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New instructions added 9/25/10

Please read the instructions in the last section below on working in subgroups to draft a thesis about your poem.

What poems are here?

Which poem am I supposed to work on?

Find your poem here.

What am I supposed to do with my poem?

Your goal is to annotate these poems in collaboration with the other students in your group. In each group, there are students from each of the four sections of English 170, Fall 2010. Once your group has annotated its poem, you'll divide into subgroups to draft a thesis about the poem.

How is this different from the online discussion forums?

In online discussion, you talk to each other. In these annotations, you will write with each other about a poem, helping to build a common understanding of it.


Consider an entry in Wikipedia. It typically has multiple authors, but it speaks in one voice. Wikipedia entries don't contain point-of-view phrases such as "I think" or "it seems to me," because they aren't expressions of any particular person's perspective. Instead, they represent an effort to develop a single, shared perspective.

That's what you'll be trying to do collectively with these entries.

So my annotation should read kind of like a Wikipedia entry?

Kind of (read on). But shorter.

So it should just contain facts - no interpretations?

Wrong! It's fine to make your annotation an interpretation. You're not building an encyclopedia here but an understanding of the poem. Just write your interpretive commentary in the manner of a Wikipedia entry — that is, without any reference to yourself, and as if the interpretation is just the truth about the word or phrase you're annotating.

But aren't interpretations always personal?

No. We won't explain that answer here — but it will definitely come up in class.

How do I know my interpretation is right?

You don't.

What if someone else disagrees?

Let's put it this way: If you come across an interpretive annotation written by someone else that seems wrong or incomplete, you have a few choices. You can

  • Make the interpretation more complete by extending it
  • Contextualize the interpretation by explaining how it is one of several interpretive choices and describing why there might be interpretive uncertainty here
  • Use the "Add Comment" link and open a discussion among your fellow students about the best interpretation

By the way, notice that on every Wikipedia page there's a "discussion" tab where the Wikipedians conduct side conversation about the viewpoint-neutral text of the article. That's where they make reference to themselves and write things like, "I think" or "it seems to me." You can do the same using the Comment feature.

So you're saying that it's okay to edit other people's annotations?

Yes — in order to build on or contextualize someone else's work. We encourage it! But don't simply delete someone else's work altogether (except to correct a factual error). If you completely disagree with someone else's work, use "Add Comment."

So what kinds of annotation can I leave?

In your annotations, you can

  • provide interpretive commentary on a word or phrase
  • explain a literary allusion
  • explain a historical reference
  • make a comparison with another passage within the work or a passage within another work
  • link to resources on the web, including audio and video, that put the word or phrase in an interesting light.
  • attach your own audio or video file (size limit: 10 mb) to the passage providing interpretive or other commentary

This list is not exhaustive. If you think of other useful ways to annotate texts, by all means do so. In addition to adding fresh annotations, don't hesitate to improve the annotations made by others or to use the Add Comment feature in order to discuss an annotation.

If I use words, ideas, or information that I find on the web or in a book or journal, do I need to use quotation marks and cite my source(s)?

Yes! For two reasons: First, it's important to give credit where credit is due. Some individual or group worked hard to produce the ideas or information you're using, and they deserve acknowledgment. Second, it's important to give your classmates and other potential readers a way to assess the credibility of your information. Does it come from a reliable source? Have you quoted or summarized it accurately, with due regard for context?

Cite your sources in Modern Language Association (MLA) format, with a list of "Works Cited" at the bottom of your annotation page and a parenthetical attribution after the quotation or reference to the incorporated ideas or information. If you mention a website right in your discussion, you can make it link to the site, in the manner of this reference to the Purdue University's MLA Formatting and Style Guide. Purdue's guide has lots of helpful information about MLA citation format, as does the chapter on "Writing a Literary Research Paper" in Janet E. Gardner's Writing About Literature: A Portable Guide.

Gardner's books says it's not necessary to provide a citation for "common knowledge." That includes anything I find on Wikipedia, right?

Wrong. The fact that Wikipedia entries appear not to have authors does not mean that the content in them is "common knowledge." In fact, a feature of the best Wikipedia entries is that they themselves cite many and varied sources in order to give credit where credit is due and enable readers to assess the validity of their content. And, of course, Wikipedia entries do have authors, even if they're not listed at the top of the entry.

Can you show me an example of what an annotated poem would look like?

Have a look at this annotated version of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Break, Break, Break." But keep in mind that the students who annotated it didn't follow all the instructions you're reading here. Not all of them wrote in a way that preserved a single, shared perspective, and some of them left comments when they should have been aiming to build a collective interpretation. Another good example to look at is Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

All right. I think I get this annotation thing. How do I do it?

To annotate a poem, click the Edit tab of the page containing the poem. Choose a word or short phrase from the poem to link to your annotation. (Do keep it short! Definitely less than a line!) If you're in Wiki Markup view, put square brackets ([]) around the word or phrase and save the page. When you save the page, the word or phrase within the brackets will become a link. Click the link to create a new page containing your annotation. If you prefer Rich Text view, highlight the link text and create the link using the link button on the formatting toolbar. Be sure to save the page before following your link.

You cannot create a link using square brackets when in Rich Text view. Rich Text will render square brackets as ... square brackets. In Rich Text you must use the toolbar to create a link.

When creating a link using the toolbar, you'll get a dialog with two boxes, Link and Alias. Alias will be prefilled with the word or phrase that serves as the link. In the Link box, type the name of the page you want the link to point to. In most cases, this should be identical to the Alias text, so that your link points to a page with the same name.

Be sure to Save your edit before following your new link to create the new page.

Now what's this about creating a thesis from the annotations?

Once your group has annotated your assigned poem, you'll divide into two subgroups. In the subgroups, Doggett's students will work with Schacht's and Paku's students will work with Woidat's. Each subgroup will try to develop a brief, succint thesis statement about the poem.

Look for the green box (like this one) on each poem's page to learn where to put your thesis.

Your subgroup of four (in most cases) should arrive at a thesis by examining the annotations created by the full group of eight. Some annotations offer thoughts about the poem's meaning, while others attempt to describe linguistic patterns or techniques (in other words, we might say, aspects of the poem's form).

In your thesis, you should try to relate form to meaning in a way that articulates how the poet has used the formal elements of poetry (patterns and techniques) — logically and persuasively — to create meaning.

If your instructor has asked you to articulate your thesis using a particular analytical formula – "Author X uses Y technique(s) to create Z effect" — you should do that. If not, you can structure your thesis however you (collectively) like. Just be sure that your thesis takes the form of an assertion — that is, a claim that you wouldn't expect someone to accept without evidence to support it. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering, but neither should it be patently obvious.

It's fine to formulate your thesis in more than one sentence, especially since it's important to describe the technique(s) your group has identified clearly ("repetition" or "caesura" are not precise enough) and to be appropriately ambitious about meaning ("for emphasis" or "to make the poem sound good" or "to make the poem flow" are not appropriately ambitious explanations of formal effects, and in any case they are not really aspects of meaning).

To arrive at a thesis, your subgroup will need to collaborate. You can do this in person, in the wiki itself, or both. The instructions on your thesis page will explain how to differentiate your thesis itself from your online conversation about it.

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