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The Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Poetry Term Paper

What is a Poetry Term Paper?

While term papers are more common in natural and social sciences, they are assigned to humanities students as well. To put it simply, a poetry term paper is an extensive analytical discussion of a poet, group of poets, poetic movement, or even a single outstanding piece written by a specific author. As students are supposed to demonstrate a deep understanding and familiarity with the course readings, a poetry term paper includes two equally important parts: a critical discussion of the existing literature and their analysis of the text/texts. However, the latter must be backed up as well. An interpretation is only valid if the writer can demonstrate his/her why position. With poetry, the more specific examples you take from the author’s poems, the better.
You may feel quite discouraged at first, but hold on for a moment, and you’ll see that writing a poetry term paper can be as fun as composing an IMDB review.

Where to Begin?

Writing a decent poetry term paper can be challenging for both – a literature major and someone who only takes poetry as an elective course. It may appear simple to discuss Walt Whitman’s sophisticated imagery or Allen Ginsberg’s rebellious Howl. However, in reality, composing a poetry term paper can be an exhausting and, at times, tiresome experience. Students should realize that spending hours reading scholarly literature and polishing delivered ideas is inevitable.
That is why it is always a good idea to choose an author or a piece that a writer understands and has personal links with unless the professor assigns a specific topic for all the students. The readers can sense whether the writer is interested in what he/she discusses or not. So, the first and most important task is to choose a topic that inspires you to dig deeper and reflect.

How to Choose a Topic for Your Poetry Term Paper Writing?

This step is probably the hardest. A term paper is usually at least eight pages long, so choosing a too narrow topic is not a wise decision. If a poem author is not among the most well-known and frequently studied ones, it will be difficult to find appropriate scholarly literature. If a person intends to make term paper as original and unique as possible, it can be achieved. Although, it is necessary to keep in mind that writing about a poet that nobody (or next to nobody) has discussed before is much harder than dealing with the observations to those of literary critics.

At the same time, an overly broad topic is a no-go as well. The word count is usually limited. It is hard to compose an adequately deep analytical paper about Sylvia Plath’s entire life story and all of her poetry collections. Thus, the main focus of the work should be narrowed down. Even if the task is to write about someone like Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, or Robert Frost, you can still choose a topic that will be relatively unique and not done to death. Reviewing tons of scholarly literature about the authors will be a challenge though.

If there is an opportunity to choose any topic dealing with the course readings, focus on a single aspect of the author’s writing. For instance, discussing the key themes in a poetry collection is a safe choice. The peculiarities of the poet’s versification or how s/he uses the speech figures are also adequate options, even though more complicated ones. Analyzing the way the author supports or transforms poetry genre system is always interesting and not overly ambitious.

What students should avoid is focusing on the author’s biography instead of his/her works. The point is that your task is not to write for a history class. Literature critics are interested in Lord Byron’s dramatic shenanigans only as long as they are reflected in his poems.

Powerful Poetry Term Paper Topics to Help You Succeed:

  • Central Themes of Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps;
  • The Use of Onomatopoeia in Dylan Thomas’s Poems;
  • The Symbolism of Gardens in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry;
  • Langston Hughes as a Pioneer of Jazz Poetry;
  • Rawness as a Stylistic Device in the Works of Beat Poets;
  • The Impact of Sören Kierkegaard’s Philosophy on Theodore Roethke’s Works of the 1950s.

Not-So-Good Sample Topics:

  • The Poetry of Ezra Pound. The topic is too broad.
  • Environmentalist Poetry of J.S. Shipman. It would be problematic to find any academic literature on the topic as the contemporary poet is understudied.
  • Jack Kerouac’s Hitchhiker. Although this poem is a defining one for Kerouac’s poetry in general, it would be difficult to compose an 8+ page term paper on an eight-line text. Too narrow.
  • James Russell Lowell’s Marriage to Maria White. The topic has nothing to do with poetry or literature whatsoever.

Pre-Writing Tips: How Do You Start Writing?

It goes without saying that to write a term paper, a person has to be closely familiar with the poems s/he will discuss in it. To read all of them once is not enough. The first reading is always superficial: initial advice is to focus mostly on what is happening in the text, what its central topics are, who the narrator is, etc. To dive deeper, the researcher has to reread the material at least thrice or more. During the second reading, students should pause to make notes on what to observe and how this or that line proves an established vision. Finally, when reading for the last time, the writer has to get a full picture. At this point, it is necessary to consider how the texts form a certain system and relate to the chosen topic.

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?

The second step is to conduct preliminary research on the author’s biography, most prominent works, his/her influential predecessors that s/he took as role models, and more. At this stage, it is important not to limit thinking to the chosen topic. It is better to add as many facts about the heroes of the text as possible. If you don’t write on a single poet but work with a school/one particular text/literature epoch, the same thing should be done. There is no such rule to find all the sources that could be included in the final paper. Instead, it is a chance to build an image of whoever/whatever will be analyzed.

How to Compose a Helpful Outline?

Creating a rough outline will take no more than ten to fifteen minutes. Throughout the writing process, it will help to stay focused and not get carried away from the chosen topic. The outline is similar to a mind map. It contains the paper’s salient points/subthemes, random observations/phrases that occurred during the reading, as well as the thesis statement and brief conclusions.

The Structure of the Poetry Term Paper

In any paper, the narration should flow step-by-step. In case if a poetry term paper, the required points are the following:

  • Abstract
  • The abstract gives an idea of what the paper is about. Basically, it is the summary of the entire research. It should be concise, about 150-200 words long.

  • Introduction
  • The introduction is the road-map of the paper. It briefly touches upon the main topics discussed. However, unlike the abstract, it is not supposed to summarize any conclusions. Instead, it should be intriguing enough to catch readers’ attention and make them interested in further reading. The last sentence of the introduction is a thesis statement that distinguishes the balanced purpose/position regarding the topic.

  • Background/Literature Review
  • Background section discusses the historical and contextual details of the chosen topic. For instance, if the paper is about Langston Hughes, this part should explain the basic terms, history, and origins of jazz poetry, as well as give a short overview of Hughes’s life path/career.
    If a student decides to include a separate literature review section in the term paper, s/he should familiarize the reader with the most notable research conducted on the topic, overview, analyze, and critically evaluate a sufficient number of relevant academic sources. Consider journal articles, books, websites, documentaries, and audio/video lectures discussing the author and his/her texts, the genres s/he worked in, and his/her links to the literary canon. The sources can be organized either in chronological order or by the subtopics.

  • Body
  • The body is the core of the term paper. It includes multiple paragraphs presenting ideas backed up by other researchers’ findings and numerous quotes from the analyzed texts. Each of the body paragraphs should start with a topic sentence followed by several supporting points. Then, a person should either cite one of the secondary sources (meaning academic research on the topic) or include a supporting quote from the chosen author’s text followed by a quote analysis. If a student decides to make the body paragraphs longer, both of the above elements can be included. However, s/he should keep in mind that lengthy paragraphs make it difficult for the reader to follow and stay focused. Each body paragraph ends with a concluding sentence and a transition to the next one.

  • Conclusion
  • The conclusion is the section where the writer reminds readers of the key ideas and findings. Ideally, a well-written conclusion must be enough to understand what the entire paper was about and how the researcher/writer has contributed to the topic. The thesis statement should also be restated in the concluding section.

  • References
  • The list of references includes all the sources a person used for the paper, both primary and secondary ones. Primary sources are the chosen author’s poems while the secondary sources include the other researchers’ articles, books, etc.

Where to Find Good & Trusted Sources?

Apart from the university library, which is a safe option, numerous other places can provide an author with high-quality, credible peer-reviewed sources. First of all, online databases are always available and way easier to navigate than traditional libraries. Google Scholar and JSTOR are probably the largest and most well-known.

By simply typing ‘Langston Hughes jazz poetry’ into the appropriate bar, a writer will get 2,577 options to choose from. To give an idea, here are the first three of the search results:

  • ‘Noisy Modernism’: The Cultural Politics of Langston Hughes’s Early Jazz Poetry;
  • A Bibliography of Jazz Poetry Criticism;
  • Ted Joans on Langston Hughes.

Nevertheless, you will have to spend hours trying to find the ones that are truly informative and correspond to the topic. The complexity of the research process should not be underestimated.
A tiny life hack from our writers: every source at JSTOR is accompanied by auto-generated citations for every format. Instead of wasting your time on tedious citing, just copy and paste the citation in the References list.

However, these databases are not the only place to go for literary criticism works. Check this page to browse for high-quality books organized by topic. For instance, for African-American Poetry subcategory, there will be:

  • The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement by Lance Hill;
  • The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry by Christopher Beach;
  • Black American Poets and Dramatists of the Harlem Renaissance and Black American Poets and Dramatists: Before the Harlem Renaissance by Harold Bloom.

These scholars need no introduction. Every college student taking a literature course is well-familiar with their names.

Finally, although this seems obvious, Wikipedia is not a credible source.

The last side note: when you’re trying to find the sources, you realize that the majority of newborn ideas were already voiced by someone else long before, especially if the topic or the author belongs to the classics epoch. This fact must be appreciated as a proof that the text evolves in the right direction. However, academic integrity should not be violated, and it is prohibited to present someone else’s ideas without citation. Plagiarism is a serious offense! The rule is as simple as it gets: if ever in doubt – cite!

How to Cite Sources Properly? Here’s What Our Writers Advise:

The best website that contains all the necessary information about citing in different styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, etc.) is the Purdue Online Writing Web? There, students will find detailed and well-organized guides for every style and various types of sources, from books to YouTube videos and far beyond. Follow them to guarantee proper citing.

Post-Writing Tips to Estimate Your Own Work Critically

Once your paper is completed, there comes the proofreading part. Then you proofread again. And again. The more time a person spends on proofreading, the better the work will get. New imperfections will occur every time, from tiny typos to more serious flaws like causality issues and repetitiveness. They are inevitable and nothing to be ashamed of. However, to ensure your reader is not distracted by the little issues, take the proofreading process seriously. This process ends only when no mistakes are left. By the way, asking a friend to read a paper before submitting it is also helpful. When a person reads through his/her writing over and over again, the eyes seem to skip the obvious errors. An ‘outsider’ can notice the flaws that you didn’t catch.

The final thing to remember is that nobody expects a student to be the next Umberto Eco or Harold Bloom. So, the final term paper has to show the reader that its’ author is incorporated in the topic and poetry in general, and delivers ideas clearly and perceptively.