Reading Poetry (21L.004)

I've gotten increasingly interested in articulating for students exactly how it is that literary critics read -- or at least, some of the things I think about when I read.  Some of the materials archived under Reading Poetry (an introductory class) are mini-lectures (slides plus audio) on topics like the sources of English words.  (Why does that matter?  etymology often corresponds with lexical level, and so knowing a word's history provides an objective anchor for our sense of whether a poet is using "high" or "low" language).  I created these modules using Voicethread, a platform that allows students to make written, audio, or video comments.  (Other topics included syntax and sound patterns).  Pattern was a key theme in this class:  patterns of sound, of syntax, of lexical choices, metrical patterns, and so on.  The nice thing about formal patterns -- if you are a person who finds themself stumped by poems you feel you ought to understand and like -- is that they are empirical.  You can pay attention to them and describe them without having to "have ideas" about the poem, and those descriptions will inevitably give you ideas for which they are evidence -- because poets write with form as much as they do with content.  The second innovation in this class was to find non-verbal ways of annotating to show poetic form:  for instance, using colors to mark repeated sounds, or indentation to mark the different levels of a periodic sentence.  In class, we used markers and highlighting to annotate our poems, but these had obvious limits.  In summer 2014, Rob Miller from CSAIL and his UROP students spent four weeks coding a poetry visualization tool that would allow groups of users to create multiple layers of visual annotation.  "Poetryviz" is still in development, but you'll eventually see some screenshots that will give an ideas of how it works.