This book is an edited compilation of several open sourced, online texts. It has been arranged for use in Columbia Gorge Community College’s online ENG 106, Introduction to Poetry class. Chapters are aligned with the college’s 11-week format for this course.
An Introduction to Poetry starts off where our students start, i.e., from a million different points on a movable spectrum. Some students arrive in this course with a huge excitement for poetry; some have spent years writing poetry themselves. Others haven’t looked at a poem since cinquains in third grade; still others remember feeling frustrated because they didn’t find “the correct meaning” of a Dickinson poem in high school. Some students cringe at the idea of dissecting something as personal and sacred as a poem. The beauty and power of the community college classroom is that we get to start at a place of diversity and move toward a common–and hopefully deeper–understanding of poetry. That is the intent of this textbook.
Students often fear that they’ll never understand poetry. They have been exposed to poetry in middle school and high school—a little Shakespeare, a little Emily Dickinson, a little Robert Frost—and they could never figure out how the teacher got from the words of the poems to the meaning the teacher ascribed to them. Poetry, in short, has made them feel dumb. This textbook aims to give students the tools and confidence they need to access a poem–and the wisdom to recognize that some poems take years to fully understand.
The first two chapters of this course explore the attitudes and experiences around poetry that students bring to the class. We look at our beliefs, as well as our misconceptions, about what poetry is and isn’t. We model what we call “unpacking a poem”–and then give students time to practice this skill.
Chapters 3-6 explain and illustrate various elements of poems-elements that once understood help the student access deeper levels of meaning. We focus in these chapters on what is actually on the page within the poem. We try not to apply our own interpretation until we’ve really examined what the poet has offered. Because we’re actually seeing more, things start to get rich; new meanings emerge. Small “aha” moments occur.
Chapters 7-9 look at the various forms (and non-forms) of poetry in the last 700+ years, while Chapter 10 concludes by looking at the rich tradition of protest poetry.
Throughout this course, we strive to put the skills, knowledge and confidence we’ve been practicing to use. We tackle less accessible poems, and we entertain the notion that very smart, skilled people may see totally different messages within the same poem. We look at poetry in the context of social, political and cultural contexts: is a rose always a rose? And we reflect on our own personal ethos of poetry: what it means to us. How it will (or won’t) become a part of our lives. We hope, of course, that it will.