You might want to begin with an observation that seems easiest and move to the most difficult. You may also work through a poem in chronological order. Regardless of approach, make sure it is clear how each new paragraph adds to or complicates what you have developed in the previous paragraphs. "Moreover" signals the former and "however" the latter. "First/Second/Third" signals a clear separation in ideas, which can be helpful, although it can also reveal a lack of connections between ideas.
  6. Sentences should be sequenced in a way that is clearly motivated and which propels the reader's interest forward. In terms of grammar, this means that you should generally stick to the simplest structure possible: Subject-Verb-Object. Here are some other ways to begin sentences:
    • Temporal deixis: Now that we have defined ritual, …
    • Prepositions: By investigating how Poet uses Device, we can…
    • Imperatives: Notice how Poet uses Device to orient the reader…
    • Interrogatives: How does the poet’s use of Device relate to…?
  7. Try to use words which most accurately represent your ideas:
    • Use active verbs in the simple present. Check to see if you are overusing any verbal form of “be” or “have,” as they don’t typically contribute much meaning to a sentence.
    • Use prepositions/postpositions judiciously. Too much of “of” or “as” can obscure the meaning of a sentence. If you find a sentence with too many prepositions and embedded clauses, separate them out and see if you can reformulate them back into the Subject-Verb-Object structure. Here’s a syntax highlighter, use it!
    • Use concrete and vivid nouns and adjectives. They may refer very directly and literally to what you are writing about, or describe that thing by way of metaphor. If you find yourself repeating a certain noun or adjective throughout your essay, you should provide a definition for the term, no matter how common it may be.
  8. Pay attention to sentence rhythm. Interweave short and long, simple and complex; use contrasts to your advantage. Avoid unwarranted, consecutive repetition of words and phrases (e.g. "this..." or "indeed"). A quick proofreading trick is to simply highlight every sentence with the cursor as you comb through your essay.
  9. Include a title that neatly sums up your paper. This normally takes the form of Noun-Phrase + Prepositional-Phrase, e.g. "Ritual and Fiction in Rilke's New Poems." It can also be bipartite, separated by a colon into two lines: "You Must Change Your Life: The Use of Apostrophe in Rilke's New Poems"
  10. Transcribe the poems and include them at the beginning of your paper if they fit on one page, after the title. Otherwise place the poems to the "Appendix" of your paper and cite line numbers from the Appendix.
  11. If you incorporate secondary sources beyond what has been convered in class, make sure they are reputable, scholarly sources. Consult me for advice on where to find them or what sources to choose.
  12. Use proper MLA formatting and citation style, 1.7 spacing, and a Works Cited page. If typing up meter, do it in a consistent style, following the guidelines from Essay 1.
  13. The paper should be relatively free of typographical, spelling, and grammar errors. Check for verb agreement, extra/missing spaces and indents, and proper placement of punctuation near quotes.
  14. The body of the paper should be at least four pages.

Grading criteria #

A: Satisfies all of the above.
A- Satisfies 1-5, some issues with items 6-15.
B+: Some issues with items 1-5, satisfies everything else.
B: Some issues with 1-5, minor issues with 6-15.
B-: Some issues with 1-5, various issues with 6-15.
≤ C+: At the instructor’s discretion

Submit your best work the first time around, even if that means turning in your paper slightly late (within 24 hours of the due date). The grade is assigned based on the last revision you are able to turn in before the revision deadline. You may want to use the Knight Institute Writing Center for additional help.

Learning Objectives #

Unlike the previous essay, which specified the objects of analysis, this one requires you to articulate your own questions in relation to primary texts. This is a crucial research skill and will come into use again in Essay 4.

Last update: 5/22/2023
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