POETRY Because poetry can be ambiguous and complex,
POETRY Because poetry can be ambiguous and complex, many students fear and shy away from poetry. It is true poetry can be very laconic in nature with multiple forms of interpretation. In essence, art is open to interpretation, and poetry as a creative form of writing, is no exception as long as there are concrete facts or well formed arguments to support an interpretation. The following tools in this Power Point Presentation are here to assist you, the student, in your academic quest in formulating your own poetic interpretation. Here, you are to engage in what I call playing detective or literary forensic science, where you study, observe, investigate, analyze, make educated guesses, and logical conclusions. You should not, by any means, feel frighten to express your thoughts, ideas, questions while attempting to interpret a poem. Remember, interpreting is all part of the fun, excitement, and mystery of poetry analysis. Created by Alvaro Gonzalez for the LAMC Writing Lab DETECTIVE TOOLS Every good detective needs essential tools to conduct a thorough investigation. Measuring tape, camera, rubber gloves, cotton swabs, and plastic containers are just a few of the tools detectives use. Likewise, you, too, need investigating tools to
better find a solution to the problem. The following literary devices or literary terms are investigating tools you may find useful when analyzing a poem (note: these definitions where borrowed from The Longman Dictionary of Literary Terms). ALLUSION- a brief, sometimes indirect reference in a text to a person, place, thing, or prior text, be it fictitious or actual. MOTIF- an element that recurs significantly throughout a narrative. A motif can be an image, idea, theme, situation, or action. CONNOTATION- an association or additional meaning that a word , image, or phrase may carry, beyond its literal reference or dictionary definition. SIMILE- a major figure of speech, a simile is a comparison of two ostensibly unlike things, indicated by some connective, usually like, as or than. Free verse- Verse that has neither regular rhyme nor regular meter. Free verse often uses cadences rather than uniform metrical feet. DETECTIVE TOOLS
METAPHOR- a figurative statement asserting that one thing is something else, which, in a literal sense, it is not. TONE- the attitude toward a subject conveyed in a literal work. No single stylistic device creates tone; it is the net result of various verbal elements that an author brings to the representation. SYMBOL- a person, place, or thing in a narrative that suggests meaning beyond its literal sense. AMBIGUITY- usually a quality of state of indistinctness, equivocation, or dualityin ordinary discourse, but in literature and poetry, it simply means rich, copious expressions and provocative viewpoints. For example, T. S. Elliots The Waste Land can be said to be ambiguous because it is saturated with allusions and metaphors. MYTH- a traditional narrative of anonymous authorships that arises out of a cultures oral tradition and that portrays gods and heroes engaged in epochal actions and decisions. Myths characteristically dramatize fundamental beliefs about existence, time, and morality, explaining the origin of creation, the nature of human psyche, the beginnings of nations and natural objects. ALLITERATION- the repetition of a consonant sound. Strictly speaking, alliteration marks the
beginning of words (cool catsinitial alliteration), but the term is often applied to sounds and syllables within them (In kitchen cups concupiscent curdsa combination of initial and internal alliteration). FORM: The "shape" or organizational mode of a particular poem. In most poems (like sonnets), the form consists of a set number of lines, a set rhyme scheme, and a set meter for each line. In concrete poetry, the form of a poem may reflect the theme, topic, or idea of the words in the actual shape of the text on a piece of paper. In the free verse or open-form poetry common to the modernist and postmodernist movements, the rigid constraints of form are often discarded in order to achieve a variety of effects. DETECTIVE TOOLS ANAPHORA- the repetition of the same word at the beginning of lines of verse, sentences, or parts of sentences. ONOMATOPOEIA- a literary device in which a thing or action is represented by the word that
imitates the sound associated with it (e.g. crash, bang, tick-tock). PARALLELISM- a side-by-side arrangement of words, phrases, clauses, or sentences for purposes of comparison, contrast, or other relation. IRONY- as a feature of language, irony is a statement whose intended meaning is the opposite of its literal meaning. As a quality of life, irony is a discrepancy between an expected outcome and a real outcome. In both cases, we need a context in which (or a distance from which) to recognize the meaning as ironic, not straightforward. Simplicity and sincerity provide earnest, literal expressions; irony requires duplicity and play. PARADOX- a statement that at first appears self contradictory, but that on reflection reveals some deeper sense. Caesura. A pause, metrical or rhetorical, occurring somewhere in a line of poetry. The pause may or may not be typographically indicated. THEME: A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may be a single idea such as "progress" (in many Victorian works), "order and duty" (in many early Roman works), "seize-the-day" (in many late Roman works), or "jealousy" (in Shakespeare's Othello). The theme may also be a more complicated doctrine, such as Milton's theme in Paradise Lost, "to justify the ways of God to men," or "Socialism is the only sane reaction to the labor abuses in Chicago meat-packing plants" (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle). A theme is the author's way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions, and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in the book, or it may only be implied. Compare with motif and leit-motif. THE CRIME SCENE
Here is a poem by Langston Hughes titled I, Too. I, too sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, Ill be at the table When company comes. Nobodyll dare Say to me, Eat in the kitchen, Then. Besides, Theyll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed I, too, am America. Investigation You must pretend the poem is a literary corpse who has been a victim of a crime. Here, the interpretation is the murderer, and you should begin its forensic investigation in
order to capture the victims killer. Like a real crime scene, some evidence is internal while other evidence is external. In other words, some evidence lies within the poem itself, whether explicit or implicit, while other evidence must be researched. QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN READING A POEM Who is the speaker of the poem? What does the poem convey? What is the tone of the poem? How does diction or language affect the poem? Is there a rhythm scheme to follow? Are there any patterns in particular that might consider observation? When was the poem written? Who is the author? THE INVESTIGATION I will now investigate Hughes poem in order to seek the murderer of the crimemy own interpretation of course. Using some of the detective tools listed above, I will surely discover important leads that will enable me to find the perpetrator of the crime. WHO- First, I researched the victims history. I discovered that the poem was written by Langston Hughes, a prominent African American writerand an icon figure during the Harlem Renaissance (in the 1920s). WHAT and WHERE- The Harlem Renaissance was an art, literary, and music movement that began in Harlem, New York by the Black community
who sought to enlighten the masses with their folk lore, history, experience, oppression, celebration, and creativity. Interesting facts, huh? I also noticed in the first line the word America, which is a symbol of freedom, prosperity, and democracy or perhaps an allusion to Rev. Samuel F. Smiths song entitled America. I have identified the speaker of the poem as a male figure because of the second stanza, where it informs he eats in the kitchen and grows strong. During slavery, slaves who worked inside the home were allowed to eat at the kitchen table only when their masters were not present. The description of strong may be suggestive of a male figure who probably also did outside work. All of a sudden, the speakers tone of voice turns very optimistic beginning with the word Tomorrow. It is interesting to see how the form of the poem emphasizes important key words or phrases by setting them apart or isolating them from the rest of the text. As in the word, Tomorrow, for instance, where the speaker of the poem allows the reader to conceptualize the word in order to change the mood from a shameful past in Americas history, the slavery period, to a more positive and freer America. No longer will the slave eat alone or when the master is not present because this time, the speaker says, the slave will eat at the dining table just like everyone else, and he will have the same authority as everyone else. Here, the speaker has emphatically announced his liberation and equality status and has concluded with a statement of immersionan all inclusive thematic conclusion instead of an exclusive oneI, too, am America. Without a doubt, according to my interpretation, the speaker of the poem speaks about positive change within the degrading confinements of American segregation and racism on Blacks. So tell me, Sherlock Holmes, what is your interpretation? Annotating the poem
Be sure to make notes while you read your poem. Look for literary devices: similes, enjambment, metaphors, ironic tone or situation, or paradoxes. Also make notes about the speaker (narrator), form (closed or open), and theme.
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