Prompts for Essay 1 R1A, Five Ways of Looking at a Poem

Prompts for Essay 1R1A, Five Ways of Looking at a Poem


Format: Please type your essay in Times New Roman Font, size 12. At the top of the paper (after putting your name in upper left) type out the prompt which your paper is going to address. In text citations should be in parenthetical MLA citation format. Lines should be double spaced. This assignment is for a four to five page essay. This page count is not inclusive of bibliography.

*Please see the handout ‘In Text Citations and Quoting’ for guidance around citing poems in essays by line number. Errors in these stylistic/formal conventions will detract from your grade if they occur repeatedly.*

As always, there is an option to produce your own prompt (in this case on anything from Lunch Poems or Flèche)—if you choose this option we will need to consult on it either by email or Zoom meeting by Wednesday 7/21 at 5 PM).

Finally, each one of these prompts asks for the production of an argument utilizing 2-3 poems. You may use any poem we worked on in class, however the advantage of owning these books will be that you can also utilize any other poem not worked on in class if you wish. Those utilizing poems not worked on in class will not have a grade advantage over those who do not.


Due Date for Draft 1: Friday, July 23rd at 5 PM PST, to be submitted by email to:


Due Date for Final Draft: Friday, July 30th at 5 PM PST, to be submitted in bCourses assignment portal.


*Quotations to generate preliminary writing are above the two prompts for each author. You may incorporate these quotes into your essay if you wish, however it is not necessary to do so. They are there to generate thoughts in the initial stages of your writing process.*


‘This is what makes “One Art” a poem worth returning to after a death, a breakup, or any one of the many losses that lack their own established art or ritual: losses of time, of opportunity, and countless others wrought by change and chance. The poem invites the question of how to respond to these events, to begin to understand them. Where, between a key and a continent, do we place a forgotten friendship? Or the loss of an imagined future, individual or national?’

–Joseph Frankel, ‘Coming to Terms with Loss in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’, The Atlantic online,



1) In Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’, the villanelle form seems to be interacting with the forms of loss which are being described throughout. Produce an argument which suggests how the villanelle form (and all the various repetitions of rhyme, meter and structure) play a role in understanding loss and grief.


















‘I think multilingual poetry (whether it’s a book of poetry in translation where you get to read the original and the translated text side-by-side) or poems that incorporate more than one language are crucial in challenging the hegemony of the English language, and to remind English speakers (myself included) that there are a myriad of ways to view and understand the world we live in.’

–Mary Jean Chan (from


‘My collection interweaves complex themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history. This is also a book full of women’s voices: the voice of the poet herself, the poet’s partner, the poet’s mother and the mother’s wet nurse. These themes naturally arise from my preoccupations as a queer, Hong Kongborn, British-Chinese poet who has lived in the UK since 2014, and who considers both Hong Kong and London home.’

–Mary Jean Chan (from


  • Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche is structured around the evolving central metaphor of competitive fencing. Produce an argument which relates the metaphor of/scenes of fencing in 2-3 poems to one of these categories Chan refers to: ‘women’s voices’, ‘multilingualism’, ‘queerness’, or ‘identity’ (in one of its many forms— national, ethnic, sexual, etc). Note: excelling at this prompt will require keen attention to the shifting manner in which the metaphor of fencing unfolds in this book. In other words, I don’t think it’s possible to say ‘Fencing is a metaphor for X (as a singular thing)’—it’s much more complex than that, as the relevance of fencing for writing about the above categories is something is quite different in different poems.


  • Chan refers to the importance of challenging the hegemony of the English language by producing books which incorporate multilingual strategies. With reference to 2-3 poems from Flèche, produce an argument which addresses how her poetry attempts to challenge the idea of the English language as the default language of poetry. Note: There will be a kind of built in advantage to being able to read Mandarin or Cantonese in this context. However, this is certainly not an impossible prompt to address without those skills, please consult with me if you have questions about this.


  • Produce an argument about the manner in which closure is achieved (or not achieved) in 2-3 of Chan’s poems in Flèche.

‘Don’t be bored, don’t be lazy, don’t be trivial, and don’t be proud. The slightest loss of attention leads to death.’

— Frank O’Hara—from David Smith: Sculpting Master of Bolton Landing (New York: WNDT-TV, 1964). Excerpt available at:

‘It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial.’

—Frank O’Hara (‘Statement for The New American Poetry (1960)’; reprinted in Collected Poems, p.500)


  • In Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, in the poem ‘Music’ for example, we are often left with the sense that the poem has no paraphrasable content or even identifiable theme. Rather than ‘meaning’ in a conventional sense, O’Hara’s poetry seems often to narrativize forms of attention, ideas about looking, and observation of urban detail, frequently gripped by various tones of what we’ve described as ‘excitement’. With reference to 2-3 poems, produce an argument which relates attention and excitement in O’Hara (as always, with attention to specific features of language). The essay by Wayne Koestenbaum in the Week 6 folder may be of some assistance in considering analytically breaking down ‘excitement’ as a category.


  • Punctuation in the work of O’Hara takes on a unique, crucial, and changeable dimension. It might seem that the entirety of Lunch Poems is unpunctuated— however this is not the case. The varying nature of the punctuation of these poems certainly changes the manner in which we might approach interpreting them. Produce an argument about the relationship between meaning and punctuation in 2-3 poems by O’Hara—keeping the above in mind. It may also be helpful to remember that punctuation does not exist in isolation, but rather interacts with other formal features of poetry (such as enjambment).