This Isn't Literary Surgery??

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"The close reading of a poem does not mean that you need to explain everything you find in the poem...  It would also be self-defeating, for writing about everything in great detail would prohibit you from using your judgment and deciding what is important."  (Roberts 59)

Detail is my weakness.  I am always paranoid that I'm saying too much or too little, and I'm never quite sure which one it is.  For poetry explications, I would venture to say that I try to write too much.  I feel like every word must be analyzed and explained as having a specific purpose in the overall poem or else I'm failing as an English major.  Perhaps I'm like this because of my high school education, in which I was taught that every word was placed in the poem for a specific purpose, and I could never say, "Maybe the writer just put that word there because it fit?  Does it really matter if the windows are written as being tall or wide?"

Last year in Introduction to Poetry, I learned a lot about poetry explications, but I still found it difficult to refrain from dissecting every single word.  However, the illustrative essay on Thomas Hardy's "The Man He Killed" in Writing About Literature was rather helpful for me on this front.  The way Roberts broke down the proper way to explicate a poem was enlightening, especially how he differentiated between "[explaining] the poem's content ... with a description of the poem's major organizing elements" (60) and paraphrasing.  I'll refer back to his instructions the next time I have to explicate a poem.



Josie Rush said:

It is especially hard to monitor your detail inclusion in poetry. Sometimes I just go through and find words that "jump out" at me, but then I'm afraid I'm being to obvious, so I try to dig deeper...and end up with a ten page paper that was only supposed to be five. I think English majors are especially guilty of over-analyzing, whether it be another writer's work, or our own. A bit factor into this mess is there are no absolute answers for us when we write. We don't have the metaphorical answer book other disciplines have. We can't refer back to a tell-all text that says, "Oh, you've written five sentences where you only need three." We just have to trust our own judgement, which is scary sometimes.

Kayla Lesko said:

Writing an explication is the tough part for me because I really don't have any experience with it.

Josie: That's exactly my problem! I always try to include too much, and then it becomes disjointed and I feel like I'm no longer making any sense. Relying on my own judgment makes me so worried because I second guess myself way too much.

Kayla: If you need to take one of the classes required of an English major above EL250, I'd recommend Father Stephen's Introduction to Poetry. I learned a lot in that class.

Dianna Griffin said:

For some odd reason poetry explications seem to come very hard to me. It may be that I am not creative enough or I am just too thick headed, but I just can't seem to come up with "important" words. I would love to be able to write too much like you, maybe that would solve my problem.

However, I could say that, "Maybe the writer just put that word there because it fit?" I absolutely hate feeling like everything has to have a meaning. I wonder, do people tear apart what I write and try to find a meaning? I definitely haven't written anything that has any hidden meaning if that helps at all. Well, this goes to show you how stubborn I am. Maybe you could help me to open my mind and become a little more wordy.


Intro to Poetry helped me a lot with that. I'm not sure what your major is, but if you need to take an English class over EL150, I recommend it. It should be offered again in the spring of our Junior year.

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