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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

Fall 2004
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00am - 12:15 pm
Room: CPR 348

Class 20

Reading Assignment: Adrienne Rich

    Poetry (1966-1971)
      In the Woods (20)
      "I Am in Danger -- Sir --" (26)

      Orion (29)
      Nightbreak (35)

      Planetarium (38)
      The Burning of Paper instead of Children (40)
      A Valediction Forbidding Mourning (44)

    Prose: (If you have not finished reading these -- please, do so now.)
      Poetry and Experience (1964) p. 165
      When We Dead Awaken (1971) p. 166

      DUE: Group B: Post 10

POEM TO ANNOTATE: The Burning of Paper instead of Children (40)

    Class Objectives:

  • To read selected poems from Rich's second three volumes of poetry

  • To read Rich's prose on her poetry as a way to understand the personal and poetic development in these volumes

    With these volumes, Rich begins to experiment both with formal technique and with political subjects that are vital to her. These poems are written in the context of the Vietnam War; I believe that much of these poems can be understood within our current context of war. These poems deal with intense and difficult subjects, and Rich chooses a form that reflects the matter of her poem. What forms does she use? What form is she creating and what are the implications of its form? Be attuned to her use of collage or snapshots imagery as well as the mixture of prose and poetry. Watch for what she means by language. What do you think she means by the comprehensive term "language"?

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions


    Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), The Will to Change (1971)

    Examine the personal voice of these poems. In what ways does this differ from the earlier poems (1951, 1955)? Whose voices does she include here? To what extent does she sacrifice universality in these poems?

    What is the good thing that the speaker finds "In the Woods"? How might the theme of this poem compare with some of the dominant themes on truth and beauty in Keats? I am particularly intrigued by her attitude toward "happiness" (lines 1 and 37). I also am intrigued by a contemporary use of pastoral imagery in the poem. What does she mean by calling the woods her "ego's Arcady (34)?

    Examine the dialogue in "'I am in Danger -- Sir --'". In what ways is this a tribute to Emily Dickinson? In what ways is this a critique? How does the contemporary female poet (Rich) relate to the nineteenth-century female poet? Are there ways in which this is specifically gendered?

    What is the significance of the titular character in "Orion"? How does the poet/speaker relate to this image? In what ways does Rich deepen your appreciation for the poem by her discussion on page 175? What does the poem have to do with love? What is the significance of Rich's readdressing the issue in 1970's?

    What is the poet's source of anger in "Nightbreak"? What is being broken in this poem? In what ways does Rich change the line of this particular poem? What is the speaker's relationship to the oppressed and violated of the world? What is the significance of the title?

    The poem "Planetarium" is a companion piece to "Orion" (see page 175). How does this poem comment on the problem in "Orion"? What is the significance of the dedication? How is the woman astronomer's story symbolic of the female poet -- the speaker of the poem? What is the speaker's attitude toward the astronomer? Toward herself? What is the poet's goal in the final stanza? Compare with Keats' idea that poetry or art should be "friend to man."

    "The Burning of Paper" is a highly charged poem that revolves around the image of burning. Examine the ways in which burning is used and invoked in the poem. What contexts does the poet describe? What is the purpose of burning? What is the speaker's attitude toward the fellow parent of the first stanza? What is the point of comparing the burning of paper with the burning of children? How are they similar? What is the style of this poem? What is the effect of combining prose and verse?

    In "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" the poet announces her departure. In what ways is the poet departing? Compare this with the departure described in the original poem by this name by Donne. What is the relationship between the first person and the second person of the poem? (Try to read this based on the text first before applying a biographical reading.) What is the difficulty in communicating between the two? Examine closely the imagery of the poem -- what does it suggest about the speaker's state of mind, about the relationship she appears to want to protect? What does the last line "To do something very common, in my own way" mean? To what extent does this poem respond to or comment upon Donne's original? Recall the meaning of "allusion." How does this poem allude to Donne's original?

    General questions to consider for each poem:


    As you read identify the tone of the poem. Look for clues in the language, in the grammar, in the ways the lines are shaped -- are they full, short, chopped up, precise and orderly? What does this indicate? Are there lots of questions, statements, images, fragments? What does this indicate? What emotion is conveyed in the language? What are the precise meanings of the words? What are the images used to convey? What do the words sound like? All of these things contribute to tone. Tone is sometimes a very elusive character of poetry, but it is essential for understanding a poem.

    As Mary Oliver makes clear in her chapter on "The Line" poets use the line of poetry in a very conscious and artistic way. Rich is particularly adept at using the line to convey meaning in her poetry. Pay attention to the type of line she constructs. Note the ways in which it differs from poem to poem and try to assign a meaning to that difference. Are they short? Are they long? More importantly, where does she break the line? How does she use the break? Often times breaks force us to think more closely about a phrase than we would if it were included within a longer line. Why does she draw our attention to that particular phrase? How does the meaning change for its isolation? How does it develop more meaning as part of a larger sentence? What is the effect on the tempo of the poem? What is the effect as the discreet line registers its impact on your brain? Don't rush through the breaks. Pay attention to difference or variation in form. Ask yourself what it means for Rich to change a pattern.

    Discuss the imagery of each poem. Examine how each poem is a process of images as experience, depicting a psychological state. The process of images is both your experience and the speaker's experience.

    How does Rich use allusion in her poetry? She frequently maintains a dialogue with other poets, other artists, other members of her family -- to name a few. What is the effect of the different voices in the poem? What is the effect of appropriating another's language? What is the speaker's attitude toward the quotation or allusion? What is the reaction or response in the poem?

    What do the titles mean? How do they create expectations for the poem? In what ways do the comment on the poem?

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