There are a lot of poems in these chapters, but I want you to only choose from the poems in the “Poems for Further Study” section for your discussion boards. Make sure that you do this. Do not use poems from within the chapter itself, just that group of poems at the end that follow the title heading “Poems for Further Study.”
This chapter is very important in that it helps show you the difference between analyzing a short story and a poem. The primary distinction is that you will focus much more so on the words themselves. Each word is of vital importance in the poem. Unlike a short story, the author has chosen a very small amount of words to get across a theme that is just as big as the themes you find in short stories. Therefore, each word has more potential meaning behind it. I like to use the example of the atom bomb. An atom bomb uses the potential energy in the smallest unit of mass that exists. In fact, it is by using such a small unit of mass that such a large amount of energy is released. The same goes for the word in a poem. Because each word must do so much more work to get across the idea, each word becomes more meaningful. This means that the smaller the poem, the more each word is full of potential meaning. So, it is my job to push you even more not to look at the text as a whole as I have been trying to do with short stories. We looked at parts of the stories and by focusing on those parts, the elements, we added more meaning to the story as a whole. We looked at words a bit in short stories as well when we addressed diction, but in poetry we are going to look even closer at word choice. The best pathway to do this is through the elements “Connotation” and “Denotation.” It is very rare that students get a grasp of these two elements on their very first try, but they are very important for looking at poems and getting all of the meaning out of the poem that is there. The most important thing to remember is that these elements are for addressing single words, not sentences, not lines, not stanzas, and certainly not whole poems. These are elements that allow you to explore single words. I suggest that you try to use Connotation or Denotation in your discussion board. Connotation is when you look at a single word and you think of all of the different connotative meanings we have for that word, which means very simply, what ideas we associate with a word before it ever is used in a sentence and therefore given any kind of new context. It is similar to the idea we looked at in the symbolism chapter called conventional symbolism. Some symbols, like a child, for instance, already have symbolic meaning before an author every begins to add their own context to it. If an author puts a cross or an American flag in their story, they are already bringing a history of conventional ideas that are associated with those things. In the same way, some words have more connotative power than others. Take a word like “pit.” “Pit” has much more connotative meaning than a word like “hole” or “space.” We associate a lot with pits. They are traps, they are what sinners are thrown in in hell according to the bible, and they are creepy and scary. If an author uses a word like “pit,” they are bringing the entire history of the word along with it. “Pit” is a good word also because it has a lot of different definitions, and that brings us to “Denotation.” “Denotation” is very simply the different dictionary definitions that a word has. A “pit” can be a hole, it can be the center of certain kinds of fruits, it can be a place where you sit, like a cockpit, and so on. By analyzing a word’s denotation and connotations, you can find alternate meanings besides the straightforward one. This adds resonance to the poem and helps bring the author’s intended meaning out. Look below for my analysis of a poem using denotation and connotation:
In her poem “We Real Cool,” Gwendolyn Brooks uses connotation and denotation to insinuate the idea of death. The first line in the poem has the title of the bar that the young men, who are the subject of the poem, are hanging out in. The name of the bar is the “Golden Shovel” (line 2). The word shovel has connotations with death because the shovel is used to dig a grave. The word “shovel” can also work as a verb. So, by using denotation we can look at that aspect of the word too. The young men can be seen as gravediggers, digging their own graves. When Brooks is describing the activities of the pool players, she uses words that have strong negative connotations, and some even have connotations with death. One of the things the pool players do is “lurk” (line 5). Lurking is something that carrion eaters do. They lurk about dying animals, waiting for them to die and turn into a meal for them. Carrion eaters are opportunistic. This provides depth to the poem. Lurk also has several definitions, so we can look at it from a denotative perspective. Someone who lurks could be threatening, like death, or someone who lurks can be just someone who is around but doesn’t actually participate. The lack of participation can be seen as a kind of death. Another word that could be associated with death is “Strike” (line 6). A “Strike” is a word that suggests violence and even death, something that can lead to death, being stuck by a weapon or a bullet. If we look at the other definitions of strike, we can also see that it is a prolonged period of inactivity. This relates the word to the previous “lurk.” Inactivity can be seen as a kind of living death. Gwendolyn Brooks uses words very carefully in this poem. She must because it is so short. The words add resonance to the final line in the poem about the young men dying. They can be seen as already dying in a way throughout the poem. Death is surrounding them in many different ways.
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