Poetry Essay

For your 3rd essay, a poetry explication, choose one of the poems we’ve been discussing and explore a mixture of the paragraph ideas below, choosing the ones you feel best suit your chosen poem. 

Poems to choose from include the following:

“Living Poets” by Jeffrey Skinner

“Late Poem to My Father” by Sharon Olds

“America” by Tony Hoagland

“Hard Rain” by Tony Hoagland

“Soil Horizon” by Tiana Clark

“So I Know” by Bob Hicok

“The Elevator Operator” by Amit Majmudar


Paragraph ideas from which to choose in order to build your argument:

  • discuss the complicated issue/situation/development at stake in the poem


  • discuss a key image and how this image works to advance the poem’s tension or theme


  • discuss, if applicable, the author’s use of enjambment and how specific line breaks may serve to emphasize certain words connected to the poem’s theme


  • discuss a central word in the poem and how the word can teach a reader how to interpret the rest of the poem


  • discuss a family of words that connect to each other and how these words advance the theme of the poem


  • discuss the use of figurative language and any relationship to the poem’s theme


  • discuss the tone of the poem and which specific parts of the poem (imagery, diction) support this tone


  • discuss, if applicable, the author’s use of syntax


  • discuss any allusions within the poem and how these allusions connect to the poem’s purpose
  • Mention the author’s full name and the title of the work
  • After mentioning the author’s name the first time, from then on use only the author’s last name.
  • Remember that short works (stories, essays, and poems) require the use of quotation marks (e.g. “Everyday Use”) while long works such as novels require italics (Huckleberry Finn)
  • Use present tense verbs when writing about literature
  • Provide a general plot summary of the work—no need to go into great detail—just the basic gist of things.  In essence, you are providing a context in which to examine the story. 
  • Provide a more analytical/interpretive understanding of the work’s underlying tension and its resolution.  What is the work’s overall purpose, its reason for being, its theme?
  • Explain the method or “how” (i.e. the elements of fiction: plot, structure, characterization, symbolism, setting, style, point of view, tone) through which the author achieves his or her purpose for the story

Considerations:If you are addressing an author’s use of setting, for instance, do you make an argument about how the author’s use of setting helps to advance the story’s theme? Does your opening paragraph, in fact, establish a theme, or purpose, for the story?  In order to do so, you’ll need to establish an understanding of the central conflict of the story and the resolution it finds. Remember that plot + conflict + resolution = theme. Without this understanding, your first paragraph hasn’t fully done its job.