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February 4, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Internet resources for understanding poetry.

My husband and I have Poetry Club every Saturday night. We choose a poem, give a short biographical intro, read the poem, and follow-up with as much insight and discussion as possible. It is the last part that is the most difficult, of course. We are surprised that there seem to be so few sources on the net that analyze and discuss poetry, modern and classic. Normally I just google the name of the poem which leads to a lot of wasted time because most often it is just a listing of the poem with no follow-up. Do you have any resources to share?

I did read this previous (2005) AskMe post.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Poetry is sort of slow to the whole Internet thing, although there is always Bartlebys - it is an old art form, stuffed into yellowing books on forgotton shelves. Poetic Meter and Poetic Form is one of those classic takes on the form, but it is pretty dry.
posted by plexi at 8:07 AM on February 4, 2009


This question from yesterday received some suggestions.
posted by trueluk at 8:08 AM on February 4, 2009


It's the second listing on Google when searching "poetry," so I imagine you've already seen it, but http://www.poets.org/ does have a lot of good information to use for a baseline to "analyze" poetry.
I agree that it's hard to find quality discussion on particular poems online; major poetry criticism is most often kept to small literary magazines or academic books. The Library of Congress is a good starting point http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/poetrycrit/web.html . I would also recommend looking at the LOC's Poetry 180 for some good poems to discuss; it is targeted at High School students, but there are a lot of complex poems in there that are ideal for adult discussions.
posted by hellogoodbye at 8:10 AM on February 4, 2009


Sorry, I meant to add that I read that AskMe as well, trueluk.

Poetry is sort of slow to the whole Internet thing
That, I think is the most surprising thing about this experience. I expected there would be all sorts of college level papers and reviews but there is a great dearth of on-line criticism. In fact, I have discovered it is easier to get information about modern poets than dead poets.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:14 AM on February 4, 2009


I would also recommend looking at the LOC's Poetry 180 for some good poems to discuss;

Well I could change my method, I suppose. Up until now I've chosen the poem first and then tried to find information I can use.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:20 AM on February 4, 2009


I am not sure the web is where you want to be looking for baseline, substantive information about particular poems, or poetry.

I recommend going to the library (if you have a good one nearby) and seeing if they have any good anthologies that include references and discussion, though poetry being what it is (written and criticized by opinionated commentators often in factions with different views of what poetry should be and do) you might have a hard time finding "one-stop" overviews of a given poem. The various Norton anthologies can sometimes get you started -- they can at least clear up confusion about language and metaphor in pre-modern work -- though they also notoriously lack real depth of commentary. Checking the indexes of literary biographies of the poet in question can sometimes yield discussions of particular works as well.

Good luck; there will probably come a point (maybe sooner than you think) at which you and your husband have gained a basic foundation in understanding poetry and will just want to read and interpret poems without critical authorities telling you what to think.
posted by aught at 8:24 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, if you do change your method... also check out Favorite Poem Project. The personal stories associated with the poems will give you a starting point for discussion. I'm not sure if there is actually much analysis for the Poetry 180 poems.
posted by hellogoodbye at 8:34 AM on February 4, 2009


I have found Modern American Poetry from University of Illinois-UC really interesting. It has quite a few of the most popular contemporary poets. Each listing includes several essays about the poet's work. It may not be useful when searching for specific poems, but it might provide you a baseline that you could use to make selections for your club. Also, the suggestion about going to the library is a good one. There may be articles from scholarly journals addressing both individual poems and the poet's work as a whole. For contemporary poets who have been more or less accepted into the canon (though the term "canon" is of debatable use these days) there is very likely a lot of good substantive work out there. Think along the lines of poets like Elizabeth Bishop or Lowell...you're bound to find a lot written about their work. Otherwise, large journals dedicated to publishing poems will very often publish critical articles about poems as well. Those might be a good resource for looking at more contemporary works. I'm thinking about very large publications like The Writer's Chronicle and American Poetry Review, but many, many smaller publications also include articles on poetry.
posted by theantikitty at 9:08 AM on February 4, 2009


read the poem, and follow-up with as much insight and discussion as possible

As someone who teaches and writes poetry (and has a strong reaction to non text-based methods of literary criticism), I'd like to meekly suggest that you're looking at this the wrong way. Rather than searching for authoritative discussions on the "meaning" of poems, discussions of what you understand via your own reading (and discussions about what you react to emotionally in a work) are going to be much more productive and fulfilling. The more widely you've read, the deeper both your reactions and understanding (on a functional level) will be, but that doesn't mean that feelings of confusion or frustration with a work are wrong or invalid. The problem might not be with you, but with the poem, or the intersection of you and the poem.

I've never understood why it's all right to respond to other forms of art viscerally, but that the common thoughts of both readers and writers of poetry is that you need some sort of key to "get" poetry.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:13 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, mentioned above, is the go-to resource. It is short. It teaches you the art of scansion, which is analysis of the poem via stresses in the syllables. That's how things like iambic pentameter work.

The problem is, nobody in your group will want to look at poems that closely, because it is a lot of work. You'll know more than anyone else though.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:14 AM on February 4, 2009


Some older stuff is analyzed and presented at Representative Poetry Online.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2009


Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, mentioned above, is the go-to resource. It is short. It teaches you the art of scansion, which is analysis of the poem via stresses in the syllables. That's how things like iambic pentameter work.

Also, regarding scansion, knowledge of this will be much more relevant if your club looks at classical, rather than modern poetry, and while it can help you appreciate word choices that an author made, it's not terribly illuminating. I've never heard a discussion of meter go any deeper than "that trochee substitution is really cool!" YMMV, of course.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:43 AM on February 4, 2009


Also, regarding scansion, knowledge of this will be much more relevant if your club looks at classical, rather than modern poetry, and while it can help you appreciate word choices that an author made, it's not terribly illuminating. I've never heard a discussion of meter go any deeper than "that trochee substitution is really cool!" YMMV, of course.

Yes, YMMV. I've rarely heard a serious poetic discussion occur that didn't involve scansion, on any era or style of poetry. I would not recommend anyone interested in talking about it dismiss this aspect. This is a philosophical difference in our approaches, but I think not a derail, in that different web resources are better for different types of analysis. For instance, some great formal discussion articles are available (some free, most for a fee) on Contemporary Poetry Review's website.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:02 AM on February 4, 2009


I've rarely heard a serious poetic discussion occur that didn't involve scansion, on any era or style of poetry.

Well, I attend a very traditional MFA program for poetry, and the vast majority of our discussions rarely touch on meter, not because the participants don't know how to discuss it (we're required by one professor to learn), but because it's largely irrelevant. Learning how to scan might be helpful in understanding a writer's craft intentions, and can help in discussions of aspects of rhythm, but it's certainly not requisite to discuss other aspects of poetry intelligently, especially if you're looking at the huge body of contemporary poetry done in free verse.

Gravy, you might also find it helpful to take a look at books that discuss poetry from the writer's side. While you may or may not find discussions of individual poems, I've often found that poetic discussions focus on the author's possible intent. Even if your intention isn't to write poems, it can be very helpful to try to understand the creative process from the writer's standpoint. The one I use in my classes is Writing Poems; there was a thread recently where all sorts of other poetry book suggestions were made.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:24 AM on February 4, 2009


PhoB: As I said, we have a disagreement about what is important here, and I'm sure the asker has her own ideas about what her discussions should center on. In my world, a formal analysis is primary, and more revelatory of the author's real purposes than other avenues. Perhaps you should keep that in mind before dismissing it as if it is objectively irrelevant--there exist some schools of thought that argue oppositely (such stodgy individuals usually deny the very existence of Free Verse).

But I think what we can agree on is that there is no requirement to study prosody or history in any depth before launching into reading and discussing poems. Like any art, the joy of finding new things out about the work through open-minded dialogue is the best part about studying it. One should jump on the bike and figure out for oneself where one wants to go.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:17 AM on February 4, 2009


Seconding the Modern American Poetry site that theantikitty links to above. One of my college English professors used to call it the "paper in a bag" site. For any poet it lists, it will usually have biographical information, a few poems, and at least a couple of excerpts from scholarly papers about some of the poet's work. Even if none of those papers deal with the specific poem you've chosen, seeing how other people have analyzed other poems by the same poet might give you some ideas about what kinds of things to look for in your own analysis.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 12:04 PM on February 4, 2009


I'd like to meekly suggest that you're looking at this the wrong way. Rather than searching for authoritative discussions on the "meaning" of poems, discussions of what you understand via your own reading (and discussions about what you react to emotionally in a work) are going to be much more productive and fulfilling.

Well we certainly tackle the obvious, superficial aspects (scansion, word choice, emotions) on our own very well but often there are classical or historical aspects that it is helpful to know. For example when I presented Aunt Jennifer's Tigers, I could talk about the color choices, word symmetry between the first and second verses, the symbolism of the heavy ring and Jennifer's ironic choice of a traditionally male symbol to symbolize her own mythical freedom. However on-line, I found an allusion to the Philomela myth which added another dimension. The more information we can bring to the table, the more interesting the follow-up discussion becomes and this page provided several different view points for me to consider.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:13 PM on February 4, 2009


Well we certainly tackle the obvious, superficial aspects (scansion, word choice, emotions) on our own very well but often there are classical or historical aspects that it is helpful to know.

Ah, I see! Working at that advanced a level, I suspect that what would be most useful is access to academic journals. Are you affiliated with an academic institution, or is there an academic library nearby that lets guests search their online databases? I'd imagine that searching something like jstor would be much more fruitful than the general 'net.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:53 PM on February 4, 2009


Hi, I don't know if it's online or not but John Ciardi's "How Does a Poem Mean?" is the best book I've ever read on how to learn how to dig deep into a poem. It covers love affairs with words, with meter, with rhythm, and gives some good advice on how to delve into theme. It reads very well and can be used to get a better appreciation of everything from Beowolf to even John Asberry. He's a poet (whom I personally adore) so he knows what he's writing about and the content is very accessible. Hope that helps...
posted by holdenjordahl at 8:00 PM on February 5, 2009


One of my favorite sites is AllPoetry, generally a site in which one can share his own poetry with the online community and receive feedback. However, its sister-site, OldPoetry sounds like something you're looking for.
posted by litterateur at 2:59 PM on July 10, 2009


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