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English 270 A, Fall, 2014

Assignments and Updates

See also: Blackboard

(Back to Main 270 page)

This page has the most up-to-date information available on this website. Please check this page frequently throughout the quarter!!

(Information on this page will be listed in reverse chronological order--beware!)

For help with grammar and mechanics for ELL/ESL students, try:

or our own OWRC's page:

Thursday, October 30:

Reading: For Thursday, re-read Persimmons, and do some noticing. This time, since you have already written about persimmons, focus on other things to notice in the poem. On Tuesday we will have looked some at the opening lines and the closing lines; Thursday we'll work with the middle: lines 29-69. We will have talked a little about the themes of the poem, particularly that of losing or preserving cultural heritage, or the very different positions that father and son occupy with respect to American culture and to the family's earlier Asian culture. Those are not all that is going on here, but they are a major interest.

Writing: Working with lines 29-69, find three things to notice (one of which can be a sound effect of one kind or anothter!), and then describe each thing, explain why you think Lee chose to use it, and connect it to your sense of what the poem is about at the point your noticings come up.

Tuesday, October 28:

Reading: Li-Young Lee, "Persimmons" (PP2, pp. 118-121).

In this class we've been using the What, Why, So What method of reading poetry, and developing at the same times a number of different kinds of things to "notice" as we read. Accordingly we have looked for choices of words, of metaphors, of sounds, of rhythms.  We are going to add a new twist for "metaphor" with this poem: the poetic symbol.

Symbols are a special kind of metaphor, one where the vehicle is clear, but the tenor is only implied.  Blake's Tyger is one such poem.  When we talked about the tiger in Blake's poem, we knew he wasn't talking about a literal tiger—in part because we know that tigers are not made by a blacksmith, though in Blake's poem, the images used for describing the creation of the tiger are very much borrowed from the blacksmith's shop:

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

So knowing that the "Tyger" in the Blake's poem is meant to represent more than just a "tiger" you could see in the wild (if you were lucky and in a safe place!), what did we imagine it might be? Not a literal tiger, but instead something a tiger was like in that its features would include: fierce, beautiful, powerful, "deadly," and something to fear (so you would have to "dare" to make it!).  That led us in class to suggest that the tiger could represent things like the various forces in creation that can kill or destroy, but nevertheless have a beauty and symmetry about them, and thus the poem as a whole would be asking a question about who the creator of this terrible-beautiful creation could be, and what that creator could possibly have meant to do in making so paradoxical and frightful a thing.

But the general point is that a poem can use an image (as Blake uses a tiger) to suggest something else for which we may not actually be given a name, and for us as readers it is part of the game of reading poems for us to figure out what that thing might be.

That is also what is happening in Lee's "Persimmons." His poem basically captures moments of the speaker's life—when he is young and in Mrs. Walker's class, then again (after the few lines about himself and Donna) later when he finds two persimmons in the basement which he then gives to his father, and then later still when he "comes home" to visit, and finds the paintings, one of which is of two persimmons.

So, to use the language of Robert Francis' poems, Lee throws us a series of "pitches" to swing at—to try to figure out, to play with. And one of the difficult pitches he throws us is his use of the persimmons.

We'll see on Tuesday what you have made of the persimmons, and play "catch" (as in the Francis poem you wrote about a couple weeks ago) with our ideas.

One last note: Born in 1957, Li-Young Lee's parents were Chinese living in Indonesia, but forced to leave in 1959. After five years searching for a place to live they arrived in America in 1964, where Lee grew up. If we take the poem to be autobiographical, he would have been in America for about 4 years when he was in Mrs. Walker's class--and about 10 or 11 years old. Think about what you know about the sounds of precision and persimmon and imagine what difficulty they might offer a young boy who was still learning English. Using your knowledge of English phonetics, why do you think he might he have trouble "knowing the difference" between "precision" and "persimmon"?

Writing: So, find 5 things to Notice and Explore (Whats and Whys) in "Persimmons," and see if you can also figure out how Lee develops persimmons into a special symbolic metaphor. Persimmons are the vehicle of this metaphor, but what is their tenor? What do they represent?  Look for details about them that can help you imagine what they stand for.

This is basically a Notice and Explore exercise again, but focused over all on things that might help understand "persimmons."

Thursday, October 23:

Reading: No new Reading. Today is the Mini-midterm. Your job is to review all the poems we have read so far this quarter.

Writing: Be ready to write in class about passages from any of the poems we have read. To prepare: reread the poems, look at them for noticeable details and why those details might be interesting, and then think about how you would describe each poem's "Project." We will begin class with a short review session in which you can ask questions you have developed while you've been reviewing these poems.

Tuesday, October 21:

Reading: Two parts to this assignment. First read "Metaphor, Part 1" (it's on the Blackboard page here). Second, read Adrienne Rich, "Living in Sin" (PP1 p. 160), and then re-read "Kitchenette Building," and for each:

Writing: Go through the poem and identify as many metaphors as you can find. Then, for three or four metaphors in each poem (or as many as you have found!), list its tenor, its vehicle, and as many relevant features upon which the comparison is based as you can (that is all explained in Metaphor, Part 1). There are at least 10 metaphors in Rich's poem--some explicit, some implicit, some are submerged (like the comparison of the studio to a housekeeper in the first line--you only know she is comparing the studio to a housekeeper because of the way she says "the studio would keep itself." But she doesn't actually say: "The studio would be a housekeeper and take care of all the housework without our having to do anything...."). (Oops, I gave you one....)

Thursday, October 16:

Reading: Part 2 of How to Read a Poem (click here for Parts 1 and 2 of HTRAP), and Gwendolyn Brooks, "Kitchenette Building," and William Shakespeare, "When My Love Tells Me She is Made of Truth" (Brooks below, and Shakespeare, below, too!)

Kitchenette Building  (Gwendolen Brooks)

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man".

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

Shakespeare: Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
  Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
  And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

Writing: Begin with the same What and Why exercises we have already been doing, supplying at least three noticings for each poem. But after reading Part 2 of HTRAP, then go on to add to this a "Project Statement" for each poem.

Tuesday, October 14:

Reading: Robert Frost, "Design," page 70 of PP 2.

Writing: Two tasks: first, having read the poem, give me three What's and Why's, and take a guess at what you think it might be about. Then, write out as best you can a phonetic transcription of the poem using the International Phonetic Alphabet we have been practicing over the past week (I know you will not be perfect!).

Make sure at least one of your noticings has to do with how Frost uses the sounds of English.

NOTE: I know this will be hard to do--so get as far as you can, and we'll work on the transcriptions in class. We will also pay attention to the form of the poem--its rhyme scheme and its rhythm in each line. (This poem is among the best known poems in all of English literature.)

Thursday, October 9:

Reading: "Catch," by Robert Francis, and "Meeting at Night," by Robert Browning. Both are in Pocketful of Poems, Vol. Two)

Writing: Begin with the same What and Why exercises we have already been doing, but add to this noticings that include sound. The more complicated of the two (though neither is all THAT complicated!) is "Catch." It has lots of sound play. "Meeting at Night" uses sound, too, but more as part of the way he emphasizes and directs, in effect, readers of his poem. Be ready to point to at least three notice-worthy sound effects each poet uses.

Tuesday, October 7:

Reading: Robert Burns, "Oh, My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose," and Dorothy Parker, "One Perfect Rose." (Both are in Pocketful of Poems, Vol. 1)

Writing: Here we have another pair of poems that share much but are very different. So, the assignment is the same as for last week's Tiger poems, but also a little different:

For each poem, notice three choices (Whats) that you think might be worth attention. Then for each, write a short paragraph exploring Why you think the poet may have made that choice. What work does that choice do to make the poem more interesting?

Then for each of the poems, Think about roses. We have talked in class about "semantic features" of words--tigers have a number of features: ferocious, carnivorous, scary, but also beautiful, svelt, even symmetrical (because of the stripes). They are also four-legged, have tails, have retractile claws, sleep 20 hours a day.

Some of those are "relevant" to the uses Blake makes of the word, and some are relevant to what Rich does. But some are NOT relevant to either one or the other or both (like "have tails").

So, what features of roses are NOT relevant to Burns? What features of roses are NOT relevant to Parker? Give me three irrelevant features of each.

Thursday, October 2:

Reading: A RE-reading of both the poems you wrote about yesterday.

Writing: For the two Tiger poems: you'll now write your second "response paper." Here I want you first to reread the two poems, and to focus on the tigers. Blake's Tyger and Rich's tigers are obviously similar, but they are also different. Use this as a way to NOTICE what each poet is doing. List as many similarities and differences between their "tigers" as you can.

Example: Blake's Tyger is represented as powerful and dangerous, created by a divine blacksmith. Rich's tigers are not as frightsome. Indeed, they are "topaz denizens." Look up topaz to be sure you know what it means. Which of Rich's words for her tigers might Blake use? Which would he NOT use? Which of Blake's words for his tiger would Rich use? or NOT use?

Again, this is an ECI assignment--do what you can, and we'll talk more in class.

Tuesday, September 30:

Reading: First, the syllabus (see the English 270 page). Quiz on the syllabus for Tuesday.

Second, the two Tiger/Tyger poems I assigned on Thursday.

Writing: For the syllabus, no writing, but be prepared for a quiz!

For the two Tiger poems, you'll write your first "response paper." This is step one towards becoming a better reader and writer—every one of you here will benefit from this in several different ways, and some of you will benefit more than others. You will do these very frequently—and doing so will build your reading and writing skills better and faster than any other single thing we do.

Because this is your first response paper, some of you will be a little cautious or even resistant. You may even think it risky.

But it is not.

The criterion for response papers is "ECI"—Engaged Critical Intelligence. Pay attention and do your best, and you've done everything I want! (How hard is that?!)

So, what do you write about these poems? What's and Why's. For each poem, notice three choices that you think might be worth attention. Then for each, write a short paragraph exploring Why you think the poet may have made that choice. What work does that choice do to make the poem more interesting?

(For those of you new to reading poetry, this will seem hard. But don't worry—do the best you can and we'll talk about it on Tuesday.)