Intro to Poetry: The Bookshop

Some more thoughts on a flexible, achievement-oriented assessment system for an Intro to Poetry class.  For more context on this post, you may first wish to read:

This post focuses on Bookshop, which is the term I’ve picked for short craft annotations on a book selected by the student in conjunction with the instructor.  Here are the details I have given in the syllabus.  I also usually provide a few samples of excellent bookshop entries from semesters past.

The Bookshop:  Reading Journals

A maturing poet can write all he or she wishes, but will never improve without a commitment to reading as much poetry as possible.  We’ll perform close readings of poems on a regular basis, so that we can exercise our critical faculties and explore the poems on several levels.

In addition to readings from An Introduction to Poetry, Thirteenth Edition, you will be assigned a book of poems every other week for the duration of this course.  Because you are each individual poets with different styles, preferences, and lessons to learn, the readings will not be uniform.

Five times during the course, you will be asked to submit a bookshop proposal. Each proposal will consist of five individual volumes of poetry that you would be interested in reading.  At the next class, I will assign you one of those five volumes, or perhaps another book that isn’t on your list but is well-suited to the kind of work you would like to be doing. In the proposal, include some reasons for your choices.

You’ll then work with that volume for the next two weeks.  As you read, I expect you to write one bookshop post per week in your personal forum in our Sakai course.  Each post will focus on a single poem, though students should make mention of how that poem relates to others in the volume. (Is this poem similar to most of the others? Does it make a surprising deviation from the rest? Does it signal a shift in the book’s subject matter, tone, or narrative arc?)

In some instances, I may ask you to perform a close reading of a specific poem as a part of your journal. When this occurs, you will need to examine one element of craft that we have discussed in the class and how the poet uses it to achieve or reinforce the intention of the poem.  Close readings will generally be equivalent to 3-4 pages, double-spaced, in a word processor.

In general, however, you’ll have freedom to write about whatever you please, so long as it is related to the volume at hand.  Posts must communicate that you have read and thought about the book you were assigned.  Some of the best entries from previous classes covered topics such as:

  • How the tone shifts as the relationship dissolves in Kara Candito’s “He Was Only Half as Beautiful.”
  • The role of stage directions in A. Van Jordan’s M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A.
  • The effects of repeating “bye-bye” in Thomas Lux’s “Baby, Still Crying, Swallowed by a Snake.”
  • An incomplete metaphor in Natasha Trethewey’s “After Your Death.”

Due dates for these posts are listed below.  Bookshop posts will be approved for credit if all of the following criteria are met:

  • The post focuses on a single poem in the collection, but makes mention of how that poem relates to others in the volume.
  • The post demonstrates that significant attention has been paid to the whole poem, rather than a section.
  • The post traces the poet’s use of a single element of craft throughout the poem, citing specific lines.
  • The post gives specific and detailed explanation of how the craft element is employed and what effect that has on the reader of the poem.
  • The post focuses on how the poet achieves certain effects rather than explicating the meaning of the poem.
  • The post is clear and well-written.
  • The post is the student’s original work, and does not refer to critical work about the poem being discussed.  The goal of the bookshop is for you to have an individual relationship with these poems, not to build your understanding of poetry by reading other peoples’ criticism or analysis.  (We’ll do that in other areas of the course.)
  • The student shows a clear and sophisticated understanding of the craft element selected, or undertakes sufficiently ambitious analysis of a difficult topic.
  • The student includes a rationale for selecting the poem and element of craft studied, preferably noting a specific way in which the post relates to his/her own creative work.
  • All cited lines are included in the appropriate citation format.

You will also have the chance to read your classmates’ reading journals during the week and make comment on at least two individual entries.  You may find yourself commenting on similar revelations in your own readings, observations on craft elements, or your experiences with the poet or text that your classmate is discussing.  You may make as many comments as you like, but a good rule of thumb is to aim to have two comments accepted for credit each week.  To encourage you to read and write, you can have only one comment accepted for credit each day, so if you want to get the commenting achievements, you will need to comment at least two days each week.  This encourages you to read broadly and think about poems often during the week.

Comments accepted for credit will:

  • Demonstrate understanding of both the poem and the bookshop entry that analyzes it.
  • Add significant new information to the analysis, either by highlighting points that the original post’s author or other commenters did not mention, or by tracing an element of craft that the initial author did not focus on.
  • Include citations in the correct format.
  • Be respectful at all times of the initial post’s author and of other commenters.

Starred posts or starred comments will meet each of the above criteria, but will also significantly increase your instructor’s understanding of a poem or element of craft.  Usually, I have my mind blown eight to ten times a semester by posts that bring me a whole new understanding.  I live for those.

My hope is that as you read your classmates’ journals, two things will happen:

  1. You will become interested in poets and poems to which you’ve not yet been exposed, perhaps informing your choices on later bookshop proposals.
  2. You will use your classmates’ observations on form, style, and craft to identify elements in your own work that can be sharpened.

I will make comments on some bookshop posts as well, but the primary reason for doing this assignment is to learn from your classmates and the poems that struck them as important.

One Request | 5 achievement points – Made one request for a bookshop title before titles were assigned.

Five Requests | 10 achievement points – Made all five title requests before titles were assigned.

One Post Accepted | 75 achievement points – Had one bookshop post accepted for credit.

Five Posts Accepted | 175 achievement points – Had five bookshop posts accepted for credit.

Bi-Weekly | 100 achievement points – Had at least one bookshop post accepted for credit on each of your five assigned titles.

Eight Posts Accepted | 750 achievement points – Had eight bookshop posts accepted for credit.

Ten Posts Accepted | 1,000 achievement points – Had all ten bookshop posts accepted for credit.

Star Post | 100 achievement points – Wrote at least one starred post.

Commenter | 25 achievement points – Had two comments accepted  on different days in the same week.

Halfway There! | 125 achievement points – Had two comments accepted on different days in five of the ten weeks of the bookshop.

Consistent Commenter | 125 achievement points- Had a comment accepted in each of the ten weeks of the bookshop.

Constant Commenter | 250 achievement points – Had two comments accepted on different days in each of the ten weeks of the bookshop.

Star Commentary | 25 achievement points – Made a starred comment at least once.