Tag Archives: context

Inside Poetry: Getting At The Poem’s Basic Meaning & Technique

Ask yourself the following questions that apply to your focus question. Make notes as you go, and you will find it easier to organize your thoughts for the first draft.

  • The poem’s basic content
    1. What is the context of the poem? Identify the speaker(s) and any background information that would help explain the poem’s basic message.
    2. How are the thoughts organized?
    3. Does the poet contrast any ideas? Does he/she juxtapose any for effect?
    4. What feelings does the speaker reveal? How are the feelings communicated?
    5. What meaning does the poem have on the literal level?
  • The poem’s figurative level
    1. Does the poet use any emotionally charged words? What effect do they have?
    2. What images stand out? How do the images help to convey the poem’s main idea?
    3. Are any of the images used as symbols? What do they represent?
    4. Are any of the actions described in the poem intended to be viewed as symbolic? What do they represent?
    5. Is the poem limited to a specific situation, or does it comment on life in general? What comment does it make?
    6. What is the significance of the poem’s thoughts or theme?
  • The poem’s main purpose
    1. Is the poem mostly concerned with communicating thoughts?
    2. Does the poem tell a story or present a dramatic situation? Does it amuse or entertain? Does it succeed?
    3. Is the poem an explanation or exploration of feelings?
    4. Does it aim at persuading the reader to believe something? What?
    5. Does the poem attempt to shock the reader into a realization? Is it effective?
    6. Is the poem commenting on a problem in our society? What is it saying?
  • The poem’s tone
    1. What feelings is the speaker expressing?
    2. What words or images convey those feelings best? Why?
    3. Are there any sounds in the poem that help to communicate the speaker’s attitude? Which? How do they help?
    4. Does the poem’s rhythm relate to the feelings being expressed? How? What is the effect?
    5. Have the details of the poem been especially selected to convey the speaker’s attitude? How have they been limited? Is it effective?
  • The poem’s use of words, sounds and rhythm
    1. Which words are repeated? Why?
    2. Have any words been isolated or given special emphasis? What effect was the poet trying to achieve?
    3. What use does the poet make of imagery? What patterns link the images together?
    4. Does the author give any special emphasis to any single image? Which one? Why?
    5. Are there symbols in the poem? Where? What do they mean?
    6. How do the images and symbols help to establish the poem’s meaning?
    7. What use does the poet make of sounds? How do the sounds in the poem add to its meaning?
    8. How would you describe the poem’s rhythm? Does the rhythm slow down, speed up, or change at any point? Why?
  • The poem’s structure
    1. What type of poem is this? Why did the poet choose this type?
    2. What pattern of rhyme did the poet use? How does the pattern of rhymes add to the impact of the poem?
    3. Are the lines of the poem arranged in a special pattern? What purpose did the poet have in choosing that pattern?
    4. Does the poem have a consistent meter? What type of meter? How many feet are in each line?
    5. What rhyme scheme, if any, did the poet use?

This exercise will enable you to organize your thoughts and gather some preliminary notes on your subject.

The Night Aunt Dottie Caught Elvis’s Scarf When He Tossed It From The Stage Of The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center

This exercise is simple: write a poem about a family member meeting a famous person. All of us have such incidents embedded in family history or folklore: the day Dad shook hands with Ike in France; the time Mom spilled coffee on Elizabeth Taylor in a pizza parlour in San Mateo; the night Aunt Dottie caught Elvis’s scarf when he tossed it from the stage of The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. In most cases, our loved ones’ encounters with the famous or powerful tend to be fleeting and bittersweet, however memorable they may later seem — and it’s this aspect of the encounter that helps us to envision our family members in contexts that avoid easy sentimental gestures. These are situations that, in a small way, the forces of public history and private history collide, and these meetings help us to see our loved ones as individuals, not as types.

Guidleines for the exercise:

  1. The encounter can be real or imaginary, but at least should be plausible — no meeting between Cousin Ed and Genghis Khan
  2. The family member, not the famous person, should of course be the protagonist of the poem and it is his or her consciousness that the poem should try to enter or understand.
  3. The writer of the poem should be an effaced presence, understanding the inner workings of the family member’s mind but seeing the family member as a character referred to in the third person (“my father” and not “Dad,” in other words).
  4. The famous person can be anyone in politcs, entertainment, or the arts; JFK to Mel Gibson, Emily Brontë to Madonna
  5. Since the exercise tends to demand a fairly complex profile or portrait of the family member in question, it is best suited to longer poems — at least 30 lines.
  6. Submit completed poems via trackback

English Language Arts General Outcomes 10, 20, 30(2003)

Students will listen, speak, read, write, view, and represent to:
1. Explore thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences

  • discover possibilities
    • form tentative understandings, interpretations, and positions
    • experiment with language, image, and structure
  • extend awareness
    • consider new perspectives
    • express preferences, and expand interests
    • set personal goals for language growth

2. Comprehend literature and other texts in oral, print, visual, and multimedia forms, and respond personally, critically, and creatively.

  • respond to a variety of print and nonprint texts
    • connect self, text, culture, milieu
    • evaluate the verisimilitude, appropriateness, and significance of print and nonprint texts
    • appreciate the effectiveness and artistry of print and nonprint texts
  • construct meaning form text and context
    • discern and analyze context
    • understand and interpret content
    • engage prior knowledge
    • use reference strategies and reference technologies
  • understand and appreciate textual forms, elements, and techniques
    • relate form, structure, and medium to purpose, audience, and content
    • relate elements, devices, and techniques to created effects

3. Manage ideas and information

  • determine inquiry or research requirements
    • focus on purpose and presentation form
    • plan inquiry or research, and identify information needs and sources
  • follow a plan of inquiry
    • select, record, and organize information
    • evaluate sources, and assess information
    • form generalizations and conclusions
    • review inquiry or research process and findings

4. Create oral, print, visual, and multimedia texts, and enhance the clarity and artistry of communication

  • develop and present a variety of print and nonprint texts
    • assess text creation content
    • consider and address form, structure, and medium
    • develop content
    • use production, publication, and presentation strategies and technologies consistent with context
  • improve thoughtfulness, effectiveness, and enhance the clarity and artistry of communication
    • enhance thought and understanding and support and detail
    • enhance organization
    • consider and address matters of choice
    • edit text for matters of correctness

5. Respect, support, and collaborate with others

  • respect others and strengthen community
    • use language and image to show respect and consideration
    • appreciate diversity of expression, opinion, and perspective
    • recognize accomplishments and events
  • work within a group
    • cooperate with others and contribute to group processes
    • understand and evaluate group processes

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View English Language Arts Curriculum PDF(ELA10-1, ELA10-2, ELA20-1, ELA20-2, ELA30-1, ELA30-2)