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tell them

Write a 1-paragraph Close Reading (min 200 words) on either Juliana Spahr’s “Poem Written After September 11, 2001” or Kathy Jitnil Kijner’s “Tell Them.” Your close reading should be written in proper paragraph form, double spaced in 12 pt. font, and use either MLA or APA in-text citations (no Bibliography is required).

As you begin to work on your close reading, you should begin by identifying a single image, word, phrase, idea, or quality in your chosen poem that you’d like to write about. Consider: what does this moment in the poem do? What are the big ideas that it connects with, and how does it get us to think about those ideas?

Your paragraph should do the following:

Start with a topic sentence (or a couple sentences) that announcing the question, idea, or claim you're going to explore. Consider the following template: “In ‘Tell Them,’ Jetnil Kijiner suggests [x claim] about [y issue].”

Then, elaborate on the idea you state in the topic sentence while moving toward an example. In one or two sentences, describe a particular moment, word, image, etc. that helps us understand what you’re talking about in your topic sentence. Be alert to the formal qualities of the poem (consider the terms in the list on slide 5).

Provide a quotation.

Analyze the quotation with some reference to its formal qualities. Your goal here is to show how the quote leads us to a profound insight about the question or idea you mentioned in your topic sentence.

Emphasize what is interesting and significant about your interpretation. You might consider some of the following moves: “rather than just saying x, Spahr suggests to the contrary…”; “Whereas we might have expected Jetnil-Kijiner to x, instead the poem shows”; “It’s not just, x, it’s y!”

Qualities of an effective close reading:

An effective close reading will have the following three qualities:

1. It emphasizes complexity

A successful close reading is alert to the complexity and subtlety of the text. It attempts to unearth layers of multiple meanings and associations, and highlights moments of paradox, ambiguity, and contradiction.

Sometimes students are tempted to flatten or simplify what is happening in a work because they think it will show that they understand it. Avoid this temptation. Instead, explain why the text is confusing, or why it resists a straightforward explanation. A close reading that admits incomplete comprehension will almost always be stronger than one that puts forward a flat interpretation.

2. It pays attention to details

In order to reveal the text’s complexity, your close reading should focus on particular textual details (including words, sounds, images, feelings, perspectives, characters, events, ...). Explain how these details makes a difference to the text’s overall meaning or effect. Close Readings that do not make use of quotations cannot receive greater than a ✓-.

3. It explores big themes and ideas

Your close reading will show how the particular formal and linguistic characteristics of your text reveals something significant about a larger conceptual problem. The trick here is to deftly move back and forth between the concrete textual details of your material and the abstract ideas, concepts, values, or themes that you want to explore.

What counts as a “big” theme or idea? That’s up to you. Emphasize the interesting nature of your topic by writing with enthusiasm and elaborating on the significance of your interpretation.

Note that it’s not enough simply to note the presence of a theme or idea in the text; instead, you should try to show how the text takes a position on that theme or idea. Instead of saying, for instance, that “Tell Them” is about the environment, explain how the text gets us to think about boredom in some new and interesting way.

Skills: English (US)

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I was at the top of my class in high school for English, and I was exempted from all English classes in college. I can write this close reading exercise in about two days, and will have well written along with followin More

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