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Explicate (ek′ sple kāt′) – v.t., to explain and interpret in detail.

An explication is a formal, extended close reading of a piece of writing, in this case a poem. Think of it as a written and expanded version of what we do during class discussion when we go over a poem section by section to paraphrase its argument and explore various possible interpretations. For this project, you will examine formal elements of a poem, considering how they interact with its paraphrasable meaning. Your wiki entry will explain and interpret an assigned poem, commenting specifically on the language and poetic devices at work, discussing relevant and important aspects of form, tone, voice, and meaning, and offering an overall interpretation of the poem as a whole. You’ll want to attend to any ambiguities or multiple possible interpretations; close attention to the nuances and subtle details of the text is the key. Additionally, each group will be creating a video interpretation of their poem.

Elements of your poetry entry
Elements of your video interpretation
The poem
An articulate and interpretive reading or projection of the poem
Brief, relevant history of poem and poet (you may use outside sources for this section)
Appropriate and interpretive visual imagery to accompany the poem
Observations about the poetic structure
A clear interpretive vision (your "take") communicated by the video
Definitions of any unknown words & allusions (outside sources allowed)
Observations about any poetic devices employed
Careful editing and incorporation into your final wiki page
Individual analysis of the poem and its meaning

References in MLA format

You will work as a group for your initial reading and analysis of the poem, but each student will write their own analysis section. Here is a guide for your initial discussion of the poem:

• Look at the title. Does it give any clues to the meaning of the poem? Is the title unusual?
• Read the poem over a few times. Circle any words that you’re not familiar with, and then look them up (and if your poem was written more than 50 years ago you might consider checking the OED – The Oxford English Dictionary –available on line through the U of I library web page).
• Look for allusions to historical events, famous people or places, myths, etc., look into their background, and consider their importance to the context and meaning of the poem.
• Read the poem aloud, listening for interesting sound devices and patterns.
• Paraphrase the poem, summarizing its surface-level meaning in a few sentences.
• Break the poem into sections (a line, several lines, or a stanza) for analysis, considering multiple angles on the poem. Consider whether details of the poem might suggest more complicated meanings than the paraphrased meaning.
• List the different literary devices and tools that author uses and consider their possible connections to the poem’s meaning(s)--see the list below of "aspects of a poem to consider".
• Brainstorm several points (potential thesis statements) you might make about this poem now that you’ve read it carefully and considered its component parts. Look over this list and consider which of these points your notes and observations support the most clearly. Also consider ways two of your points might be combined to make a more complex or interesting thesis.

Aspects of a poem to consider:
• imagery (sensory descriptions) and figurative language (metaphor, simile, personification)
• patterns (repetition of words or symbols, arrangement and number of lines, etc.)
• sound (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, sounds that create a particular sense impression – harsh consonants, silky sibilants, open-sounding vowels…)
• tone (angry? peaceful? worried? somber? lonely? joyful? reverent? passionate…? Some combination of these? Does the tone change at any point? Does the tone complement or contradict the surface-level sense of the poem?)
• diction (elevated or down-to-earth, formal or informal, official or intimate…?) and syntax (flowing? stumbling? conversational? simple? complex? straightforward? abstract?)

Everyone in the group should take notes during the period of the explication. These notes will be the foundation for your wiki content as well as your individual analysis sections. You should not consult outside sources (other than to look up unknown words or allusions) for this part of the assignment. Once your group has picked apart the poem and discussed some possible points (thesis statements) that can be made about the poem, decide who will write their analysis based on which point. Remember that a good poem has ambiguity and can be interpreted multiple ways--even small differences in the understanding of a line or phrase can lead you to an alternate interpretation.

When you are ready to begin constructing your wiki, assign clear roles within the group. You will need to decide:
  • who will research and write the brief history of the poem & poet
  • who will write up your observations about the poetic structure and any definitions necessary to understand the poem
  • who will write up your observations about about poetic devices used
  • while you should work together on creating the concept for the video, you may want to choose one group member to be responsible for "directing" the video and keeping you faithful to your storyboard
  • you may consider putting someone in charge of the technical aspect of your wiki. This person should be responsible for making sure the page is formatted nicely, all the links work, keeping track of references, etc.

Analysis Section:

When putting together your analysis section, imagine that you are discussing the poem with your reader, and you want to show him or her, in detail, how you read and interpret the poem. You will want to develop an overall “take” on the poem, although a good explication will demonstrate an awareness of multiple interpretations or ambiguities. Always be sure to ground your analysis and commentary in the text of the poem – cite specific words and lines for every point you make, and demonstrate specifically how and why your reading is justified. Don’t take anything for granted. If you decide to identify a poem’s formal aspects (such as rhyme or meter) be specific about what effect these have on your reading of the poem – why are they worth mentioning? (Note: they may not be worth mentioning; you’re in charge of determining what is and isn’t important.) Don't just list the details you observe – use them to support a clear statement that summarizes your overall take on the poem and an argument about why the specific details of the poem you focus on are important and meaningful. Look for patterns – e.g. “In describing the guests at the party, the poet consistently uses words that apply more to predatory animals than to human beings” – and for developments – “The poem begins slowly but picks up speed as the phrases get shorter and more clipped, paralleling the movement of the horses.” Ground your argument in textual detail by using quotations to provide evidence for your thesis. Identify the words and phrases you quote by indicating their line number(s) in parentheses after the quotation.

Video Interpretation:

Your video interpretation is your opportunity to be creative and express your group's interpretation of the poem visually. Your interpretation should match the analysis and understanding of the poem that you present in the rest of the wiki, but do so visually. Your video interpretation may be members of your group reading the poem as a choral reading, a series of carefully chosen images with someone reading the poem as a voice over, a series of images with the poem showing up on screen as text, an animation with voice over of the poem on the screen or some other, creative expression of the meaning of the poem. Your video needs to be carefully planned and every shot should be composed rather than occur by accident and to that end, I am asking you to create a storyboard of your interpretation that will guide your filming and make the editing easier.

Example Video Interpretations:

Lightenings viii by Seamus Heaney, video by Eoghan Kidney
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe, video by Shawn Vela
Love Sonnet xvii by Pablo Neruda, video by Petra Moes
Autumn Story by Firekites, video by Lucinda Schreiber and Yanni Kronenberg (Ok, this isn't a poem, but I think the chalk animation could work well for a poem and is very doable during class )

Instructions for using Flip Cameras with iMovie


Reference Books in the Library:

R 422.03 M317d Dictionary of Allusions
R 809.1 C869 2003 Critical Survey of Poetry (entries for poets with biographical information and analysis of poetry)
R 809.104 Ar141f The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry (entries for poets as well as poems)
R 811.09 F119 The Facts on File Companion to 20th Century American Poetry (entries for poets as well as poems)
R 811.09 F119 2008 The Facts on File Companion to American Poetry (entries for poets as well as poems)
R 811.09 G856 The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poets and Poetry (entries for poets)


Columbia Granger's World of Poetry has 250,000 full-text poems as well as almost twice as many citations. Here you will also find information about your poet along with commentaries, history, and criticism.

Literature Resource Center identifies biographies, bibliographies, and critical analysis of authors from every age and literary discipline. Coverage of more than 120,000 novelists, poets, essayists, journalists, and other writers, with in-depth coverage of 2,500 of the most-studied authors. This database only allows 4 simultaneous users.

Websites: from the Academy of American Poets allows you to search by poem or poet. Biographical information is given for poets, along with links and suggestions for further reading. Some full-text poems are available.

Poetry Out Loud provides a checklist of things to think about if you read your poem aloud as part of your interpretation.

Your groups are:

Group Members
Conrad, Annie, Hanan
"The Niagra River" by Kay Ryan. Click here to go to the poem.
Hannah, Brendan, Ryosuke
"And the Unclean Spirits Went Out..." by David Wojahn
Elena, Juan, Milee, Christina
"Abuelito Who" by Sandra Cisneros
Maia, Anna, Johnny, Joseph
"Said the Poet" by Anne Sexton
Max, Iain, Nikita
"A Barred Owl " by Richard Wilbur
Jason, Sarah S., Amalia
"A Fixed Idea" by Amy Lowell
Leah B., Steven, Vivian, Aishwarya
"A Song in the Front Yard" by Gwendolyn Brooks
Robbie, Rosa, Joe
"Dirge Without Music" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sid, Soren, Sarah H.
"Full Moon" by Elinor Wylie
AJ, Andrea, Ezra
"Cabezon" by Amy Beeder
Carl, Sarah Y., Ashley
"In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden" by Matthea Harvey
Chris, Sydney, Kevin
"Freeway 280" by Lorna Dee Cervantes
Joey, Nick, Tanya
"Hearing your words, and not a word..." by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Thomas, Brandon, Hoda
"(bottle tower)" by Matthea Harvey
Edward, Shruti, Rodney, Leah M.
"Mulberry Fields" by Lucille Clifton
Tahar, Dax , Jamie
"The Farmer's Bride" by Charlotte Mew
Will, Francois, Abby
"Spring is Like a Perhaps Hand" by e.e. cummings
Charlie, Marina, Simeon, John
"The Colossus" by Sylvia Plath
Kathy, Marie, Rohit
"The Poet, Trying to Surprise God" by Peter Meinke


November 16
Project Assigned
November 17
Computer work time

Paraphrase of poem due & explication note check
November 18
Computer work time

Story board or summary of video due
November 19
Computer work time

Wiki format and rough draft of analysis due
November 20
Computer work time after book talks
November 23
Computer work time for part of period
November 24
Computer work time for part of period
December 7
Computer work time / Full draft of wiki due, rough video edit due
December 11
Final draft due / Peer Evaluation Form due