MATERIAL FOR WORK IS UPLOADED

1.) “Select THREE central images in Alexie’s “Evolution.” In one 150-word paragraph per image, describe Alexie’s choice of language in crafting these images and why his word choice is vital to the poem’s larger theme of systematic Native American degradation. Your response must include at least one scholarly source. Be sure to properly cite.

2.) In 400 words explain your reaction to how Alarcón chose to structure his poem, “Mexican is Not a Noun.” Pay close attention to Alarcón’s word choice, word order, line breaks and use of stanzas. Hint: you might choose to discuss the impact/effect of such short lines and stanzas. Your response must include at least one scholarly source. Be sure to properly cite.

3.) “In 400 words explain your reaction to the imagery in Williams’ poem, “Red Wheelbarrow.” Questions to consider in your response: Why does Williams use the phrase “so much depends?” What does the speaker mean by saying that? Hint: pay close attention to the central images in this poem. What do they represent? What words does Williams choose to describe the images? Your response must include at least one scholarly source. Be sure to properly cite.

486

CHAPTER 15

UNDERSTANDING POETRY

MARIANNE MOORE (1887–1972)

Poetry (1921)

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are
important beyond all this �ddle.

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt
for it, one

discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise

if it must, these things are important not
because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are useful. When they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible, the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat

holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a �ea, the base-

ball fan, the statistician—
nor is it valid

to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”;1 all these phenomena are important. One must

make a distinction

5

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15

Th
e

G
ra

ng
er

C
ol

le
ct

io
n,

N
YC

●●

1“business documents and school-books”: Moore quotes the “business documents and school-books”: Moore quotes the “business documents and school-books”: Diaries of Tolstoy (New York, 1917): “Where Diaries of Tolstoy (New York, 1917): “Where Diaries of Tolstoy
the boundary between prose and poetry lies, I shall never be able to understand .… Poetry is verse; prose
is not verse . Or else poetry is everything with the exception of business documents and school books .”

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Wagner: How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual 487

however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,

nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”2—above

insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,”3

shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in

all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand

genuine, you are interested in poetry.

PAMELA SPIRO WAGNER (1952– )

How to Read a Poem:
Beginner’s Manual*

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is dif�cult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

20

25

5

10

●●

2”literalists of the imagination”: A reference (given by Moore) to W: A reference (given by Moore) to W: . B . Yeats’s “William Blake and His
Illustrations” (in Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903): “The limitation of his view was from the very intensity of Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903): “The limitation of his view was from the very intensity of Ideas of Good and Evil
his vision; he was a too literal realist of the imagination as others are of nature; and because he believed
that the figures seen by the mind’s eye, when exalted by inspiration, were ‘external existences,’ symbols of
divine essences, he hated every grace of style that might obscure their lineaments .”
3”imaginary gardens with real toads in them”: Moore places these words in quotations, but the source is ”imaginary gardens with real toads in them”: Moore places these words in quotations, but the source is ”imaginary gardens with real toads in them”:
unknown .
*Publication date is unavailable .

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488 Chapter 15 • Understanding Poetry

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name �ve poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don’t even notice,
close this manual.

Congratulations.
You can now read poetry.

The history of poetry begins where the history of all literature begins—with
the oral tradition, information passed down from one generation to another
by word of mouth. In a time before literacy and the printing press, the oral tra-
dition was relied on as a way of preserving stories, histories, values, and beliefs.
These stories were usually put into the form of rhyming poems, with repeated
words and sounds used to make the poems easier to memorize and remember.

These extended narratives were eventually transcribed as epics—long
poems depicting the actions of heroic �gures who determine the fate of a
nation or of an entire race. Early epics include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey,
the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad Gita, and Virgil’s Aeneid. Early poetry can
also be found in various religious texts, including ancient Hindu holy books
like the Upanishads; sections of the Bible, including the Song of Solomon;
and the Koran.

During the Anglo-Saxon era (late sixth to mid-eleventh centuries),
poetry �ourished as a literary form. Unfortunately, only about 30,000 lines of
poetry survive from this period. Those poems that did survive are marked by
violence, carnage, and heroic deeds as well as Pagan and Christian themes.
The major texts of this time include Beowulf, Beowulf, Beowulf The Battle of Maldon, and The
Dream of the Rood, which is one of the earliest Christian poems. The theme
of Christian morality in poetry continued into the Middle Ages with poems

15

20

25

Origins of Modern Poetry

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Origins of Modern Poetry 489

such as William Langland’s Piers Plowman, which consists of three religious
dream visions, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a collection of narrative
poems told by pilgrims as they travel to Canterbury, England. Using a
slightly different approach
to similar subject matter,
Dante Alighieri wrote the
Italian epic poem The Divine
Comedy, which depicts an
imaginary journey through
hell, purgatory, and heaven.
In France, the troubadours,
poets of the Provençal region,
wrote complex lyric poems
about courtly love.

The next major literary
period, the Renaissance (late
fourteenth to mid-sixteenth
centuries), witnessed the
rebirth of science, philosophy,
and the classical arts. Perhaps
the most important writer of
this period was William Shake-
speare. A proli�c poet, Shake-
speare also wrote plays in verse,
continuing in the tradition of
the ancient Greek tragedian
Sophocles and the ancient
Roman playwright Seneca.
Other notable writers of the
Renaissance included Sir Philip
Sidney, Christopher Marlowe,
and Edmund Spenser.

During the seventeenth
century, several literary move-
ments emerged that con-
tributed to poetry’s growing
prevalence and in�uence. John
Milton continued the tradi-
tion of Christian poetry with
his epic Paradise Lost, which
told the tale of Adam and
Eve’s exile from the Garden
of Eden. The metaphysical

Illustration of Trojan horse from Virgil’s Aenied
Source: © Bettman/Corbis

Image depicting the pilgrims from Geoffrey Chaucer’s
The Canterbury Tales
Source: Roy 18 D II f .148 Lydgate and the Canterbury Pilgrims Leaving Canterbury from
the ‘Troy Book and the Siege of Thebes’ by John Lydgate (c .1370–c .1451) 1412–22
(vellum) (detail of 8063), English School, (15th century) / British Library, London, UK /
© British Library Board . All Rights Reserved / Bridgeman Images

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490 Chapter 15 • Understanding Poetry

poets (John Donne, Andrew
Marvell, and George Herbert)
used elaborate �gures of speech
and favored intellect over emo-
tions in their writing. Their
poems were characterized by rea-
son, complex comparisons and
allusions, and paradoxes, and
they introduced the meditative
poem (a poem that abstractly
ponders a concept or idea) into
the literary world.

In the early eighteenth cen-
tury, British poets (such as Alex-
ander Pope and Samuel Johnson)
wrote poems, biographies, and
literary criticism. Toward the
end of the eighteenth cen-
tury, the movement known as
Romanticism began. Romantic poetry was marked by heightened emotion
and sentiment; a strong sense of individualism; a fascination with nature, the
Middle Ages, and mysticism; a rebellion against social and political norms;

John Martin’s painting The Bard (1817) The Bard (1817) The Bard
illustrating the mystical view of nature
characteristic of Romanticism
The Bard, c .1817 (oil on canvas), Martin, John (1789–1854) / Yale
Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, USA / Paul Mellon
Collection / Bridgeman Images

Illuminated manuscript from William
Blake’s “The Tyger”
Source: ©Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK/
Bridgeman Art Library

Illuminated manuscript (fifteenth century) from
Dante’s Divine Comedy depicting Dante and Virgil Divine Comedy depicting Dante and Virgil Divine Comedy
in Hell
Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis

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Origins of Modern Poetry 491

and a return to �rst-person lyric poems.
The early British Romantics included
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William
Wordsworth, and William Blake. This
generation was followed by the later
Romantics, including Percy Bysshe
Shelley, John Keats, and George Gor-
don, Lord Byron. American Romantics
(called transcendentalists) included
Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, and Walt Whitman.

The nineteenth century was marked
by yet another shift in poetic conscious-
ness. This time, poets moved away from
the contemplation of the self within
nature that characterized Romanticism
and returned to a more elevated sense
of rhetoric and subject matter. Notable
British poets included Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. American poets of the this period
included Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson,
and Phillis Wheatley, a slave who became the �rst African American poet.

The twentieth century had perhaps the largest number of literary move-
ments to date, with each one re�ecting its predecessors and in�uencing
future generations of poets. In the early twentieth century, a literary move-
ment that became known as modernism developed. As writers responded to
the increasing complexity of a changing world, the overarching sentiment of
modernism was that the “old ways” would no longer suf�ce in a world that
had changed almost overnight as a result of the rise of industrialization and
urbanization, as well as the devastation of World War I. Key modernist poets
included W. H. Auden, William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot,
whose epic poem The Waste Land expressed the fragmentation of conscious-
ness in the modern world.

After World War I, poets began to challenge the prevailing ideas of sub-
ject matter and form. Ezra Pound, along with Amy Lowell and other poets,
founded imagism, a poetic movement that emphasized free verse and the
writer’s response to a visual scene or an object. William Carlos Williams
wrote poems that were often deceptively simple, while the poetry of Wal-
lace Stevens was often opaque and dif�cult to grasp. Dylan Thomas and E.
E. Cummings also experimented with form, with Cummings intentionally
manipulating the accepted constructs of grammar, syntax, and punctuation.

In the 1920s, the United States experienced the Harlem Renaissance.
This rebirth of arts and culture was centered in Harlem, an area in New

Undated engraving illustrating Edgar Allan
Poe’s “The Raven”
Source: ©Bettmann/CORBIS

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492 Chapter 15 • Understanding Poetry

York City where, by the mid-1920s, the African American population had
reached 150,000. Harlem was teeming with creativity, especially in music
(jazz and blues), literature, art, and drama. The poets who were part of the
Harlem Renaissance—including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James
Weldon Johnson, and Jean Toomer—chose diverse subject matter and styles,
but they were united in their celebration of African American culture.

In the early 1930s, a group of poets gathered at a college in Black Moun-
tain, North Carolina, with the aim of teaching and writing about poetry in
a new way. The Black Mountain poets, as they were called, stressed the
process of writing poetry rather than the �nished poem. Notable poets in
this group included Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, and Charles Olson.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, poetry was growing in importance, with poets
such as Pablo Neruda experimenting with subject matter, language, form,
and imagery.

In the late 1940s, in the aftermath of World War II, a group of disil-
lusioned American poets turned to eastern mysticism and newly available
hallucinogenic drugs to achieve higher consciousness. They became known
as the Beat poets, and their work was known for social and political criti-

Cover of the first edition of Howl, published by City Lights Howl, published by City Lights Howl
Books in 1956
1956 by City Light Books

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Origins of Modern Poetry 493

cism that challenged the established norms of the time. These poets included
Allen Ginsberg, whose long poem Howl became an unof�cial anthem of the
revolutionary 1960s, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Up until the late 1950s, subject matter in American poetry was largely
impersonal, concentrating chie�y on symbols, ideas, and politics. This
changed when a group of poets—including Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, W.
D. Snodgrass, and Sylvia Plath—began to write confessional poems about
their own personal experiences, emotions, triumphs, and tragedies (includ-
ing mental illness and attempted suicide). Although there was considerable
backlash against these poets from writers who thought that such highly per-
sonal subjects were not suitable for poetry, contemporary poets such as Sha-
ron Olds continue to write confessional poetry.

The early 1960s witnessed the rise of the Black Arts Movement, which
had its roots in the ideas of the civil rights struggle, Malcolm X and the
Nation of Islam, and the Black Power Movement. The Black Arts poets
wrote political works that addressed the sociopolitical and cultural context of
African American life. Notable authors in this group included Amiri Baraka,
Gwendolyn Brooks, Jayne Cortez, and Etheridge Knight.

The next major literary movement in poetry had its beginnings in the
mid to late 1980s with slam poetry. Slam poetry, with origins in the oral
tradition, was in�uenced by the Beat poets, who stressed the live perfor-
mance of poems. In a slam, poets compete either individually or in teams
before an audience, which serves as the judge. (The structure of a traditional
poetry slam was created by Marc Smith, a poet and construction worker, in
1986.) Slam poetry is concerned with current events and social and political
themes, and often the winning poet is the one who best combines enthusiasm,

Staceyann Chin, acclaimed slam poet and the star of
Def Poetry Jam on Broadway
Richard Termine/The New York Times/Redux

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494 Chapter 15 • Understanding Poetry

presentation, and attitude with contemporary subject matter. A home base
for slam poetry is the Nyuorican Poets Café in New York City, which has
become a forum for poetry, music, video, and theater. Notable slam poets
past and present include Miguel Piñero, Maggie Estep, Jeffrey McDaniel,
and Bob Holman.

A spinoff of slam poetry is the spoken word movement, which, unlike
slam poetry, is a rehearsed performance. Spoken word performances have
captivated a broad audience due in part to television shows such as HBO’s
Def Poetry Jam (2002–2007). Hip-hop and rap, musical forms whose lyrics
rely heavily on rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and other poetic
devices, also owe a debt to slam poetry and the spoken word movement.

Contemporary poetry is an extremely diverse genre whose practition-
ers have been in�uenced by many of the literary movements discussed
above. Some contemporary poets embrace narrative poetry; others favor
the lyric. Some write free verse; others experiment with traditional forms
like the sonnet or the villanelle. Still others write concrete poetry, which
uses words as well as varying type sizes and type fonts to form pictures on
a page, or other forms of visual poetry.

With the advent of digital media, new forms of poetry have emerged
that use multimedia elements to create texts. Not just words, but also
sound, images, and video combine to create new poetic forms and new
levels of aesthetic experience. For example, hypertext poetry has links
to other texts (or visuals) that are available electronically. These links
can appear all at once on the screen, or they can be revealed gradually,
creating multiple levels of meaning. Kinetic poetry is a form in which
letters (or words) drift around the screen, gradually coalescing to form
phrases, lines, and possibly entire poems. Interactive poetry depends on
readers contributing content that enhances and possibly determines the
meaning of the poem. Code poetry is programming code expressed as
poetry. The most famous code poem is “Black Perl,” which is written in
Perl programming language. These and other forms of digital poetry use
digital technology to challenge and expand the notion of what poetry is
and should be.

Throughout history and across national and cultural boundaries, poetry has
occupied an important place. In ancient China and Japan, for example,
poetry was prized above all else. One story tells of a samurai warrior who,
when defeated, asked for a pen and paper. Thinking that he wanted to write
a will before being executed, his captor granted his wish. Instead of writing
a will, however, the warrior wrote a farewell poem that so moved his captor
that he immediately released him.

Defining Poetry

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Defining Poetry 495

To the ancient Greeks and Romans, poetry was the medium of spiritual
and philosophical expression. Today, throughout the world, poetry contin-
ues to delight and to inspire. For many people in countless places, poetry is
the language of the emotions, the medium of expression they use when they
speak from the heart.

But what exactly is poetry? Is it, as Pamela Spiro Wagner says, “language
saying what is true / doing holy things to the ordinary” (p. 488)? Or is a poem
simply what Marianne Moore (p. 486) calls “all this �ddle”?

One way of de�ning poetry is to examine how it is different from other
forms of literature, such as �ction or drama. The �rst and most important
element of poetry that distinguishes it from other genres is its form. Unlike
prose, which is written from margin to margin, poetry is made up of indi-
vidual lines. A poetic line begins and ends where the poet chooses: it can
start at the left margin or halfway across the page, and it can end at the right
margin or after only a word or two. A poet chooses when to stop, or break,
the line according to his or her sense of rhythm and meter.

Poets also use the sound of the words themselves, alone and in conjunc-
tion with the other words of the poem, to create a sense of rhythm and
melody. Alliteration (the repetition of initial consonant sounds in consecu-
tive or neighboring words), assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds), and
consonance (the repetition of consonant sounds within words) are three
devices commonly used by poets to help create the music of a poem. Poets
can also use rhyme (either at the ends of lines or within the lines them-
selves), which contributes to the pattern of sounds in a poem.

In addition, poets are more likely than writers of other kinds of literature to
rely on imagery, words or phrases that describe the senses. These vivid descrip-
tions or details help the reader to connect with the poet’s ideas in a tangible
way. Poets also make extensive use of �gurative language, including metaphors
and similes, to convey their ideas and to help their readers access these ideas.

Another way of de�ning poetry is to examine our assumptions about
it. Different readers, different poets, different generations of readers and
poets, and different cultures often have different expectations about
poetry. As a result, they have varying assumptions about what poetry
should be, and these assumptions raise questions. Must poetry be written
to delight or inspire, or can a poem have a political or social message?
Must a poem’s theme be conveyed subtly, embellished with imaginatively
chosen sounds and words, or can it be explicit and straightforward? Such
questions, which have been debated by literary critics as well as by poets
for many years, have no easy answers—and perhaps no answers at all. A
haiku—a short poem, rich in imagery, adhering to a rigid formal struc-
ture—is certainly poetry. To some Western readers, however, a haiku
might seem too plain or understated to be “poetic.” Still, most of these
readers would agree that the following lines qualify as poetry.

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496 Chapter 15 • Understanding Poetry

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564–1616)

That time of year thou mayst in me behold (1609)
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the West,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such �re,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

This poem includes many of the characteristics that Western readers
commonly associate with poetry. For instance, its lines have a regular pat-
tern of rhyme and meter that identi�es it as a sonnet. The poem also develops
a complex network of related images and �gures of speech that compare the
lost youth of the aging speaker to the sunset and to autumn. Finally, the pair
of rhyming lines at the end of the poem expresses a familiar poetic theme: the
lovers’ realization that they must eventually die makes their love stronger.

Although most readers would classify Shakespeare’s sonnet as a poem,
they might be less certain about the following lines.

E. E. CUMMINGS (1894–1962)

l(a (1923)
l(a
le
af
fa
ll
s)
one
l
iness

5

10

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Recognizing Kinds of Poetry 497

Unlike Shakespeare’s poem, “l(a” does not seem to have any of the
characteristics normally associated with poetry. It has no meter, rhyme, or
imagery. It has no repeated sounds and no �gures of speech. It cannot even
be read aloud because its “lines” are fragments of words. In spite of its odd
appearance, however, “l(a” does communicate a conventional poetic theme.

When reconstructed, the words Cummings broke apart have the fol-
lowing appearance: “l (a leaf falls) one l iness.” In a sense, this poem is a
complex visual and verbal pun. If the parenthetical insertion “(a leaf falls)”
is removed, the remaining letters spell “loneliness.” Moreover, the form of
the letter l in loneliness suggests the number 1—which, in turn, suggests
the loneliness and isolation of the individual, as re�ected in nature (the
single leaf). Like Shakespeare, Cummings uses an image of a leaf to express
his ideas about life and human experience. At the same time, by breaking
words into bits and pieces, Cummings suggests the �exibility of language
and conveys the need to break out of customary ways of using words to
de�ne experience.

As these two poems illustrate, de�ning what a poem is (and what it is
not) can be dif�cult. Poems can rhyme or not rhyme. They can be divided
into stanzas and have a distinct form, or they can �ow freely and have no
discernable form. These and other choices are what many poets �nd allur-
ing about the process of writing poetry. As a form, poetry is compact and
concise, and choosing the right words to convey ideas is a challenge. As a
literary genre, it offers room for experimentation while at the same time
remaining �rmly grounded in a literary tradition that stretches back through
time to antiquity.

Most poems are either narrative poems, which recount a story, or lyric
poems, which communicate a speaker’s mood, feelings, or state of mind.

Narrative Poetry

Although any brief poem that tells a story, such as Edwin Arlington Robin-
son’s “Richard Cory” (p. 783), may be considered a narrative poem, the two
most familiar forms of narrative poetry are the epic and the ballad.

Epics are narrative poems that recount the accomplishments of heroic
�gures, typically including expansive settings, superhuman feats, and gods
and supernatural beings. The language of epic poems tends to be formal,
even elevated, and often quite elaborate. In ancient times, epics were handed
down orally; more recently, poets have written literary epics, such as John
Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Nobel Prize–winning poet Derek Walcott’s
Omeros (1990), that follow many of the same conventions.

Recognizing Kinds of Poetry

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498 Chapter 15 • Understanding Poetry

The ballad is another type of narrative poetry with roots in an oral tra-
dition. Originally intended to be sung, a ballad uses repeated words and
phrases, including a refrain, to advance its story. Some—but not all—ballads
use the ballad stanza. For an example of a traditional ballad in this book, see
“Bonny Barbara Allan” (p. 734). Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham”
(p. 529) is an example of a contemporary ballad.

Lyric Poetry

Like narrative poems, lyric poems take various forms.
An elegy is a poem in which a poet mourns the death of a speci�c person

(or persons), as in “To an …