Comparing and Contrasting Poems of Controversy

Comparing and Contrasting Poems of Controversy

You will be writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay that examines two different poets from two different backgrounds exploring the theme of race relations. You will apply at least two (2) literary elements found in both poems to illustrate your analysis of the poems. For background information on the two poets you will be writing about,

Listen to the talk “ The Danger of a single story” by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie:

Watch the video clips:

“A day with Wole Soyinka” at

“Sharon Olds Speaks at the 2008 Poets Forum” at

Preparation for writing the essay:
Before beginning your essay, read about the comparison and contrast essay at the Excelsior College OWL (Links to the OWL are listed in your Learning & Assemesnt Activities section) and veiw the following:

What Does It Look Like
See It in the Disciplines
Writing the essay:
You will use the close reading methods previously covered to illustrate and support your explication method and to gather evidence and quotes from the poems to support your thesis in this comparison and contrast essay about two different poems expressing views on race relations.

Having read the poems:

“Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka [Use]
“On the Subway” by Sharon Olds
Write a 500 to 750 word essay comparing and contrasting the themes of these two poems, examining at least two (2) specific literary elements in both poems, and ensuring you include quotes from each poem to support and illustrate the theme.

Compose your work using a word processor (or other software as appropriate) and save it frequently to your computer. Be sure to check your work and correct any spelling or grammatical errors before you post it.

When you’re ready to submit your work, click Browse My Computer and find your file. Once you’ve located your file click Open and, if successful, the file name will appear under the Attached files heading.

Scroll to the bottom of the page, click Submit and you’re done.

Discussions will be assessed using the SLA Discussion Rubric [39.1 KB PDF file]. Each discussion is worth 2.5% of the total course grade.
Module Notes: Explication du Texte or How to Analyze Poetry

French critics of poetry developed a precise strategy for reading poetry they called explication du texte or explicating a poem. Explication is another word for analyze. This reading method follows a number of steps that progressively unearth the special language and meaning poems often contain. This method works best with difficult poems, but can be applied to any poetry. Much like the literary criticism you learned about in Module Two, explicating a poem represents a professional reading of poetry by scholars. It should never replace the active and more personal reading of poems you practiced in the last module.

For an excellent example of how to analyze a poem along with a structure for writing about a poem using this critical method, see the University of North Carolina’s hand out:

Journaling Suggestion. A reminder that on the menu, you’ll see a link called Journal. You can elect to use this private space to take notes on and/ or write reactions to the readings and literary theories for application to our discussions and assignments.

For this module, we will be following the method of explication presented at Hunter College’s Writing Center. See their Writing about Literature section at

We will apply this method to an analysis of Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which you can find at:

As you’ll see stated in the interaction, this is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis, but rather, a guideline to use when trying to understand and write about difficult poetry. The steps can be followed in any order.

View the Steps to Explicate Poetry.


You have now analyzed one reliable method for explicating poetry. In other words, you have broken down the poem into its component parts like an old time watch maker might open the back of a watch. When writing an essay on poetry, you simply reassemble these parts into what you take to be the poem’s theme. The component parts become the material or evidence that supports your explication of the poem, i.e., the discussion of the “meaning” or “theme” you find the poem illustrates.

For instance, your first stanza introduces your theme, stanzas 2-4 talk about the 8 steps, and the conclusion summarizes your interpretation or explication of the poem. Frost’s poem appears to be about a man on a solitary journey who stops to contemplate his life at a quiet, seductive, wooded location. The peace or escape from life’s daily grind appeals to the poet as it would to many of us who work hard every day and cope with a significant amount of stress. The poet, however, realizes he has obligations (family, work, etc.) or “promises to keep,” and he continues on his journey as a responsible person would do.

In the discussion activity, you have an opportunity to apply some of these steps to a reading of Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem “The Fish.”

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