Soul Choj Yang
I didn't start writing
until I went back to college after my years in the
Army. I enrolled in a poetry class as an elective, but I soonfelt a passion for
writing. It was a way for me to calm the frustration
tity as a Hmong.
One goal of my writing
is to generate a conversation among the Hmong
about our experiences and how those experiences keep shaping and changing us
as a people and as individuals.
I believe that a people's body of literature is their
soul. The Hmong, as a people, must keep our soul alive through the telling of old
stories and nurturing
of new ones..
The Last Drops
Years ago, we ignored the old men
who gathered when there was a feast
regaling any who would listen
to their tales of war and little conquests
back in the mountains.
Now, when we gather, the old men
are hard to find. Two or three
sit in the corners
and still whisper
Those of us who know
ignore discussions of jobs,
of golf, trips
gravitating to the corners
the last drops
of a mountain spring
How Do I Begin?
A Hmong American Literary Anthology
Edited by the Hmong American Writers} Circle:
Soul Choj Yang
0:2 0 II
Heyday, Berkeley, California
Analyzing Poetry: Guiding Questions
LIT 273 Online/Risley
When analyzing a particular poem, it can be helpful to consider the list below as a kind of starting point
and/or checklist (please refer to the “Poetry Terminology” handout on Canvas for additional information).
Not all poems will contain all of the items noted below, but most poems will include some of them. As
you read and interpret poetry, select and discuss what you consider to be the most relevant and important
technical devices of the poem, explaining how they function and contribute to the text’s overall meaning.
Poetic Devices and Questions to Consider:
Action: What is happening in the poem? Does the poem have a coherent plot? What questions, problems
or desires does the poem address? To what extent are these resolved?
Setting: Is there a particular setting for the poetic action? If so, how is the setting portrayed via imagery,
diction, figurative language, etc.? If there is no clear setting or other location for the poem, you might try
to identify the general occasion for the writing of the poem.
Speaker: Whose voice is speaking in this poem? What characteristics does the speaker have, and how
would you describe his/her persona? What is the speaker’s attitude toward the subject of the poem? How
do the speaker’s qualities contribute to the overall meaning of the poem?
Imagery: Describe some of the key images in the poem and how they are conveyed or achieved. If the
images form patterns, how are these patterns significant? How would you describe the visual qualities of
the poem (pictures, colors, etc.)? How does the imagery contribute to the poem’s overall meaning?
Rhyme Scheme: Does the poem have patterns of assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme, near rhyme or
end rhyme? Describe the ways in which the poem adheres to (or deviates from) a consistent rhyme
scheme. Does rhyme contribute to the sound and/or rhythm of the poem and if so, how? How does the
text’s rhyme scheme contribute to the poem’s overall meaning?
Rhythm: Is there a particular meter used in the poem? If not, how is rhythm generated? Which other
devices (word order/syntax, line length, diction, phrasing, repetition, alliteration, etc.) contribute to an
underlying rhythmic pattern?
Form: Describe the composition and/or shape of the poem. Is the poem open form (free verse) or closed
form (fixed form), regular or irregular? How is the structure reflected in stanzas and/or lines? What is
the visual impact of the poem on the page?
Language: As with all literary texts, consider the impact of (figurative) language and rhetorical devices.
Theme: What are the themes or major ideas at work in this poem? What would you argue is the “point”
that this poem makes or the effect it attempts to have? Which aspects of the poem most clearly support
Please note: The questions listed after each subject heading are provided in order to help you think of
ways to address each aspect of the poem—you do not need to respond to every single one of these
questions, nor should you try to do so. Additionally, there may be other questions not included here that
are more relevant to your particular poem and interpretation.
Risley/Poetic Terms 1
We will refer to many of the following terms in our class discussions of poetry; you may also find
this list helpful in planning and composing poetry homework and/or formal assignments, and in
preparing for the midterm and final exam.
The definitions provided below are adapted from Meyer, The Bedford Introduction to Literature:
Reading, Thinking, Writing. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002, and Abrams, A Glossary
of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1999.
Literary Tradition or Mode: Artistic and/or historic periods or movements used to classify and
describe particular literary approaches, schools of thought, trends and vogues: e.g. Modernism.
Genre: A kind of literature (e.g. poetry versus fiction, drama, essay) and, more specifically, the
type of poem (e.g. ode, lyric, sonnet, narrative, ballad, epic, etc.)
Speaker/Poetic Voice: The voice used by an author to tell a story or speak a poem; the speaker is
often a created identity and should not automatically be equated with the author’s self.
Subject: The central topic of a literary work (related to theme).
Theme: Central meaning(s) or dominant idea(s) in a literary work; a theme provides a unifying
point around which the plot, characters, setting, point of view, symbols, and other elements of a
work are organized. It is important not to mistake the theme for the actual subject of the work (the
theme would be a commentary or idea about said subject). The theme refers to the abstract
concept that is made concrete through images, action, and/or characterization of the text.
Action: The events, happenings, occurrences, and/or episodes that take place in a poem, and their
subsequent resolution (or lack thereof).
Setting: The physical and social context in which the action occurs, including elements of time,
place/location, climate, environment, social world, and any attendant associations the reader
might have with these (e.g. adventure or romance often take place in an exotic setting, realistic
literature in “real,” authentic, and/or historic settings).
Style: The distinctive and unique manner in which a writer arranges words to achieve particular
effects. Style essentially combines the idea to be expressed with the individuality of the author.
These arrangements include individual word choices (diction, vocabulary), length and structure of
sentences, tone, use of irony, etc. (related to tone).
Tone: The author’s implicit attitude toward the reader or the people, places, and events in a work
as revealed by the elements of the author’s style. Tone may be characterized as serious or ironic,
sad or happy, private or public, angry or affectionate, bitter or nostalgic, or any other attitudes and
feelings that human beings experience (related to style).
Diction: A writer’s choice of words, phrases, sentence structures, and figurative language, which
combine to help create meaning. Formal or high diction consists of elevated, impersonal,
formal, and/or dignified use of language; it follows the rules of syntax exactly and is often
characterized by complex words and lofty tone. Middle diction maintains correct language
Risley/Poetic Terms 2
usage, but is less elevated than formal diction; it reflects the way most educated people speak.
Informal or low diction represents the plain language (vernacular or dialect) of everyday use,
and often includes idiomatic expressions, slang, dialect, contractions, and simple or common
Syntax: The ordering of words into meaningful verbal patterns such as phrases, clauses, and
sentences. Poets often manipulate syntax, changing conventional word order, to place certain
emphasis on particular words.
Ambiguity: Allows for two or more simultaneous interpretations of a word, phrase, action, or
situation, all of which can be supported by the context of a work. Deliberate ambiguity can
contribute to the effectiveness and richness of a work (as in an open-ended conclusion).
Figurative Language: A conspicuous departure from what users of a language apprehend as the
standard meaning of words, or else the standard order of words, in order to achieve some special
meaning or effect. Such figures of thought (tropes) or speech (rhetorical figures) come in many
forms and have various applications and effects; some of the most common are listed below:
Image/Imagery: A word, phrase, or figure of speech (especially a simile or metaphor) that
addresses the senses, suggesting mental pictures of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, or
actions. Images offer sensory data or impressions to the reader and also convey emotions and
moods through their verbal pictures.
Metaphor: A figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things, without using
the word like or as.
Simile: A common figure of speech that makes an explicit comparison between two (unlike)
things by using words such as like, as, than, appears, and seems: “My love is like a red, red rose”
Symbolism: The use of a person, object, image, word, or event that evokes a range of additional
meaning beyond and usually more abstract than its literal significance. Symbols can be
conventional (national flag, Christian cross, Star of David, Statue of Liberty, etc.) or literary
and contextual (e.g. the white whale in Melville’s Moby Dick takes on multiple symbolic
meanings that are specific to that text and do not carry over to other stories about whales).
Allusion: A brief reference to a person, place, thing, event, or idea in history or literature that
might enrich an author’s work; allusions imply reading and cultural experiences shared by the
writer and reader, functioning as a kind of shorthand whereby the recalling of something outside
the work supplies an emotional or intellectual context. Common forms of allusion include
biblical references, historic figures, wars, great love stories, etc. Modern and Postmodern works
often make use of references to popular culture.
Personification: A form of metaphor in which human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman
things (animals, inanimate objects, abstract ideas, etc.).
Hyperbole or Overstatement: A boldly exaggerated statement that adds emphasis without
intending to be literally true, used for serious, comic, or ironic effect (e.g. “He ate everything in
Risley/Poetic Terms 3
Synecdoche: A kind of metaphor in which the part is used to signify the whole (or vice versa):
ten ships are called “ten sails”; a gossip is called a “wagging tongue”; “one hundred hands built
the bridge” refers to 100 workers; or in reverse, “New York won the game” (meaning the team
and players, not the entire city).
Metonymy: A type of metaphor in which something closely associated with a subject is
substituted for it: e.g. the “silver screen” refers to motion pictures, “the crown” stands for the
king, “the White House” represents the activities of the president.
Onomatopoeia: A term referring to the use of a word that resembles the sound it denotes (e.g.
buzz, rattle, bang, sizzle).
Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds in a sequence of words, usually at the beginning
of a word or stressed syllable: e.g. “descending dew drops” and “luscious lemons.” Alliteration is
based on sound rather than spelling.
Assonance: The repetition of internal vowel sounds in nearby words that do not end the same,
such as “asleep under a tree,” or “each evening.”
Irony: A literary device that uses contradictory statements or situations to reveal a reality
different from what appears to be true. Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which a person says
one thing but means the opposite (sarcasm is a strong form of verbal irony); situational irony
exists when there is an incongruity between what is expected to happen and what actually
happens due to forces beyond human comprehension or control; cosmic irony occurs when a
writer uses God, destiny, or fate to dash the hopes and expectations of a character or of
humankind in general; and dramatic irony creates a discrepancy between what a character
believes or says and what the reader or audience member knows to be true (tragic irony is a form
of dramatic irony).
Rhetorical Question: A sentence in the grammatical form of a question which is not asked in
order to request information or to invite a reply, but to achieve a greater expressive force than a
direct assertion. For example, in everyday discourse, when we utter the rhetorical question “Isn’t
it a shame?” it functions as a forceful alternative to the assertion “It’s a shame.” Rhetorical
questions are frequently unanswerable and/or philosophical, serving to pose a problem or suggest
a theme in a literary work.
Pun: A play on words that relies on a word’s having more than one meaning or sounding like
another word. Puns may be used for serious and comic purposes.
Repetition: Poetic technique in which exact words, phrases, clauses, and/or lines are repeated.
Parallelism: Poetic technique in which lines, phrases, or clauses possess similar (not exact, as
with repetition) word-order and structure in their syntax.
Form: The overall structure or shape of a text, which frequently follows an established design; in
poetry, patterns of meter, lines, and rhymes (stanza form, verse form).
Fixed or Closed Form: A poem that may be categorized by the pattern of its lines, meter,
rhythm, or stanzas (e.g. a sonnet is fixed form because by definition it must have 14 lines).
Free Verse or Open Form: A poem characterized by its non-conformity to established patterns
of meter, rhythm, and stanza; free verse uses elements such as speech patterns, arrangement of
Risley/Poetic Terms 4
words on the printed page, grammar, emphasis, repetition, and breath pauses to decide line breaks
and rhythm, and usually does not rhyme.
Stanza: a grouping of lines, set off by a space, which usually has a set pattern of meter and
rhyme (e.g. the Quatrain: a four-line stanza, the most common stanzaic form in the English
Line: A sequence of words printed as a separate entity on the page; in poetry, lines are usually
measured by the number of feet they contain (e.g. tetrameter = four feet, pentameter = five feet,
etc.). A poetic line that has a pause at the end is called an End-stopped line; such lines reflect
natural speech patterns and are often marked by punctuation. When a line ends without pause
and continues into the next line for its meaning, the line is an enjambment or run-on line.
Meter: The rhythmic pattern of stresses that recurs in a poem. Metrical patterns are determined
by the type and number of feet in a line; the name of the foot combined with the line length
describes the metrical qualities of that line. For example, the most common meter in English
poetry is Iambic Pentameter (a metrical pattern which consists of five iambic feet per line), as
this meter most closely resembles the organic rhythms of spoken English.
Foot: The metrical unit by which a line of poetry is measured; one foot usually consists of one
stressed and one or two unstressed syllables. An iambic foot, which consists of one unstressed
syllable followed by one stressed syllable (“away”), is the most common metrical foot in English
Rhythm: A term used to refer to the recurrence of stressed and unstressed sounds in poetry.
Depending on how sounds are arranged, the rhythm of a poem may be fast or slow, choppy or
smooth. Poets use rhythm to create pleasurable sound patterns and to reinforce meanings.
Rhyme: The repetition of identical or similar concluding syllables in different words, most often
at the ends of lines; rhyme is predominantly a function of sound rather than spelling (day, prey,
weigh, bouquet, etc.). End rhyme is the most common form of rhyme in poetry; the rhyme comes
at the end of the lines. The rhyme scheme describes the pattern of end rhymes (aabb or abab,
and so on). Exact rhymes share the same stressed vowel sounds as well as sharing sounds that
follow the vowel. In near rhyme (also called slant rhyme or off rhyme), the sounds are almost
but not exactly alike (home, same, worth, breath). Internal rhyme places at least one of the
rhymed words within the line, as in “Dividing and gliding and sliding.”
Scansion: The process of measuring the stresses in a line of verse in order to determine the
metrical pattern of the line.
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