Poetic Modus Operandi

Some modes or types of poetic style… the full list is indefinite.

Argumentative mode
Speaker expresses an opinion or disagrees with another one


Confessional mode
Speaker expresses private or secret thoughts or emotions


Descriptive mode
Speaker details a scene, usually in the present tense


Dialogic mode
Two or more voices take turns in speaking


Didactic mode
Speaker informs or advises the addressee or addressees


Discursive mode
Speaker discusses a topic in the manner of an essay


Dramatic mode
Speaker interacts with others in a well-defined situation


Elegiac mode
Speaker regrets the loss of something or someone


Eulogic mode
Speaker praises something or someone


Expository mode
Speaker illustrates or explains something


Lyric mode
Speaker expresses thoughts or emotions


Narrative mode
Speaker tells a story, usually in the past tense


Persuasive mode
Speaker tries to convince the addressee or addressees


Polemic mode
Speaker criticises something or someone explicitly


Satiric mode
Speaker criticises something or someone implicitly

Time Will Tell

do androids dream of electric sheep

The outsourcing of work to machines is not new. In fact, some argue that it has been “the dominant motif of the past 200 years of economic history.” Over and over again, as vast numbers of jobs have been destroyed, others have been created. And over and over, we’ve been terrible at envisioning what kinds of new jobs people would end up doing.

2560

A Closer Reading

for a deeper meaning

Step-by-step; there are ten [10] steps here:

1. Title

A poem’s title does not always have great significance. The title might not make much sense until you start to understand the poem. The title “The Sick Rose” (by William Blake) gives us a reasonable hint about what the poem means. T. S. Eliot’s title “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” seems to give some direction, but after the reading the poem, the title might be considered misleading or ironic. Wallace Stevens’ title “The Snow Man” gives very little help.

  • Does the title immediately influence what you are about to read, or does it, at the moment you begin your first reading, remain mysterious or vague?
  • After you have thought about the poem, how do you think the title relates to it?

2. Keywords: Diction, Register, & Tone

Pay very close attention to what individual words mean—and especially to what you think might be keywords, since this is where meaning can be concentrated.

Which words stand out, and why?

Consider how words may carry more than one meaning. A dictionary is obviously useful, especially one based on historical principles, since it will point to how the meanings of words may have changed over time. “Silly” once meant “helpless.”

  • Do any words carry non-contemporary or unfamiliar meanings?
  • Do any words likely carry multiple and/or ambiguous meanings?
  • Do repeated words carry the same meaning when repeated, or do they change? Words often gather or evolve in meaning when repeated.
  • Do particular words or phrases seem drawn to or connected with each other? These often add up so that a clearer sense of the poem emerges.

Do you notice lots of material or immaterial things (nouns) or lots of action (verbs)?

  • Is the poem concrete, about specific things and places, or is the poem more abstract, about concepts or ideas?
  • Is the poem full of movement, or does it seem to stay still and look at one thing?
  • Do certain words seem to clash with each other, and what effect does this have?

Think in terms of oppositions, tensions, conflicts, and binaries.

Consider word choice, or diction:

  • Is the word choice distinctive? Does it add up to a kind of style—for example, is it elaborate, dense, simple, archaic, formal, conversational, descriptive, abstract, and so on?
  • How would you describe the level of language and vocabulary (register): informal, formal, common, casual, neutral, mixed?

Tone

Address the tone of the speaker or narrator, which is the attitude taken by the poem’s voice toward the subject or subjects in the poem:

  • What is the attitude taken by the “voice” of the poem toward the subjects of the poem?

Is the tone serious, ironic, amorous, argumentative, distant, intimate, somber, abrupt, playful, cheerful, despondent, conversational, yearning, etc.—or is it mixed, changing, ambiguous, or unclear?

[Key terms: style, diction, register, tone, irony.]


3. Word Order

Focus on how the words are ordered. Look for patterns; in drawing attention to themselves, they require your attention:

  • Is the word order or sentence structure (syntax) unusual in any way, and what is the effect of this?
  • Are there any noticeable patterns in the ordering of words? If so, how do the patterns contribute to meaning?
  • Do the lines have strong end-stops, or do they break across lines (enjamb)?
  • Do the lines end with a final stress or rhyme?
  • Does each line tend to be a self-contained, grammatical unit, or does it vary? What effect does this have?
  • Are there lots of long, complete sentences (simple or complex?), or are there many sentence fragments and phrases?
  • Does the poem stop and start, or does it move or flow continuously? What is the effect of this?

Punctuation

Punctuation organises and creates relationship between words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. In poetry, where lines are often seen as units of meaning, the importance of punctuation is sometimes magnified, though often overlooked.

Punctuation can create or reinforce rhythm. It can also control meaning or make meaning uncertain by its placement and usage, especially if it is used minimally, or in some cases, not at all.

  • What role does punctuation have in the poem?
  • Does it follow accepted rules and conventions, or is it used in unusual ways?

[Key terms: syntax, enjambment, end-stopped line, stress, rhyme.]


4. Figurative Language; Imagery

Related to word meaning is figurative language, which often plays a crucial role in both condensing language yet expanding meaning. Most generally, figurative language refers to language that is not literal. The phrase “fierce tears” (the personification of tears) is not literal, but it is both precise and suggestive in carrying meaning.

  • Are certain words used in unusual, non-literal, non-standard, exaggerated, or metaphorical ways? What effect do these figures of speech have?
  • Which words or phrases are used literally (they denote something literal) and which are used figuratively (they connote something figurative)?

Much of what we read is literal: The evening sky was dark; he looked up; he felt sick. Figurative language refers to language not used literally—it is used abstractly, indirectly, and often evocatively. The evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table. Here we have an evening (a thing), spreading (an action), a patient (thing), etherizing (an action), and a table (thing). But an evening cannot be a drugged patient spread out upon a table, perhaps ready to be operated upon; this description cannot be literally true (there is no patient, no etherizing, no table, and evenings don’t literally spread out against skies); this language is used figuratively.

  • How does non-literal or figurative language suggest a certain meaning?
  • What mood or feeling is evoked via this figurative, non-literal language?

Imagery

When figurative language (like metaphor or simile) provides a picture that evokes any of the senses, we call this imagery. “She is the sun” (a simile) contains imagery of light and warmth (the senses of sight and touch).

  • What imagery—pictures or senses that are evoked in words—is present in the poem? What imagery, if any, is most striking, frequent, or patterned?
  • What images seem related or connected to each other?
  • What mood or atmosphere is created by the imagery?
  • Which details stand out? Why?
  • What sense (if any) seems to dominate the poem: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell?

Allusion

Poetry sometimes contains brief references to things outside itself—a person, place, or thing—that will expand, clarify, or complicate its meaning. Sometimes they are obvious and direct, and sometimes they are subtle, indirect, and debatable. Allusions are frequently references made to other texts (for example, to the Bible, or to another poem).

  • What allusions, if any, can you detect?
  • What effect do the allusions have upon the poem?
  • If it is a literary allusion, how does it relate to or connect with the original text?

[Key terms: figures of speech, connotation, denotation, metaphor, simile, irony, imagery, personification, allegory, symbol, allusion.]


5. Sound: Rhythm & Rhyme

You probably first read a poem to yourself, silently, but most poems also create sense though sounds, unlike concrete poetry, which operates visually. Try reading the poem aloud. Sound brings attention to both individual words that are drawn together through their sound as well as to the overall “feeling” or experience. For example, repetition of sounds like “s,” “m,” “l,” and “f” might encourage a soft or sensuous feeling: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness . . .”

  • What words are drawn to each other because of sound, and how does this influence meaning? What tone do these sounds create (quiet, loud, sensual, aggressive, etc.)?
  • Also, think about whether the poem “moves” slowly or quickly, jerkily or fluidly.
  • Does the poem move differently at different places in the poem? What effect does this have?
  • How do the poem’s sounds contribute to its meaning? Does a particular sort of sound dominate the poem?

Rhythm

A poem’s rhythm can be regular or irregular. When it has regular rhythmical sound patterns, we say the poem has a certain meter. The type of meteris based on the number of syllables per line and how many unstressed (x) or stressed (/) syllables there are.

The various meters—tetrameter, pentameter, etc.—are based on the number of feet per line.

The meter in the example below has four regular feet, and is therefore tetrameter; because each foot has an unstressed syllable [x] followed by a stressed one [/], this is called an iamb. We would then say that the line is in iambic tetrameter; if it had an extra foot—that is, five feet—we would call it iambic pentameter.

(“I WAN-dered LONE-ly AS a CLOUD“; x / x / x / x / ). A small, distinct group of accented words is called a foot (“a CLOUD”; x /).

  • When you count out (scan) the syllables of a line, do they follow a rhythm? Is there a name for it?

Melody.

Melody refers to sound effects, such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance, with each producing a unique melodic effect. Rhyme is a type of melody, and rhymes can be perfect with identical vowel sounds (“guy” and “high”) or slant, when the sound of the final consonants is identical, but not the vowels (“shell” and “pill,” “cement” and “ant”).

  • Do words at the end of lines rhyme? Why kind of rhymes are they? Do they form a pattern (a rhyme scheme) that is regular or irregular?
  • Do the rhyming words have any relationship with each other? Does the rhymeconcentrate meaning in any way?

[Key terms: concrete poetry, rhyme, rhyme scheme, rhythm, meter, stress, alliteration, consonance, assonance, scansion, prosody, concrete poetry, foot / feet, iambic, iambic pentameter, melody, perfect rhyme, slant rhyme, couplet, blank verse.]


6. Speaker & Voice

All poems have a voice, which can be called a speaker (or in some case speakers, if there is more than one person “speaking” the poem).

  • Who “tells” the poem? Are there things you can say about the speaker’s personality, point of view, tone, society, age, or gender?
  • Does the speaker assume a persona at any point in the poem, and speak “as” a particular person (e.g., “I am Lazarus, come from the dead . . . I shall tell you all”)?
  • Does the speaker seem attached or detached from what is said?
  • What effect do the speaker’s characteristics have on the poem?
    Likewise, all poems have a silent or implied listener/reader, an addressee.
  • Is it possible to figure out to whom the poem is addressed? Is there an ideal listener/reader?
  • Does the speaker seek anything from the listener/reader (sympathy, support, agreement, etc.)?

Narrative/Narrator.

Poems capture thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions, experiences, and incidents, but sometimes poems also tell a story. Ask yourself:

  • What is happening in the poem? What action, drama, or conflict is present? Is there more than one event in the poem? Does anything change in the poem (is an action completed, does an attempted action fail, or does someone change in an important way)?
  • Who tells the story, and what relationship does the narrator have to the story?

[Key terms: speaker, addressee, tone, persona, point of view, ideal reader/listener, narrative, narrator, voice, conflict, dramatic monologue, lyric poem, irony, theme.]


7. Time & Setting

  • What is the temporal structure of the poem? Does it take place in one time (the present, the past, the future) or does it move back and forth between times?
  • Does it present single actions in time or continuing actions? Does it bring different times together or set them apart (e.g., “then” vs. “now”)?
  • Is there a particular occasion for the poem (an incident, an event, a realisation)?
  • Does it focus on indicative states (“I am, I will be”) or conditional states (“I could be, I would be”)?
  • Are different parts of the poem located in different times?
  • Does time move smoothly? Are different states of being, or different ways of thinking, associated with different times? (“I used to think ‘X’, but now I think ‘Y’”)?

Setting answers the questions “Where?” and “When?” in the poem, though often poems are not set in a specific location or time.

  • Is a sense of place clear (urban, pastoral, forest, desert, beach, etc.), or does the poem seem to occupy an abstract time and place (such as mental or emotional state)?

For some poems, a difficult but key question may be this:

  • Where are we?

8. Symbol

Symbols represent or stand for something other than the image itself. A symbol, then, is often something concrete—a word, a thing, a place, a person (real of fictitious), an action, an event, a creation, etc.—that represents something larger, abstract, or complex—an idea, a value, a belief, an emotion.

  • A river (a thing) can be symbol for life;
  • Gomorrah (a place) can be a symbol of shameless sin;
  • Homer Simpson (a fictitious cartoon character) can be a symbol of innocent stupidity;
  • A strawberry (a thing) can be a symbol of sensual love.

Ask:

Does the poem have any clear or central symbols? What meaning do they bring to the poem?


9. Form

Poetic form usually refers to the structure that “holds” or gives “shape” to the poem—in a way, what it looks like to you on the page. This will include groupings or sets of lines, called stanzas.

Another, more interesting way to consider form is to say that it necessarily determines the content of the poem, especially in the case of a particular genre, like a ballad, epic, or sonnet; these specific forms (sometimes called “closed forms”) often have structures and stylistic conventions that are both structural and that convey units of meaning or conventions of rhyme, meter, or expression.

If the poem you are reading has a particular form or structure determined by genre, learn something about the conventions of that genre, since this can direct your attention to certain expectations of content.

  • Is the poem of a particular genre? What are its conventions?
  • If it doesn’t fit particular genre, how would you describe its form?
  • What is the relationship between form and meaning in the poem?
  • Are there clear parts to the poem, and if so, how are they similar/different?

Poems that do not follow determined, formal conventions have an “open form.”
[Key terms: style, stanza, genre, open form, closed form, ballad, epic poem, sonnet.]


10. Ideas & Theme

  • Are the ideas of the poem simple or complex, small or large?
  • Is there one main problem in the poem? How does the poem think through that problem?
  • What are the ideas that the poem seeks to embody in images?
  • What is the poem’s process of thinking? Does it change its “mind” as it proceeds?
  • Does the poem proceed logically or illogically? Can you tell the way it is thinking, or is it unclear, opaque, and confusing?
  • How do the ideas change from line to line, stanza to stanza?
  • Does the poem offer an argument?
  • Does the poem reflect a particular experience, feeling, or concept?

Theme.

“Purity” is a subject, not a theme; “purity is vulnerability” is a theme. “Theme” refers to a larger, more general, or universal message—a big idea—as well as to something that you could take away from the work and perhaps apply to life. One way to determine a theme is to

  1. ask yourself what the poem is about;
  2. come up with some one-word answers to that question (subjects of the poem); and
  3. ask what general attitude (tone) is taken towards those subjects in the poem.

You might conclude that, for example, “love,” “trust,” or “loss” are subjects. Now, try to figure out what the attitude in the poem is toward that one-word subject and you have theme—for example, “love is dangerous,” “you cannot trust people close to you,” “loss makes you stronger.”

It is important to remember that many poems resist reduction to simple themes or even subjects, and such resistance—sometimes in the form of ambiguity, paradox, abstraction, or complexity—strengthens our interest in and engagement with the poem. Poems are not necessarily answers, but they may be problems or questions.

[Key words: ambiguity, paradox.]


Fully and wholly indebted to: G. Kim Blank & Magdalena Kay, English Department, University of Victoria

A Stranger on Earth

…life has no point (or purpose more profound) other than to reproduce.

us_and_them

They were all around me now. This was a real unhappy ending. They’d gone crazy. I observed a little fear and a lot of pleasure in their eyes. Fearful because I was different; excited because. as a mob, they were together attacking me. ‘Sort.3’ and ‘Sort.4’ were screaming words like, “Ayyb ilich” and, “Surrender, we’ve called Special Forces.” Some were throwing their shoes at me, I observed that mostly they are of animal skin or a shiny sort of plastic, others were throwing donuts and half eaten hot dogs. I already had my samples of their staple energy sources so I didn’t collect more, I just unwillingly played dodge-ball (‘Sort.1’ and ‘Sort.2’ did not participate in this gang violence, they continued to preen and peck, to prowl and purr.) “Bugger it all” I said to myself and then pressed my ‘Evaporate to Repatriate’ button: “Mission Control,” I said to my soul – I report by thought – “I’m coming back to base, they don’t have the answer to the question we want answered… on a scale of -42 to +42” I continued dejectedly, “I’d place their intelligence-cum-tolerance levels at around 0 [zero]”

The pervious afternoon somewhere far away, a group of beings in a kiosk called ‘Mission Control’ had detected yet another blue-green globe. Up there, expert philosophers, psychologists and political perfectionists only wanted an answer for this: how it all began, how it was destined to end and what exactly was the purpose of life (3 into 1). They elected to investigate this one (circling a tiny star called A-B2956) because it was sending out odd sounds and peculiar metal objects. What made them curious was three recent offerings – a non-breathing furry object (a Russian dog called Laika) another similar object with a cheeky expression (an American monkey called Ham the Chimp) and then a dummy in a cherry red car that wouldn’t talk and like just one song. Were these signs and symbols of friendship or threat? Were these signs of deep intelligence or the polar opposite? The Mission Control captain asked an eager one to zip on over, and beam back a report about this globe’s life forms and cognitive reasoning abilities. Stella, who had a hunger for escape, volunteered to make the trip. She was be no means unique, whilst carrying out her duties on A-B2956-3, a million and one others from her classification were investigating other globes of interest across the mega multiverse. She dared to dream though: might the mysterious senders of dogs and monkeys finally answer the question that no sentient being had yet answered?

At the crack of dawn this morning, I opened my eyes and asked myself, ‘where am I?’ It was a rhetorical question because I knew I’d been scanned to A-B2956-3. I began my observations. My thoughts were being transferred to my plasma capsule inserted under my skin. This capsule then beamed my observations, GPS locations and all other diagnostics (the seven senses) to the boffin-dorks up at the kiosk. I was happy to observe that I’d appeared on dry land in a sea of sand (liquids and I had a complicated relationship). I found myself in a walled enclosure with a variety of buildings. The wall was quite high and I saw low quality fixed observation cameras were everywhere. Each building had words upon them in two languages, some were rock, some were metal some were glass.
Soon after A-B2956 rose I became surrounded by moving objects – well, four sorts of carbon-based living beings. The littlest floated in the air, the next smallest were on four legs then, the larger two were quite different. Sort.3 and Sort.4 were similar in their size. Sort.3 mostly had black gowns and a few were what we’d call fashionistas. Almost all walked slowly with active plasma capsules in their hands, almost all coloured their faces. Sort.4 were more whitey-pink or whitey-red in complexion, they carried bags of paper, walked more quickly and few held or even had plasma capsules.

I followed as quietly as I could a number of Sort.3s and a single Sort.4 into a funny little room. To get here we passed through invisible walls, when I got close it seemed to be as hard as crystal, but somehow it just opened up and the heat became chill. Somewhere silent slaves were opening and cooling vents. In the room the Sort.4 was making lots of noise, waving paper in frustration at the relaxed looking Sort.3s and saying something like “missing deadlines results in zeros.” He then got angry with the antiquated interactive display. When the class began (a being who seemed a combination of Sort.3 and Sort.4 had come in and pressed an on button), the Sort.3s watched him quietly, just moving their heads (i.e., nodding) some seemed to copy what he said onto their own paper but I saw many doing activites on their plasma creations under the desks. Some were swiping pictures right and left, some watching video recordings while others still were moving candy-eating animations with their fingers along never ending pathways. I was confused because if the Sort.4 came close, they quickly hid their plasma creations.

I followed in a secretive way large numbers of Sort.3s into some sort of energy station. It was noisy here. It was on two stages. All around energy was being exchanged. Exchange was with little bits of tin or colourful paper; it was too funny! The place was smelling not too good, I saw a black hole in the ground and went in. The water was dull grey but was wonderful. I covered my body in this peculiar perfume. When I got out, the Sort.3s seem shocked and moved away. I then started taking samples of energy and then the screaming began. I thought to myself can they see me? Many Sort.3s were wearing solar glasses even though the rays of A-B2956 were not getting into this building. I experimented and began removing their solar glasses but this caused the screaming to increase and some sudden laying down to happen. Maybe the beautiful smelling liquid had made my invisibility suit stop working.

Stoically I continued on my quest trying my best to understand and observe these peculiar beings. There was a white Sort.4 with a smile on his face, sitting in the corner of the energy station building. With excitement he held his mug to drink black liquid, I got close and before his tongue touched the substance I drank some, he looked in my direction with fear and fright. I don’t know why but seconds later he dropped the liquid over his clothes, screamed and ran away (he didn’t get far at all because he then fell over a laying Sort.3 which cause even more screaming and two or three more sudden lay downs). Well that was liquid. Now I needed some solid evidence. I saw one big Sort.3 lady about to bite a huge burger, but I got to it first and took three-quarters of it in a single bite. She screamed, “Jinny, Jinny.”

The third venue I investigated had this written on it, “Hamman/Bathroom.” I saw transparent liquid with an awful smell. The strange Sort.3s were covering their hands with it. By now I was being followed. The boffin-dorks said that the grey body perfume was letting them know my GPS. I’d broken Rule Number 1 of alien observation: Don’t get seen. But what could I do? The perfumed water was nice, I was not going to remove it and the chaps up there agreed, if they could coat themselves in it they’d not remove it for love or for money (the sample I’d beamed back and named ‘eau de égout’ was the talk of the kiosk). Inside this room were small little rooms with chairs. These chairs were filled with this transparent liquid. And a button caused a water fall of it to come out. They were unbelievable, they carried their colour with them. They face their reflection and start to dab more colour onto their faces, when I got close to them I felt dizzy, with each movement strong perfume radiated from their bodies. When some removed the black gown from their head, something billowing puffed out. Then I observed them applying false hair onto their eye lids, I mean ‘why?’ Why would they do that? They were like wings, maybe they helped their eyes to fly to the sky. Several had nails like claws, long and pointy – for what possible purpose I could not imagine. Many, I noted, keep extra eyes in small boxes with colourless liquid that tasted sour (I tried a few samples), then they placed these on to their brown eyes. It was when I tried to collect samples of the puffy fluffy cloud-like stuff above their heads that they went berserk. ‘Stranger!’ ‘Foreigner!’ they began to chant.

Stella didn’t like the thought she was having. Maybe her A.I. soulmate, Ricardo Lime (version 12.6 of the intergalactic best selling Real Logarithm™ iMate series), was right and the boffin-dorks were wrong. RL’s answer wasn’t neither poetic nor romantic, it was basically, this: we are here by chance of a random chemical reaction. Since then and until now, life has no point (or purpose more profound) other than to reproduce.


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Malkin, B. (2018, 7 Feb). “SpaceX oddity: how Elon Musk sent a car towards Mars.” The Guardian. Retreived from, theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/07/space-oddity

Huntington, S. (1997). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. London: Penguin.