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Jul 15, 2014

Teaching poetry using Eagleton's How to Read a Poem (Chapter 2)

Some ideas for class activities if you are teaching Eagleton’s book How to Read a Poem, Chapter 2

Open with reading of the D.H. Lawrence poem "To Women, As Far As I’m Concerned" (discussed in Chapter 2) What makes this a poem?

Discuss Eagleton’s preliminary definition on page 25:

"A poem is a fictional, verbally inventive moral statement in which it is the author, rather than the printer or word processor, who decides where the lines should end."

Have groups discuss and explain the sections on

Poetry and Morality. How does he define morality? What does he mean by "moral purpose"? What is the difference between moral and empirical statements?

Poetry and Fiction. What is the distinction between fact and fiction? What does it mean to "fictionalise"? What is meant by "ambiguity"? How does he distinguish between imaginary and fictionalising? What is the danger in generalizing the meaning of a poem too much?

Poetry and Pragmatism. Are poems practical? Summarize the interpretations of "This is Just to Say". What is Marx’s distinction between use value and exchange value, and how is that relevant to this discussion? Do poems have a sort of pragmatic function after all?

Poetic Language. What is meant by "verbally inventive"? Explain what he means by the "material being" of a poem, and by the statement "poets are the materialists of language". Why is "verbally inventive" a better descriptor than "verbally self-conscious"?