Study materials and links to resources about English-language poetry

Each of the poems posted on Camilla’s English Page features notes and questions designed to help students through the process of exploring and interpreting the poem. I occasionally put together small poetry packets based on subject, theme, or genre, including the ones below:

For students who don’t have a lot of experience with poetry, I usually start with my packet An Introduction to Poetry: Five Poems, with poems by Billy Collins, Alfred Tennyson, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, and good ol’ Bill Shakespeare.

Poems About Science features poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Robinson Jeffers, each with a very different approach to the “problem of science.”

Each image below is a link to the Amazon page for that book; click it if you’re interested in learning more about it or purchasing it.

Chaucer, Geoffrey

In The Canterbury Tales, a motley crew of pilgrims tell stories to entertain one another as they journey to Canterbury. Although Geoffrey Chaucer never finished writing it, his intention was that the teller of the best tale would be treated to a meal by the rest of the group; the telling of the tales was a kind of contest. In reading the poem, we can evaluate the tales he did write to decide for ourselves which one we think is best. I wrote these Thoughts on The Canterbury Tales to help my students explore the various criteria by which the tales might be evaluated and to measure the strengths and weaknesses of several of them.

Dickinson, Emily

Emily Dickinson‘s 185 is a pithy, incisive poem; it is also included in Poems About Science.

Frost, Robert

Robert Frost is universally considered one of the greatest American poets. The book on the left is a highly-rated collection of some of his most beloved and memorable poems. I like to discuss a number of his poems with my students: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Acquainted With the Night,” “Take Something Like a Star,” and “For Once, Then, Something.”

Jeffers, Robinson

Robinson Jeffers, a 20th-century American poet, was an insightful prophet of the consequences of civilization for humanity. Two of his poems (“The Purse-Seine” and “Hurt Hawks“) are featured in my handout Nature and Civilization. His poem “Science” is also included in my handout Poems About Science. The book on the left is a relatively inexpensive collection of many of his essential poems.

Mei, Yaochen (梅尧臣 or 梅堯臣)

Several years ago, through my interest in Mandarin and Chinese literature, I discovered a Song Dynasty poet featured in David Hinton’s Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology (highly recommended) whose poetry immediately captivated me. His poems are rich in meaning, sensitive, and surprisingly “modern” in that they flout many of the conventions of classical poetry in both style and content. I wrote a blog post about his poetry, and I’ve also put together a handout for several of the poems in Hinton’s book: Discussion and Writing Prompts for Poems by Mei Yaochen.

Meredith, William

I came across William Meredith‘s interesting poem “The Illiterate” when a student of mine had to analyze it for homework. Effort at Speech appears to be a good collection of his work.

Nims, John Frederick

John Frederick Nims’s “Love Poem” is a personal favorite of mine, as someone who finds most conventional love poems sappy and uninteresting. Here is a copy of the poem with my analysis and commentary. Western Wind is a highly regarded poetry textbook co-authored by Mr. Nims.

Plath, Sylvia

Although in theory I object to the idea of ranking art or artists, Sylvia Plath might be my favorite poet. Her poetic voice is uniquely imaginative, insightful, and haunting. Those who like her poetry might also be interested in her critically acclaimed autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, which is on my short list of books to read. Two of her poems that I have discussed with my students are “Two Campers in Cloud Country” and “Mirror.”

Poe, Edgar Allen

Nineteenth-century American weirdo Edgar Allen Poe, also a fun prose writer, wrote the unapologetically biased and romantic “Sonnet: To Science,” which is one of the poems in my Poems About Science handout.

Tennyson, Alfred

The popular Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a simple but memorable poem called “The Eagle” that I like to discuss with my less experienced students because it doesn’t present any particularly difficult interpretive puzzles, and it provides clear examples of a number of rhetorical and poetic devices.

Thoughts on a Poet: Mei Yaochen (梅堯臣)

LUNAR ECLIPSE A maid comes running into the house talking about things beyond belief, about the sky all turned to blue glass, the moon to a crystal of black quartz. It rose a full ten parts round tonight, but now it's just a bare sliver of light. My wife hurries off...