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Elements of Poetry: Poetry Research Project - PRINT AND DIGITAL

Elements of Poetry: Poetry Research Project - PRINT AND DIGITAL

EB Academics by Caitlin and Jessica

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BUNDLE 20 Famous Poets WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

BUNDLE 20 Famous Poets WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes


The Poet Research Poetry/Literary Analysis Research Writing Project Unit

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EDGAR ALLAN POE BUNDLE Poet Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

EDGAR ALLAN POE Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

EDGAR ALLAN POE Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

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LANGSTON HUGHES Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

LANGSTON HUGHES Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

MAYA ANGELOU Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

MAYA ANGELOU Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

Poetry Research Project

Poetry Research Project


PABLO NERUDA Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

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ELA Makerspace:  Northern Lights, Poetry, and Argumentative Research Project

ELA Makerspace: Northern Lights, Poetry, and Argumentative Research Project

Mud and Ink Teaching

WALT WHITMAN Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

Also included in:  WALT WHITMAN BUNDLE Research Project Biography Graphic Organizers

SHEL SILVERSTEIN BUNDLE Poetry Poet Research Project Biography Biographical

SHEL SILVERSTEIN BUNDLE Poetry Poet Research Project Biography Biographical

Poetry in Music- Guided Research Project for Google Slides

Poetry in Music- Guided Research Project for Google Slides

Music Is Life

Also included in:  30 Fun and Easy Middle School General Music Projects - For Google Slides

EMILY DICKINSON Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

EMILY DICKINSON Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

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Scientist Research Projects, Writing Poetry Appreciation Projects

Scientist Research Projects, Writing Poetry Appreciation Projects

Gina Kennedy

Poetry Research Project

Flight Classroom Theme Pack - Research Projects - Creative Writing - Poetry.

Flight Classroom Theme Pack - Research Projects - Creative Writing - Poetry.

Marilyn of all grades

Poetry Research Project Contemporary Poet Study

ELA Lifesaver

SHEL SILVERSTEIN Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

Also included in:  SHEL SILVERSTEIN BUNDLE Poetry Poet Research Project Biography Biographical

Poetry Analysis Research Paper Unit (AP Lit.)

Poetry Analysis Research Paper Unit (AP Lit.)

The HS ELA Everything Shop

ROBERT FROST Poet WebQuest Research Project Poetry Biography Notes

Also included in:  ROBERT FROST BUNDLE Biographical Biography Research Activities

Poetry Research Group Project and Presentation

Poetry Research Group Project and Presentation

Jessica C

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A Full Guide to Writing a Perfect Poem Analysis Essay

01 October, 2020

14 minutes read

Author:  Elizabeth Brown

Poem analysis is one of the most complicated essay types. It requires the utmost creativity and dedication. Even those who regularly attend a literary class and have enough experience in poem analysis essay elaboration may face considerable difficulties while dealing with the particular poem. The given article aims to provide the detailed guidelines on how to write a poem analysis, elucidate the main principles of writing the essay of the given type, and share with you the handy tips that will help you get the highest score for your poetry analysis. In addition to developing analysis skills, you would be able to take advantage of the poetry analysis essay example to base your poetry analysis essay on, as well as learn how to find a way out in case you have no motivation and your creative assignment must be presented on time.

poem analysis

What Is a Poetry Analysis Essay?

A poetry analysis essay is a type of creative write-up that implies reviewing a poem from different perspectives by dealing with its structural, artistic, and functional pieces. Since the poetry expresses very complicated feelings that may have different meanings depending on the backgrounds of both author and reader, it would not be enough just to focus on the text of the poem you are going to analyze. Poetry has a lot more complex structure and cannot be considered without its special rhythm, images, as well as implied and obvious sense.

poetry analysis essay

While analyzing the poem, the students need to do in-depth research as to its content, taking into account the effect the poetry has or may have on the readers.

Preparing for the Poetry Analysis Writing

The process of preparation for the poem analysis essay writing is almost as important as writing itself. Without completing these stages, you may be at risk of failing your creative assignment. Learn them carefully to remember once and for good.

Thoroughly read the poem several times

The rereading of the poem assigned for analysis will help to catch its concepts and ideas. You will have a possibility to define the rhythm of the poem, its type, and list the techniques applied by the author.

While identifying the type of the poem, you need to define whether you are dealing with:

The type of the poem usually affects its structure and content, so it is important to be aware of all the recognized kinds to set a proper beginning to your poetry analysis.

Find out more about the poem background

Find as much information as possible about the author of the poem, the cultural background of the period it was written in, preludes to its creation, etc. All these data will help you get a better understanding of the poem’s sense and explain much to you in terms of the concepts the poem contains.

Define a subject matter of the poem

This is one of the most challenging tasks since as a rule, the subject matter of the poem isn’t clearly stated by the poets. They don’t want the readers to know immediately what their piece of writing is about and suggest everyone find something different between the lines.

What is the subject matter? In a nutshell, it is the main idea of the poem. Usually, a poem may have a couple of subjects, that is why it is important to list each of them.

In order to correctly identify the goals of a definite poem, you would need to dive into the in-depth research.

Check the historical background of the poetry. The author might have been inspired to write a poem based on some events that occurred in those times or people he met. The lines you analyze may be generated by his reaction to some epoch events. All this information can be easily found online.

Choose poem theories you will support

In the variety of ideas the poem may convey, it is important to stick to only several most important messages you think the author wanted to share with the readers. Each of the listed ideas must be supported by the corresponding evidence as proof of your opinion.

The poetry analysis essay format allows elaborating on several theses that have the most value and weight. Try to build your writing not only on the pure facts that are obvious from the context but also your emotions and feelings the analyzed lines provoke in you.

How to Choose a Poem to Analyze?

If you are free to choose the piece of writing you will base your poem analysis essay on, it is better to select the one you are already familiar with. This may be your favorite poem or one that you have read and analyzed before. In case you face difficulties choosing the subject area of a particular poem, then the best way will be to focus on the idea you feel most confident about. In such a way, you would be able to elaborate on the topic and describe it more precisely.

Now, when you are familiar with the notion of the poetry analysis essay, it’s high time to proceed to poem analysis essay outline. Follow the steps mentioned below to ensure a brilliant structure to your creative assignment.

Best Poem Analysis Essay Topics

Poem Analysis Essay Outline

As has already been stated, a poetry analysis essay is considered one of the most challenging tasks for the students. Despite the difficulties you may face while dealing with it, the structure of the given type of essay is quite simple. It consists of the introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion. In order to get a better understanding of the poem analysis essay structure, check the brief guidelines below.


This will be the first section of your essay. The main purpose of the introductory paragraph is to give a reader an idea of what the essay is about and what theses it conveys. The introduction should start with the title of the essay and end with the thesis statement.

The main goal of the introduction is to make readers feel intrigued about the whole concept of the essay and serve as a hook to grab their attention. Include some interesting information about the author, the historical background of the poem, some poem trivia, etc. There is no need to make the introduction too extensive. On the contrary, it should be brief and logical.

Body Paragraphs

The body section should form the main part of poetry analysis. Make sure you have determined a clear focus for your analysis and are ready to elaborate on the main message and meaning of the poem. Mention the tone of the poetry, its speaker, try to describe the recipient of the poem’s idea. Don’t forget to identify the poetic devices and language the author uses to reach the main goals. Describe the imagery and symbolism of the poem, its sound and rhythm.

Try not to stick to too many ideas in your body section, since it may make your essay difficult to understand and too chaotic to perceive. Generalization, however, is also not welcomed. Try to be specific in the description of your perspective.

Make sure the transitions between your paragraphs are smooth and logical to make your essay flow coherent and easy to catch.

In a nutshell, the essay conclusion is a paraphrased thesis statement. Mention it again but in different words to remind the readers of the main purpose of your essay. Sum up the key claims and stress the most important information. The conclusion cannot contain any new ideas and should be used to create a strong impact on the reader. This is your last chance to share your opinion with the audience and convince them your essay is worth readers’ attention.

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Poem Analysis Essay Examples 

A good poem analysis essay example may serve as a real magic wand to your creative assignment. You may take a look at the structure the other essay authors have used, follow their tone, and get a great share of inspiration and motivation.

Check several poetry analysis essay examples that may be of great assistance:

Writing Tips for a Poetry Analysis Essay

If you read carefully all the instructions on how to write a poetry analysis essay provided above, you have probably realized that this is not the easiest assignment on Earth. However, you cannot fail and should try your best to present a brilliant essay to get the highest score. To make your life even easier, check these handy tips on how to analysis poetry with a few little steps.

poetry analysis essay

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A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

Due to human nature, we draw conclusions only when life gives us a lesson since the experience of others is not so effective and powerful. Therefore, when analyzing and sorting out common problems we face, we may trace a parallel with well-known book characters or real historical figures. Moreover, we often compare our situations with […]

Nursing Research Paper Topics

Nursing Research Paper Topics

Selecting an academic paper topic is a crucial step in the writing process. The variety of nursing research topics makes it challenging to find the appropriate paper theme. But if you choose a sound nursing research paper subject, it will contribute to a flawless thesis statement, using relevant resources, a smooth writing process, and impressive […]

Updated 13 June 2016.

Every Student Can Be a Poet

Five easy-to-implement strategies to make poetry writing accessible and fun for all students.

Magnetic poetry tiles placed on a refrigerator door, including word tiles such as :"felt," "language," "time," and "music"

Each year, when I tell my students that we are going to write poetry, a few are excited, but the majority let out an audible sigh. They often have the misconception that poetry is about following a lot of rules and using words that they don’t understand. They’re more open and excited when the focus shifts toward sharing their ideas and feelings with others in a creative format.

With each new type of poetry I teach, I work through writing a poem with them and talk through my thinking. Showing students that their teacher’s writing is far from perfect and sometimes comes out a lot different than envisioned empowers them to create their own work. I also model the risk-taking of starting a poem and the beauty of improvement through revision.

The poetry-writing process can become more inclusive and engaging when you offer a variety of poetry-writing exercises.

Blackout Poetry

Start with a page from any text and ask students to choose words from that text to create a poem. They black out any words they don’t want in their poem with a marker. They then rewrite all the remaining words into a poem.

Ask students to plan what they want to black out by lightly underlining in pencil before they begin marking through words. The only rule is that they must use these words in the order that they appear.

Students enjoy using texts that seem uninteresting at first glance, such as pages out of discarded grammar books. They love turning something boring into a fun poem.

Blackout poetry is a good starting point for new poets because the words are already on the page and students only need to determine which words to use. This strategy can also be used as an interdisciplinary assignment in which students use text from specific content to create a poem about that content, such as using the Bill of Rights to create a poem about the Revolutionary War.

Word-Scramble Poetry

This strategy begins with a pile of words cut out on individual pieces of paper. They can be specific words chosen by the teacher or words collected from students. Students organize the words to create any poem they would like without adding new words. This strategy allows students to see that there is not a right way to write a poem, and everyone leaves class with a completed poem. When I model this for students, they love to see me moving words around, changing my mind and wishing so much for words that I don’t have.

There are several variations of the word-scamble poetry method. One involves giving all students the same group of words and discovering how many different ideas are formulated using those same words. Another involves giving students different groups of words and allowing them to trade words. A last variation involves a bit of stealing by the teacher: Periodically walk around the classroom and distribute new words or take some words away.

My Life in ___ Words

Students are given the task of writing the story of their life using only the same number of words as their age. This helps students practice word choice and takes a little of the pressure off because it is, by default, a short piece.

A variation of this method is to use a different cap on the number of words that students may use. I’ve asked students to write about a specific topic using fewer than five or 10 words.

Prose to Poetry

Students write out their ideas for a poem without worrying about format. They are encouraged to write freely about whatever emotion or topic they would like to convey in their poem. Then students follow four steps to turn the prose into poetry:

My Worst Poem

Ask students to write the worst poem ever about something they feel strongly about. Then have them go through a few revisions, making edits to turn it into something they are proud to share. This takes the pressure off of getting something on paper. Once they get over the stress of what to write and just start writing, they almost always realize that their “worst poem” isn’t that bad at all.

Celebrating Successes

After working through a few of these activities, students often comment on how surprised they are about how many poems they wrote and how much fun they had. I end the unit celebrating their writing with a poetry café, where students share their poems with their classmates and enjoy a few snacks. Creating easy and accessible exercises for poetry writing can turn skeptical students into poets.

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20 Poetry Research Paper Topics and Ideas

It may seem that poetry is difficult to study, research, and even read sometimes due to its numerous genres, writers, and forms. Poetic styles are indeed innumerable, and artistic movements that existed throughout history were represented by many talented and poets, yet poetry as a discipline is still a fascinating subject to study. Therefore, by researching poetry, one can get acquainted with its multiple subgenres, techniques, forms, themes, and those people who create those pieces. Moreover, studying poetry boosts one’s creativity, broadens the worldview, develops writing, reading, and speaking skills, as well as helps to learn to look at things from a different perspective. Finally, reading poetry is an aesthetically pleasing experience. Thus, writing essays is one of the parts of studying poetry, and this subject can be researched in numerous ways.

When a professor asks you to write an essay on poetry, it is essential first to decide on a topic. Taking into account that this discipline is a rather extensive one, it may be puzzling for a student to choose what to write about. You can either dwell on a specific period of time, and all the works and poets connected with it or select a particular figure or verse to analyze. Besides, an essay can focus on a comparison of two poets or artistic movements, examine the thematic context of the work or dwell on someone’s biography. Consequently, you have numerous possibilities when deciding on a topic of a poetry research paper, and if you have difficulties with choosing a definite one, this list of topics may be helpful.

Topics and Ideas for Poetry Research Paper

Below you can find the topics for the poetry research paper:

1. Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

This essay should focus on both the life of Sylvia Plath and her writing. Thus, you can mention some key facts from her biography, the literary movement she belonged to, and the most notable works. Next, it would be great to analyze her writing techniques based on some of her poems.

2. The Poetry of the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg’s Impact

Dwell on the history of the appearance of the Beat movement, its most celebrated representatives, and the key ideas and positions of the Beat Generation. Then, connect this data to the life and activity of Allen Ginsberg who was one of the leading figures of the movement. Mention his social and political activism and influence on the overall activity of the Beat poets.

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3. Peculiarities of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Shakespeare’s sonnets remain the most significant examples of poetry, which does not lose relevance and value. Therefore, enumerate the central characteristics of the sonnets, such as rhyme scheme, structure, meter, as well as main characters and themes. Provide some specific examples for each peculiarity and then compare how those sonnets differ from contemporary poetry.

4. The Use of Allusions in Poetry

First, you can provide a definition of an allusion and mention some examples of it. Then, you also can analyze specific poems that contain allusions or write about the poets that preferred to include those devices in their works. Finally, write about the role of allusions and the effects that they create when used in specific contexts.

5. The Analysis of Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil

Dwell on Baudelaire’s life and work; mention his other works and the literary movement he belonged to. Next, briefly describe the history of the collection’s creation, and then talk about its peculiarities, the number of poems, the theme, and mention the sections it is broken up into. You can also focus on each part separately and write about the messages they carry.

6. Prose Poetry and Its Main Features

Since poetry is not solely about rhyme, and it can have a form of prose, dwell on the main differences between the former and the latter and mention those poets that preferred to write in prose. You can also state the difference between prose and prose poetry, as those are also two different notions. Finally, describe the essential characteristics of prose poetry, paying attention to details.

7. Poetry and Feminism

Focus on the history of the appearance of feminist poetry, factors that influenced its creation, central figures, and most celebrated pieces. Furthermore, the ideas and positions of the poets are also worth mentioning. Discuss both feminist poetry of the past and the present and decide upon the central features of both.

8. Jazz Poetry: From Past to Present

Jazz can be discussed not only in the context of music but also as a separate genre of poetry. Thus, provide a detailed definition of the notion, talk about its creation, and include the data about its fundamental features. Dwell on its development during the Harlem Renaissance and the Beat Generation as well as modern times.

9. French Poetry of the 19th Century

While writing an essay on this topic, make sure you provide information about Romanticism and those poets that influenced the movement. You could research those ideas and visions that had the most significant impact on the creation of the poems. Moreover, it is necessary to discuss the most outstanding writers of the period, their collections of works, and the most remarkable events that had some impact on the movement.

10. Nature and History of Japanese Haiku

In this essay, define haiku and talk about its origin and development. Then, enumerate the key figures connected with this type of poetry, such as Buson, Issa, Shiki, and Basho. Finally, this essay can also include data about the form of haiku, its meter, and the number of lines.

11. Poets of Symbolism

Numerous poets represent Symbolism, and your task is to discuss their work. Yet, the initial step is to mention what Symbolism is, its history of appearance, and the essential characteristics. After that, you can proceed to analyze the works of such poets as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, or Arthur Rimbaud. You are free to choose any other poets if you want, yet those three are considered to be the most outstanding figures of the movement.

12. Who Needs Poetry?

Discuss your personal understanding of the question while relying on the statements made by acclaimed scholars or poets. You can talk about the practical applications of poetry or focus solely on its aesthetic side. All in all, the person reading your essay should understand the role of poetry in the life of humanity.

13. Emily Dickinson and Gospel Poems

Before writing about Dickinson’s work, dwell on her life path by mentioning the most important details from her life, such as her origin, movements she was involved in, and her most notable works. Even though Dickinson wrote numerous poems, your task is to research the Gospel poems. Thus, define the notion, give examples of those poems, and write about the reception of them in society.

14. The Poetry of the Romantic Period

In this essay, include the definition of Romanticism, its origin, and a brief outline of its development. Enumerating the poets that were involved in the movement is vital, yet choose two or three of them for your thorough analysis. After selecting the poets, focus on the techniques they used, ideas and themes of their poems, as well as how their works represent the overall character of the period.

15. Edgar Allan Poe and His Philosophy of Poetry

Even though Edgar Allan Poe is a widely known figure, there still is a lot to discover about him. Therefore, try to find the information that may be unknown for an ordinary person; discuss his vision of poetry in details. You may include some citations from his works to illustrate your arguments, as well as dwell on his writing techniques and style.

16. Main Themes of Walt Whitman’s Poetry

Before writing about the themes, write about Whitman’s life, legacy, and style. Then, enumerate the themes and try to find those poems that can be applied to illustrate them. For instance, mention that the poem “Ashes of Soldiers” dwells on the theme of war. Finally, you can also cite some of his poems that most apparently illustrate particular themes.

17. Spoken Word Poetry in the 21st Century

Before writing the essay, you can search for the performances of the contemporary poets on YouTube to get inspired. It can help you chose those artists that you will mention in your essay and analyze. For instance, you can write about Sarah and Paul Kay, Neil Hilborn, and others. Finally, write about modern contests of spoken word poetry and its perception in society.

18. The Impact of John Keats on Poetry

This essay can include the data about Keats’ biography, most outstanding works, and his writing techniques. Furthermore, dwell on his impact on the world of poetry in the past and on his perception in the 21st century. You can also write about the letters he wrote, as those influenced a number of other poets of that time.

19. Is Rhyme an Essential Element of Any Poem?

Enumerate the critical elements of poetry. Since rhyme is not among them, explain why it is not as important as other elements. In your work, you can mention free verse, prose poetry, and those poets that did not use rhyme in their works. Discuss the structure of free verses and provide examples of the most notable pieces.

20. Blank vs. Free Verse

These types of verse are frequently being confused, and your task is to help ordinary people understand the difference between the two. Thus, enumerate the key elements and characteristics of each of them, do not forget to dwell on their differences and similarities, and find examples to support your statements.

Hence, writing a poetry research paper is not as complicated as it may seem. The key to writing a proper essay is choosing a topic that fascinates you and that you personally want to research. After doing it, make sure that you focus on all the fundamental details, such as historical events, dates, as well as notable poets and their works. When analyzing poems, pay attention to their rhyme, rhythm, meter, form, and the techniques applied by the authors. Besides, you can always refer to various books and scholarly articles related to your topic and cite them to support your arguments. Therefore, after reading the list of topics and ideas, you may choose the one suitable for you and either leave as it is and research it or alter it according to your preference or the task.

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A Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis

Use the guidelines below to learn about the practice of close reading.

When your teachers or professors ask you to analyze a literary text, they often look for something frequently called close reading. Close reading is deep analysis of how a literary text works; it is both a reading process and something you include in a literary analysis paper, though in a refined form.

Fiction writers and poets build texts out of many central components, including subject, form, and specific word choices. Literary analysis involves examining these components, which allows us to find in small parts of the text clues to help us understand the whole. For example, if an author writes a novel in the form of a personal journal about a character’s daily life, but that journal reads like a series of lab reports, what do we learn about that character? What is the effect of picking a word like “tome” instead of “book”? In effect, you are putting the author’s choices under a microscope.

The process of close reading should produce a lot of questions. It is when you begin to answer these questions that you are ready to participate thoughtfully in class discussion or write a literary analysis paper that makes the most of your close reading work.

Close reading sometimes feels like over-analyzing, but don’t worry. Close reading is a process of finding as much information as you can in order to form as many questions as you can. When it is time to write your paper and formalize your close reading, you will sort through your work to figure out what is most convincing and helpful to the argument you hope to make and, conversely, what seems like a stretch. This guide imagines you are sitting down to read a text for the first time on your way to developing an argument about a text and writing a paper. To give one example of how to do this, we will read the poem “Design” by famous American poet Robert Frost and attend to four major components of literary texts: subject, form, word choice (diction), and theme.

If you want even more information about approaching poems specifically, take a look at our guide: How to Read a Poem .

As our guide to reading poetry suggests, have a pencil out when you read a text. Make notes in the margins, underline important words, place question marks where you are confused by something. Of course, if you are reading in a library book, you should keep all your notes on a separate piece of paper. If you are not making marks directly on, in, and beside the text, be sure to note line numbers or even quote portions of the text so you have enough context to remember what you found interesting.

poem research assignment

Design I found a dimpled spider, fat and white, On a white heal-all, holding up a moth Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth— Assorted characters of death and blight Mixed ready to begin the morning right, Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth— A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth, And dead wings carried like a paper kite. What had that flower to do with being white, The wayside blue and innocent heal-all? What brought the kindred spider to that height, Then steered the white moth thither in the night? What but design of darkness to appall?— If design govern in a thing so small.

The subject of a literary text is simply what the text is about. What is its plot? What is its most important topic? What image does it describe? It’s easy to think of novels and stories as having plots, but sometimes it helps to think of poetry as having a kind of plot as well. When you examine the subject of a text, you want to develop some preliminary ideas about the text and make sure you understand its major concerns before you dig deeper.


In “Design,” the speaker describes a scene: a white spider holding a moth on a white flower. The flower is a heal-all, the blooms of which are usually violet-blue. This heal-all is unusual. The speaker then poses a series of questions, asking why this heal-all is white instead of blue and how the spider and moth found this particular flower. How did this situation arise?

The speaker’s questions seem simple, but they are actually fairly nuanced. We can use them as a guide for our own as we go forward with our close reading.

After thinking about local questions, we have to zoom out. Ultimately, what is this text about?

Form is how a text is put together. When you look at a text, observe how the author has arranged it. If it is a novel, is it written in the first person? How is the novel divided? If it is a short story, why did the author choose to write short-form fiction instead of a novel or novella? Examining the form of a text can help you develop a starting set of questions in your reading, which then may guide further questions stemming from even closer attention to the specific words the author chooses. A little background research on form and what different forms can mean makes it easier to figure out why and how the author’s choices are important.

Most poems follow rules or principles of form; even free verse poems are marked by the author’s choices in line breaks, rhythm, and rhyme—even if none of these exists, which is a notable choice in itself. Here’s an example of thinking through these elements in “Design.”

In “Design,” Frost chooses an Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet form: fourteen lines in iambic pentameter consisting of an octave (a stanza of eight lines) and a sestet (a stanza of six lines). We will focus on rhyme scheme and stanza structure rather than meter for the purposes of this guide. A typical Italian sonnet has a specific rhyme scheme for the octave:

a b b a a b b a

There’s more variation in the sestet rhymes, but one of the more common schemes is

c d e c d e

Conventionally, the octave introduces a problem or question which the sestet then resolves. The point at which the sonnet goes from the problem/question to the resolution is called the volta, or turn. (Note that we are speaking only in generalities here; there is a great deal of variation.)

Frost uses the usual octave scheme with “-ite”/”-ight” (a) and “oth” (b) sounds: “white,” “moth,” “cloth,” “blight,” “right,” “broth,” “froth,” “kite.” However, his sestet follows an unusual scheme with “-ite”/”-ight” and “all” sounds:

a c a a c c

Now, we have a few questions with which we can start:

Italian sonnets have a long tradition; many careful readers recognize the form and know what to expect from his octave, volta, and sestet. Frost seems to do something fairly standard in the octave in presenting a situation; however, the turn Frost makes is not to resolution, but to questions and uncertainty. A white spider sitting on a white flower has killed a white moth.

We can guess right away that Frost’s disruption of the usual purpose of the sestet has something to do with his disruption of its rhyme scheme. Looking even more closely at the text will help us refine our observations and guesses.

Word Choice, or Diction

Looking at the word choice of a text helps us “dig in” ever more deeply. If you are reading something longer, are there certain words that come up again and again? Are there words that stand out? While you are going through this process, it is best for you to assume that every word is important—again, you can decide whether something is really important later.

Even when you read prose, our guide for reading poetry offers good advice: read with a pencil and make notes. Mark the words that stand out, and perhaps write the questions you have in the margins or on a separate piece of paper. If you have ideas that may possibly answer your questions, write those down, too.

Let’s take a look at the first line of “Design”:

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white

The poem starts with something unpleasant: a spider. Then, as we look more closely at the adjectives describing the spider, we may see connotations of something that sounds unhealthy or unnatural. When we imagine spiders, we do not generally picture them dimpled and white; it is an uncommon and decidedly creepy image. There is dissonance between the spider and its descriptors, i.e., what is wrong with this picture? Already we have a question: what is going on with this spider?

We should look for additional clues further on in the text. The next two lines develop the image of the unusual, unpleasant-sounding spider:

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—

Now we have a white flower (a heal-all, which usually has a violet-blue flower) and a white moth in addition to our white spider. Heal-alls have medicinal properties, as their name suggests, but this one seems to have a genetic mutation—perhaps like the spider? Does the mutation that changes the heal-all’s color also change its beneficial properties—could it be poisonous rather than curative? A white moth doesn’t seem remarkable, but it is “Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth,” or like manmade fabric that is artificially “rigid” rather than smooth and flowing like we imagine satin to be. We might think for a moment of a shroud or the lining of a coffin, but even that is awry, for neither should be stiff with death.

The first three lines of the poem’s octave introduce unpleasant natural images “of death and blight” (as the speaker puts it in line four). The flower and moth disrupt expectations: the heal-all is white instead of “blue and innocent,” and the moth is reduced to “rigid satin cloth” or “dead wings carried like a paper kite.” We might expect a spider to be unpleasant and deadly; the poem’s spider also has an unusual and unhealthy appearance.

Well before the volta, Frost makes a “turn” away from nature as a retreat and haven; instead, he unearths its inherent dangers, making nature menacing. From three lines alone, we have a number of questions:

These disruptions and dissonances recollect Frost’s alteration to the standard Italian sonnet form: finding the ways and places in which form and word choice go together will help us begin to unravel some larger concepts the poem itself addresses.

Put simply, themes are major ideas in a text. Many texts, especially longer forms like novels and plays, have multiple themes. That’s good news when you are close reading because it means there are many different ways you can think through the questions you develop.

So far in our reading of “Design,” our questions revolve around disruption: disruption of form, disruption of expectations in the description of certain images. Discovering a concept or idea that links multiple questions or observations you have made is the beginning of a discovery of theme.

What is happening with disruption in “Design”? What point is Frost making? Observations about other elements in the text help you address the idea of disruption in more depth. Here is where we look back at the work we have already done: What is the text about? What is notable about the form, and how does it support or undermine what the words say? Does the specific language of the text highlight, or redirect, certain ideas?

In this example, we are looking to determine what kind(s) of disruption the poem contains or describes. Rather than “disruption,” we want to see what kind of disruption, or whether indeed Frost uses disruptions in form and language to communicate something opposite: design.

Sample Analysis

After you make notes, formulate questions, and set tentative hypotheses, you must analyze the subject of your close reading. Literary analysis is another process of reading (and writing!) that allows you to make a claim about the text. It is also the point at which you turn a critical eye to your earlier questions and observations to find the most compelling points, discarding the ones that are a “stretch.” By “stretch,” we mean that we must discard points that are fascinating but have no clear connection to the text as a whole. (We recommend a separate document for recording the brilliant ideas that don’t quite fit this time around.)

Here follows an excerpt from a brief analysis of “Design” based on the close reading above. This example focuses on some lines in great detail in order to unpack the meaning and significance of the poem’s language. By commenting on the different elements of close reading we have discussed, it takes the results of our close reading to offer one particular way into the text. (In case you were thinking about using this sample as your own, be warned: it has no thesis and it is easily discoverable on the web. Plus it doesn’t have a title.)

Frost’s speaker brews unlikely associations in the first stanza of the poem. The “Assorted characters of death and blight / Mixed ready to begin the morning right” make of the grotesque scene an equally grotesque mockery of a breakfast cereal (4–5). These lines are almost singsong in meter and it is easy to imagine them set to a radio jingle. A pun on “right”/”rite” slides the “characters of death and blight” into their expected concoction: a “witches’ broth” (6). These juxtapositions—a healthy breakfast that is also a potion for dark magic—are borne out when our “fat and white” spider becomes “a snow-drop”—an early spring flower associated with renewal—and the moth as “dead wings carried like a paper kite” (1, 7, 8). Like the mutant heal-all that hosts the moth’s death, the spider becomes a deadly flower; the harmless moth becomes a child’s toy, but as “dead wings,” more like a puppet made of a skull. The volta offers no resolution for our unsettled expectations. Having observed the scene and detailed its elements in all their unpleasantness, the speaker turns to questions rather than answers. How did “The wayside blue and innocent heal-all” end up white and bleached like a bone (10)? How did its “kindred spider” find the white flower, which was its perfect hiding place (11)? Was the moth, then, also searching for camouflage, only to meet its end? Using another question as a disguise, the speaker offers a hypothesis: “What but design of darkness to appall?” (13). This question sounds rhetorical, as though the only reason for such an unlikely combination of flora and fauna is some “design of darkness.” Some force, the speaker suggests, assembled the white spider, flower, and moth to snuff out the moth’s life. Such a design appalls, or horrifies. We might also consider the speaker asking what other force but dark design could use something as simple as appalling in its other sense (making pale or white) to effect death. However, the poem does not close with a question, but with a statement. The speaker’s “If design govern in a thing so small” establishes a condition for the octave’s questions after the fact (14). There is no point in considering the dark design that brought together “assorted characters of death and blight” if such an event is too minor, too physically small to be the work of some force unknown. Ending on an “if” clause has the effect of rendering the poem still more uncertain in its conclusions: not only are we faced with unanswered questions, we are now not even sure those questions are valid in the first place. Behind the speaker and the disturbing scene, we have Frost and his defiance of our expectations for a Petrarchan sonnet. Like whatever designer may have altered the flower and attracted the spider to kill the moth, the poet built his poem “wrong” with a purpose in mind. Design surely governs in a poem, however small; does Frost also have a dark design? Can we compare a scene in nature to a carefully constructed sonnet?

A Note on Organization

Your goal in a paper about literature is to communicate your best and most interesting ideas to your reader. Depending on the type of paper you have been assigned, your ideas may need to be organized in service of a thesis to which everything should link back. It is best to ask your instructor about the expectations for your paper.

Knowing how to organize these papers can be tricky, in part because there is no single right answer—only more and less effective answers. You may decide to organize your paper thematically, or by tackling each idea sequentially; you may choose to order your ideas by their importance to your argument or to the poem. If you are comparing and contrasting two texts, you might work thematically or by addressing first one text and then the other. One way to approach a text may be to start with the beginning of the novel, story, play, or poem, and work your way toward its end. For example, here is the rough structure of the example above: The author of the sample decided to use the poem itself as an organizational guide, at least for this part of the analysis.

You will have to decide for yourself the best way to communicate your ideas to your reader. Is it easier to follow your points when you write about each part of the text in detail before moving on? Or is your work clearer when you work through each big idea—the significance of whiteness, the effect of an altered sonnet form, and so on—sequentially?

We suggest you write your paper however is easiest for you then move things around during revision if you need to.

Further Reading

If you really want to master the practice of reading and writing about literature, we recommend Sylvan Barnet and William E. Cain’s wonderful book, A Short Guide to Writing about Literature . Barnet and Cain offer not only definitions and descriptions of processes, but examples of explications and analyses, as well as checklists for you, the author of the paper. The Short Guide is certainly not the only available reference for writing about literature, but it is an excellent guide and reminder for new writers and veterans alike.

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Online Resources

Teacher-specific resources

Single-poet archives

Audiovisual archives, other organizations and festivals, partner sites.

Poetry Out Loud Guidelines, announcements, and poems for the national high school recitation contest.

PBS LearningMedia On-demand media service for educators that provides easy access to free, classroom-ready, curriculum-targeted, multi-platform resources for grades K–12. Free registration.

PBS NewsHour Extra Videos of poets reading and discussing their work, segments on poetry and contemporary culture, poet profiles, and teaching tips.

The Poetry Archive UK Recordings of poets reading their work. Includes historic archive, children’s archive, poet in residence blog, lesson plans, and activities.

General Poetry Sites

The Academy of American Poets Poems, poet biographies, interviews, recordings, and essays. Includes a newsletter and events calendar, academy resources, discussion forum, a poet’s workshop of exercises, and teaching ideas.

American Verse Project Full texts of volumes of American poetry pre-1920.

BBC Poetry The British Broadcasting Company’s poetry site. Poems, poets’ biographies, videos, and writing and performance tips from contemporary poets.

Contemporary American Poetry Archive Full texts of out-of-print volumes of contemporary poetry.

Electronic Poetry Center (SUNY Buffalo) Gateway for sites and resources related to innovative poetry. Extensive links to poets, digital projects, and publications.

Kennedy Center's Digital Resources Library Free digital, remote learning resources for incorporating poetry into K-12 classrooms.

Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature Medieval, Renaissance, 17th-century, and Restoration poets. Poems, biographies, and critical essays.

Modern American Poetry Extensive material on poets included in Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford). Manuscripts, brief critical essays, historical backgrounds, biographies, interviews, and sample syllabi.

PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide Pages on American authors include bibliographies, biographies, and outside links. Information on literary movements and definitions, writing assignments, and historical perspectives.

Paris Review Interview Archive Index of the Paris Review ’s author interviews from the 1950s to 2000s. A selection are available as full-text PDFs.

Poemage A visualization system for exploring the sonic topology of a poem. Developed at the University of Utah as part of an ongoing, highly exploratory collaboration between data visualization experts, poets, and poetry scholars.

Poetry Daily Anthology features one new contemporary poem each day, selected from current journals and books. Includes an archive of past selections.

Poetry International International poets searchable by country or name. Poems in original language and translation, biographies, articles, and recordings.

Poets’ Corner Includes work by roughly 800 poets. Individual poems and a selection of book-length collections, including anthologies.

Representative Poetry Online Collection of poetry from Old English to the present day. Includes a glossary, timeline, and selection of criticism.

Voca The University of Arizona Poetry Center's Audio Video Library.

Online Courses in Poetry (MOOCs)

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (Coursera) Taught by Al Filreis, Kelly Family Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania ModPo is a fast-paced introduction to modern and contemporary US poetry, with an emphasis on experimental verse. Participants (who need no prior experience with poetry) will learn how to read poems that are supposedly “difficult.”

Modern Poetry (Open Yale Courses) Taught by Langdon Hammer, professor of English at Yale University This course covers the body of modern poetry, its characteristic techniques and concerns. The authors discussed include Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Moore, Bishop, and Frost. Additional lectures on the poetry of WWI and the Harlem Renaissance.

How Writers Write Poetry (The Writing University Open Courses) Taught by Christopher Merrill and Mary Hickman, the University of Iowa An interactive course that presents a curated collection of short, intimate talks on craft by two dozen contemporary poets writing in English. Craft topics include appropriation, meter, constraints, sound, mindfulness, and pleasure.

Poetry: What It Is, and How to Understand It (Udemy) Taught by Margaret Soltan, associate professor at George Washington University This course will attempt to define the genre of poetry, to discuss its particular attributes and difficulties, and to isolate the sorts of truths that poetry seems best at conveying. Our focus will be on modern poetry, in English and in translation.

The Academy of American Poets: For Educators Extensive range of free poetry resources for teachers.

EdSITEment Literature and Language Arts Lesson plans and links for literature classes, grades K–12.

Favorite Poem Project: Poetry Lesson Plans Lesson plans based on the Favorite Poem Project, emphasizing reading and appreciation.

Poetry Class British website devoted to integrating poetry into the classroom; offers lesson plans, assessment advice, and training courses in the UK.

Readwritethink Lesson plans and web resources for students and teachers, organized around IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts.

Teacher Vision Activity ideas and lesson plans for elementary students; first three articles free, thereafter membership required.

Teachers and Writers Collaborative Insights, practices, and techniques from professional writers and educators; includes information on TW Collaborative in-school and professional development programs.

ThinkCERCA A Common Core State Standards literacy resource for teachers who want to incorporate poetry and other genres to help students learn to read closely, think critically, and develop powerful arguments.

Writers in the Schools Home page of popular program; includes resources for teachers, WITS blog, and links to publication opportunities for students.

Dickinson Electronic Archives Collection of digital facsimiles of Dickinson’s poetry and correspondence, emphasizing her process of composition; includes links to secondary sources.

The Classroom Electric Whitman, Dickinson, and American culture; provides links to thematically based sites with text and discussion questions. For upper-level/college grade levels.

Walt Whitman Archive Includes e-text and facsimile versions of all editions of Leaves of Grass ; contemporary reviews and correspondence; and extended biography and bibliography with links.

From the Fishhouse: An Audio Archive of Emerging Poets Audio archive of emerging poets reading and in conversation.

Key West Literary Seminar: Audio Archives Digitized recordings of past readings, panels, and discussions from the Key West Literary Seminar.

Library of Congress poetry site Comprehensive site for Poet Laureate and related Library of Congress programs; includes webcasts of laureates and Witter Bynner fellows.

National Council of Teachers’ Teaching Resource Collections Resources for English teachers including lesson plans, discussion forums, and professional development opportunities.

Seattle Arts & Lectures Calendar and archives of long-running Seattle lecture series; contains information on Writers-in-the-Schools and Wednesday University programs.

PENNSound Largest collection of poetry audio files on the Internet; includes readings, conversations, and lectures in downloadable mp3 format.

Poem Present: Readings and Lectures Streamed audio/video of University of Chicago’s distinguished reading and lecture series. Poetry Center at San Francisco State University The reading series, is one of the longest-running such programs in the US. Includes the American Poetry Archives, approaching 5,000 hours of original audio and video recordings, available online at The Poetry Center Digital Archive.

UbuWeb Comprehensive site for avant-garde and conceptual poetry and poetics; includes hundreds of audio files, short videos, and e-text resources.

92nd Street Y Reading Series Webcasts of prestigious New York reading series.

Cave Canem Foundation A home for the many voices of African American poetry, committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.

Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program Official site of annual Dodge Poetry Festival; contains overview of Poetry-in-the-Schools program and information for teachers, poets, and students. Kundiman Dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American literature, Kundiman offers a comprehensive spectrum of arts programming that gives writers opportunities to inscribe their own stories. Letras Latinas The literary initiative at Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, which seeks to enhance the visibility, appreciation, and study of Latino literature both on and off the campus. Mass Poetry Supports poets and poetry in Massachusetts to transform people’s lives through inspiring verse, with programs, readings, and an annual poetry festival. National Student Poets Program/Alliance for Young Artists and Writers The Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers partner to present the nation’s highest honor for young poets (grades 10–11) creating original work. Annually, five students are selected for one year of service, each representing a different geographic region of the country.

O, Miami Festival E xpands and advances literary culture in Greater Miami, Florida area with a visiting writer series, a poetry festival, a publishing imprint, and other programs.

Poets House A comfortable, accessible place for poetry in downtown Manhattan, offering a library and meeting place, and events and readings. Poets House seeks to document the wealth and diversity of modern poetry, to stimulate dialogue on issues of poetry in culture, and to cultivate a wider audience for poetry. Split This Rock Poetry Festival Cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. Hosts festivals, readings, workshops, and offers programming for youth. Wick Poetry Festival Engages individuals and communities in the transformative power of poetry. Members of the Wick Outreach Program provide writing workshops, discussion groups, and professional development to a variety of communities throughout northeast Ohio. University of Arizona Poetry Center A large poetry library, reading space, and living archive, founded to maintain and cherish the spirit of poetry. Promotes poetic literacy and sustains, enriches, and advances a diverse literary culture.

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Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science

This essay on poetry and science was originally published in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience on October 4, 2018.

lesson plans about the environment

Abstract:  Creativity is crucial to the capacity to do science well, to communicate it in compelling ways, and to enhance learning. Creativity can be both practiced and enhanced to strengthen conservation science professionals’ efforts to address global environmental challenges. We explore how poetry is one creative approach that can further conservation scientists’ engagement and learning. We draw on evidence from peer-reviewed literature to illustrate benefits of integrating science and poetry, and to ground our argument for the growth of a science-poetry community to help conservation scientists develop skills in creative practices as a component of professional development. We present examples from literature as well as two short poetry exercises for scientists to draw on when considering writing poetry, or deciding on forms of poetry to include, in their practice. Opportunity exists to grow science–poetry projects to further our understanding of what such initiatives can offer.

Current interdisciplinary dialogue generally perpetuates the ideology that scientists do science and artists do art. However, research and experience shows that scientists—and society more broadly—benefit from scientists creating works beyond their discipline (Swanson et al. 2008, Opermanis et al. 2015). Broadly, creativity is defined as the production of original and useful ideas (for a broader discussion of creativity, see Stein 1953, Barron 1955, Runco and Jaeger 2012), and a variety of creative approaches, primarily from the arts, are increasingly appreciated in science education, communication, and practice (Jacobson et al. 2007, Swanson et al. 2008, Opermanis et al. 2015). For example, in Latvia, the Nature Concerthall brought science and arts (poetry, music, dance, photography, and videography) together as part of an information campaign to enhance public knowledge and awareness of nature conservation issues and resulted in both greater attendance and perceived greater knowledge of biodiversity issues by attendees (Opermanis et al. 2015). At the same time, the integration of creative practice in professional development opportunities for scientists is increasing; the last several years have seen multiple speakers at ecology and environmental conservation conferences (e.g., Society for Freshwater Science 2018, World Conference on Marine Biodiversity 2018, Resilience 2017) using different creative practices to highlight the role and value to ecology and environmental conservation of these practices. At the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity 2018, in Montréal, Canada, Linwood Pendleton's plenary, “Rethinking marine conservation science in three acts,” brought together poems, music, video, and dance to demonstrate how creative approaches can help to achieve and celebrate breakthroughs in marine conservation science (Pendleton 2018). Research focused on innovation in science also demonstrates that creativity is something we can practice and improve and that proficiency in a fine art, craft, or literary pursuit is a significant predictor of scientific productivity and innovation (Root-Bernstein 2003). Poetry, the focus of our article, is one creative practice that conservation scientists can use to enhance their capacity to innovate, to communicate their work in compelling ways, and to enhance their own learning, as well as that of others.

We recognize that there is a well-established body of environmental writing; the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment was established in 1992. We also recognize the growing area of environmental humanities research, which is strongly driven by those working in the arts and humanities. People working in environmental humanities are building interdisciplinary collaboration and research and reflecting on and critiquing actions and inactions when it comes to the use and management of our natural world (e.g., Magrane and Johnson 2016). Our article is directed at conservation scientists who have included or who are interested in creating poetry in their practice and are not poetry or literary specialists. The article is directed primarily at conservation science and scientists because of our own backgrounds and experiences, but we draw on examples from and our arguments are applicable to diverse fields. We do not see our article as separate from the ongoing work or research in environmental humanities but complementary to it and supportive of the idea that we require interdisciplinary lenses and creative approaches to action, critique, and reflection when it comes to environmental conservation and sustainability. Indeed, conservation scientists can benefit from engaging the writing and research of the environmental humanities; doing so would reinforce what we present below and would potentially encourage new and broader interdisciplinary research opportunities and directions. In the present article, we encourage a more explicit linking of conservation science and poetry by engaging scientists in poetic practice that can shape their work and believe this goes beyond wilderness literature, nature poems, and ecocriticism to consider how scientists can learn from creative practices in poetry to enhance their scientific practice.

Our focus in this article is on the unity of science and poetry, and we draw from evidence in science education, creativity, and problem-solving literature to demonstrate the potential benefits of science and poetry integration and ways in which conservation scientists can use poetry with their science as a component of professional development. To further illustrate, we reflect on our experiences and provide resources from our own ongoing science-poetry projects. To support a growing science-poetry community, we highlight new approaches of integrating science and poetry that may foster creativity and inspire others to find their own ways of building creative practice in their science.  

Integrating science and poetry: Lessons from the classroom

Across diverse scientific fields, students have expressed a sense of enhanced engagement and enjoyment when poetry is integrated with their core subject. For example, Furlan and colleagues (2007) merged poetry writing and illustration in a college-level chemistry course. Their students noted that including poetry in the assignments not only made chemistry more enjoyable but offered a creative way to learn and communicate with others about chemistry. Similarly, Celly (2009) demonstrated the use of limericks for business management students to develop creative expression and reflect on their experiences as consumers to enhance topic engagement and deepen learning. In both examples, when poetry was integrated with core content, students were more engaged rather than being passive recipients of knowledge or information (Furlan et al. 2007 , Paiva et al. 2013). Enhanced engagement can result in a topic or problem being perceived as more enjoyable or accessible, because individuals can more effectively participate, both cognitively and emotionally (Lin et al. 2013).

Integrating poetry with science can also enhance opportunities for communication with others about a subject or problem. To illustrate, in his role as a middle school science teacher, Patrick Goff (article coauthor), searched ways for his students to exercise their creativity during a science module focused on human impacts to Earth's ecosystems. In his search, Goff found several initiatives led by conservation scientists who were using poetry to communicate about the environment and conservation on the social media platform Twitter. Inspired by the various conservation-poetry projects, Goff integrated haiku into his course. He considered poetry writing an opportunity for his students to showcase their creativity while learning about how humans affect Earth's ecosystems, to learn and communicate about these impacts, and to share their emotions about these impacts, beyond the boundaries of traditional pedagogical tools and approaches (e.g., reading from textbooks). In turn, Goff asked his students to select a topic related to human impacts on Earth's ecosystems, research it, and then write a haiku about it. He also shared some of the students’ haiku on Twitter, with their consent, to expand the potential audience reading the poems and to solicit potential feedback for the students. Goff's approach complements a framework suggested by Frye and colleagues ( 2011 ) to extend acrostic poetry into different content areas to bring ownership to students’ understanding. Goff found the succinct structure of haiku appealing from an instructional point of view; the short form demonstrated to his students the importance of selective word choice and the value of concentrated reflection on the topic. The students also expressed enjoyment in writing the haiku as an alternative to other modes of writing or assessment and in having their poems shared with others and receiving feedback.

The attitudes expressed by Goff's students about the integration of poetry in their science curriculum align with broader findings demonstrating the impact of topic engagement on learning (Paiva et al. 2013). Social and behavioral science studies have shown, for both children and adults, that activities that generate enjoyment or humor in an educational setting can stimulate learning, because students are more relaxed and less bound by rules (Lucardie 2014). An added benefit of short-form writing such as poetry is the potential to receive relatively rapid feedback when sharing ideas, which is important in learning environments (Hattie and Timperley 2007).

Integrating science and poetry: Benefits to conservation

Poetry can allow scientists to engage, learn, and generate new ideas by enabling them to gain distance from an immediate problem or topic. By stepping away from a scientific problem and exploring poetry, scientists can foster creativity through what is commonly referred to, in creativity research, as an incubation period . This is a process whereby initial conscious thought is followed by a period during which one refrains from task-related conscious thought (Gilhooly et al. 2013, Ritter and Dijksterhuis 2014). Incubation periods allow scientific ideas to percolate, and Aslan and colleagues (2014) discussed how incubation periods, or relaxed reflection, are an essential element of the creative process and highlight the importance of these periods for conservation scientists, who are likely to jettison periods of reflection in their working process. Importantly, incubation periods can illuminate hidden relationships, allowing for altered or changed views (Aslan et al. 2014), and drawing on activities dissimilar in nature to the target task, such as writing poetry, has been shown to have stronger effects on creative performance than an interpolated activity similar to the target task (Gilhooly et al. 2013). If creative performance and idea generation were the target of such incubation periods, conservation scientists could benefit from injecting an incubation period in their practice by writing on topics unrelated to the target task.

Integrating poetry as a component of daily writing could also assist conservation scientists with digesting and learning complex topics. Poetry, particularly shorter forms, such as haiku, can allow scientists to quickly capture and express new ideas. Pollack and Korol (2013) demonstrated the use of haiku as a means to convey neurobiological concepts succinctly by focusing on the most salient features of observed processes. Similarly, scientists can record creative impulses or intuitions related to a subject or problem without the constraints imposed by traditional scientific writing for journal publications. Breaking down thoughts on a topic in smaller, succinct thoughts or phrases could also help scientists to identify key themes or elements of a topic that need to be addressed or communicated clearly in their scientific writing or presentations.

The language and style of scientific publications are at times challenging to digest for subject experts, let alone other readers (Doubleday and Connell 2017). Poetry can offer a way for scientists to play with language, to reframe concepts, and to engage with aesthetics to capture readers in ways that are not possible with scientific articles (Silverman 2016). Zwart (2014) found that when asked to define nature and write a poem that captures nature , students’ poems proved more convincing than their definitions. In a related way, poems composed of words or phrases found in scientific articles could offer a way for scientists to engage with audiences who would otherwise not read such publications but who might read poetry or other short-form writing. For example, Madhur Anand writes poems composed of words and phrases found in her own scientific articles (Anand 2015). These found poems (poetry created from words or phrases taken from other sources) are a major component of Anand's debut book of poems, A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes (Anand 2015). Compilations of poetry such as those produced by Anand (2015) offer a unique form of expression and communication for scientists to engage and creatively communicate about a scientific topic. In an interview with Anand about the book, Follett (2016) said,

Here I’m thinking of your found poems which are created from phrases pulled from your published scientific articles. In order to better understand these poems, your readers may be pushed to develop their understanding of scientific concepts. Even more interesting is that by creating something new out of your previous publications, you are demonstrating that knowledge is always in process, even for experts. That knowledge is not fixed, or unattainable, is, I think, a reassuring realization for nonspecialist readers, and it may even invite them to create their own interpretations of your poems and put their gleaned scientific understanding to work against environmental injustices.

Through poetry, scientists can also potentially relate scientific topics to day-to-day activities or events and can transcend disciplinary boundaries to reach new audiences who might otherwise not be aware of or engaged with conservation issues. At the same time, as was highlighted by Follett (2016), many readers of Anand's poetry will have to embrace the discomfort associated with treading into new ideas or concepts, and the same could be true for scientists who read poems (not associated with science per se) and do not necessarily understand the concept or point being expressed. Embracing such discomfort can be beneficial in preparing the mind to take risks that lead to greater innovation, not only in poetry, but also in science.

How, functionally, can poetry be used to distil peer-reviewed publications to create innovative approaches to communication and dialogue about complex topics? The process itself requires scientists to read peer-reviewed publications (e.g., journal articles), absorb the crucial information, and transform this knowledge into compact packages of information in poetic form. For example, Gregory Johnson, an oceanographer at the National Institute for Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), used haiku to distil climate change science. Prior to a meeting to discuss the IPCC State of the Climate in 2013 report—279 pages in length—Johnson was reviewing the Summary for Policymakers . In an attempt to organize his thoughts and pare down the summary, Johnson wrote haiku on the main topics covered within the summary (e.g., the atmosphere, sea levels, carbon cycles) that, when read together, told the narrative of the planet's changing climate. Johnson later painted watercolors to accompany the haiku (figure 1 ), which were covered by news outlets, such as The Huffington Post  (2013). Since then, Johnson has given lectures on his haiku and artistic process; incorporated haiku into the IPCC State of the Climate reports in 2014, 2015, and 2016; and published a paper (Johnson and Birnbaum 2017) with a haiku as the title:

As El Niño builds,

Pacific Warm Pool expands,

ocean gains more heat  

Figure 1

Ultimately, as conservation scientists, we aim for our work to be understood and used by the individuals seeking or encountering it. Although scientists might have some reservations about poetry as a method of inquiry, when viewed more broadly, the affective nature of poetry can be a mechanism for users of scientific content to experience deeper learning and connection about otherwise unfamiliar topics. Through word play, sound, formal constraints, and aesthetics, poetry affectively engages the reader while effectively allowing the exploration of complex or unfamiliar topics.

Building a science-poetry community

In 2015, Samantha Oester and Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley started a digital media project, Project Conservation Haiku, blending poetry, photography, and science together as a way to enhance people's engagement with conservation and the environment. A major component of Project Conservation Haiku was to connect science and poetry. The authors shared a unique haiku and photograph combination on Twitter (figure 2a and b), weekly, for a year. The project also developed into a blog in which the authors share more details about the inspiration and stories behind each poem that they wrote during the year of the project. The Project Conservation Haiku blog offers a space in which readers can engage with the original haiku and photograph combinations and, if they are interested, can read a longer-form article that shares stories and knowledge about the topic covered in each haiku. Project Conservation Haiku not only brings environmental conservation issues to the fore through digital media, but it also brings poetry to others who, inspired by the project, spontaneously share their own haiku, such as this poem by Josh Silberg (shared using the project's hashtag, #ConservationHaiku, on Twitter):

Oh poor, poor ratfish

So chock full of parasites

Anus copepod.  

Figure 2

There is a need for a more inclusive definition of creativity in the science community. Scientists are (a) exploring the use of poetry to communicate about conservation and are using these efforts to (b) raise awareness about specific topics, programs, and initiatives. There is a growing (c) science-poetry community that is (d) encouraging conservation scientists to integrate poetry into their practice.

The interest and uptake of conservation-inspired poetry because of Project Conservation Haiku further highlights the potential for poetry to enhance scientific engagement and learning.

Through Project Conservation Haiku, the authors also built collaborations with other scientists who write poetry related to conservation. These collaborations led to the formation of SciBards (#SciBards on Twitter), a small community of conservation scientists who write, read, speak, and share poetry (figure 2c and d). The SciBards community interacts primarily via social media, although individual and collaborative projects beyond social media have developed. For example, through the SciBards community, four of this article's coauthors, jointly facilitated a workshop at the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress to share their science-poetry experiences and bring poetry to conservation scientists. The “Using a pencilfish to write whales” workshop blended poetry, history, and science to address the relationship between science and poetry from several angles. At a conference in which science communication was a recurring theme, this workshop investigated a form not typically considered a science communication tool.

Through the “Using a pencilfish to write whales” workshop, several of this article's authors demonstrated how science and poetry can come back together and how engaging with poetry can improve conservation science. The workshop was opened with an introduction by Anna Zivian, performed in iambic quadrameter, presenting the inspiration for the poetry workshop. The use of poetry brought a sense of play to the workshop and demonstrated how poetry is well suited for reframing complex topics. The introduction was followed by a presentation from Natalie Sopinka on the history of science and poetry, which can be traced back to the earliest oral traditions. Her talk focused on the separation of science and poetry in the nineteenth century, when Victorian researchers exploring the natural world made an explicit shift from being  natural philosophers  to calling themselves  scientists , a neologism by Whewell modelled after  artist  (Yeo 1993). This differentiation also led to the separation of poetry, which was previously joined seamlessly with natural philosophy, from “serious” science in the Anglophone world. To close, Sopinka highlighted the realignment of science and poetry—a recognition that the split has always been somewhat artificial. This was followed up by an applied example from Januchowski-Hartley about the reconnection of science and poetry through the digital media project that inspired the workshop. The workshop closed with several poetry exercises led by Oester. The exercises were focused on introducing the manifold purposes of poetry and poetry writing techniques to an audience with different levels of familiarity with the subject and connecting the practice of poetry with conservation science. The last presentation focused on form, feelings, function, and freedom, interspersing lessons about poetic technique with group exercises to highlight various aspects of poetry in a conservation context. In one exercise, participants wrote a found poem, reworked from an abstract in the conference program. Through this exercise, Josh Drew created the following found poem, drawn from an abstract written by Demian D. Chapman:

Cantonese delicacy

Significant global

Reflecting on our experiences in the “Using a pencilfish to write whales” workshop, we determined that one way to grow a science-poetry community is to share examples and perspectives, such as those that we have set out in this article, from our own as well as others’ experiences with poetry and science–poetry integration. To further inspire conservation scientists to integrate poetry in their daily practice, we present two short poetry exercises. The first poetry exercise is adapted from Maxine Hong Kingston's  To Be the Poet  (2002), based on a method for writing poems that was shared with her by Ted Sexauer, a member of Kingston's Veterans’ Writing Workshop. The original exercise was adapted and expanded by Christina Lux (article coauthor) and is well suited for scientists with little to no background in creative writing.

Step 1.  Close your eyes and become aware of your emotions or bodily sensations. Now, open your eyes and begin jotting down notes about what you observe in your immediate environment. Close your eyes again, sit with the emotion or feeling that emerges in your body; write it down and again observe your environment, jotting down your immediate impressions. Repeat this step until you believe you are done.

Step 2.  Look back at your notes. What images or descriptions are most striking to you, which ones do you feel you might want to keep? Circle them. Begin a new draft, pulling from those circled ideas. Is a concept emerging? Consider this draft your  seed . You can leave the seed and come back to it, or you can continue to develop it.

Step 3.  Your seed contains patterns that you can now sharpen, uncover, and highlight, depending on the message you want to convey in the poem or the concept that you want to explore. Is there a pattern emerging from the words you’ve laid out on the page? Do you notice a cadence or rhythm in your draft? If you see a pattern emerging, think about the form that will best reflect or deepen the sense of the images in your poem, and further develop the writing.

Step 4.  Choose what to do with the poem: share it on social media, publish it in a journal or magazine, read it at a poetry reading, pair it with the work of an artist, or keep it for yourself.

The second poetry exercise is drawn from Oester (2016) and from several exercises that we have led, or read about (e.g., Wolters and Wijnen-Meijer 2012). This second exercise offers scientists a framework to develop a short poem about their research, a question, or broader ideas about science practice.

First, identify your muse: an objective, a topic, or an experience that you want to write about. Now think about and even write down what you are trying to accomplish. Write down everything you can think of about your muse, inspiration, experience, or story. Don’t edit, just write. Set down the writing and thoughts for at least an hour. Return to the writing, read it over, and begin to clarify the idea that you are trying to accomplish or convey. Develop line breaks in your writing to create a juxtaposition, to evoke sensation or drive a narrative forward. Edit as needed, potentially ruthlessly, until you have a poem you are satisfied with, one that aligns with whatever type of poem you want to create (e.g., haiku, sonnet, or limerick). Consider sharing your work with others for reactions and feedback. Potentially revisit your poem again, and revise as you see best. Finally, reflect on your poem, and share with others if you wish.

A more detailed overview of poetry and the basics of writing it are set out in a short course by Oester (2016). Such exercises can be used by scientists to further develop or refresh their poetry writing. We encourage scientists to draw on these resources and to share their poetry and creative processes with others—scientists and nonscientists alike.


We support recent calls from Aslan and colleagues (2014) and Zavaleta and colleagues (2017) for a broader and more inclusive definition of creativity to be promoted in the conservation science community and in other scientific communities more broadly. There is considerable evidence that exercising creativity through poetry writing, reading, or speaking can develop, maintain, and enhance empathic and innovation skills. Integrating creative practices, such as poetry writing, and developing these skills should be essential components of professional development and practice of conservation scientists. Accordingly, whether in the office, lab, or field, writing and sharing poetry can foster creativity and enhance conservation scientists’ engagement and learning of unfamiliar topics. We base this assertion on the benefits and opportunities detailed in the literature and on those we have observed in our own interdisciplinary practices and projects that integrate poetry with conservation science. Additional benefits to conservation science and practice derived from poetry integration could likely be elucidated through additional work on this topic. Indeed, the potential benefits of science–poetry integrations remain poorly explored (although the effectiveness of poetry as a science communication tool is being investigated; Illingworth 2016). Opportunity exists to grow projects and further our understanding of what such initiatives can offer. Identifying approaches that effectively bring together diverse perspectives and tools to inject creativity into complex problems will strengthen our ability to overcome some of society's toughest challenges (NASEM 2018).

Stephanie R Januchowski-Hartley, Natalie Sopinka, Bethann G Merkle, Christina Lux, Anna Zivian, Patrick Goff, Samantha Oester; Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science, BioScience , , biy105, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy105

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    The Poet Research Project Unit is a research and poetry/literary analysis unit designed to be done in conjunction with/after a poetry unit, or with students that have enough knowledge of poetic devices to be able to analyze a poem. The Poet Research Project Unit is extensive.

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    The Poet Research Project Unit is a research and poetry/literary analysis unit designed to be done in conjunction with/after a poetry unit, or with students that have enough knowledge of poetic devices to be able to analyze a poem. The Poet Research Project Unit is extensive.

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    Poetry research project Students will find three poems by the poet that cover the thematic idea of identity. You will choose one of these poems from this booklet, and two on your own. Students will also write three paragraphs for this assignment. • 1 paragraph is about the poet • 1 paragraph is about the theme connection in one of the poems

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