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What makes a great poem? What makes a good poem? What makes a bad poem? For your final essay for the semester, you will evaluate poetry and discuss what a poem should do for us (its readers), and discuss how and why poems reach greatness or fall short.
These are questions which are important to think about when we consider poetry as a literary genre whose history spans across time. A side question might be, what makes a poem worth studying? When it comes to course curricula, anthologies, teaching, and learning, should we study only the best poems? All poems? Do our criteria change over time? With any form of expression, there are varying degrees of quality: good, bad, terrible, great, beautiful, ugly, worthless, worthwhile, life-changing. How do we judge? Who are we judging for? Where does personal taste come in?
For the analysis, you should establish your criteria and evaluate a group of poems, and then classify the poems. At minimum, analyze (at least) one poem that you consider great (superior, excellent), one poem that you consider good (decent, okay, engaging, but not superior), and one poem that you consider poor (low quality). You may also adjust the categories and the qualifying terms.
To establish criteria, consider poetic and literary elements and incorporate whatever personal tastes you use to judge quality, expressiveness, connectivity, or impact. What do you think makes a quality poem? What poems would you consider the most important? How do you judge ones that fall short?
We’ll talk in class about Evaluating Poetry (see PowerPoint on the Modules), and talk together about criteria for judging literature. You do not have to use poems from Vendler’s text, but you should start there. Presumably, the editor has not chosen any “bad” poems, of poems of low quality, but that is for you to decide. On the other side, Vendler would probably say most if not all of the poems in her anthology could be considered “great.” Why does she think so? You may consider other genres (like song lyrics or speeches or prose) but you would need to make the case that the genre could be considered “poetry” as we’ve defined it.
You can engage with outside sources (critics and scholars) to establish your criteria, and your poem choices (minimum 3) can come from outside sources. Honors students should incorporate at least one secondary source, and all students must document in MLA format (work cited and in-text formatting).
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