All posts by Micheal

Collaborative close reading

Part 1:

  1. Read your passage aloud at least twice.
  2. Annotate your paragraph. What literary elements do you see at play in the passage? What words or images don’t you understand? (Look up unfamiliar words or allusions in the OED or reputable dictionary.) Don’t just name the elements but explain them (for example, if you see a metaphor, don’t just say “metaphor” but explain what the comparison being made is).
  3. Highlight words or phrases that you can’t quite explain or still have questions about.
  4. Pass your passages and start again once time expires.

Part 2: Once all passages have been annotated,

  1. Use the class’s annotations and observations about this passage to write a thesis about how this passage “works.” Use the template “In this passage, Dawson does _____ to show _____” as a guide. Write an additional few sentences explaining the evidence for your thesis from the passage.
  2. Share your theses/sentences and discuss passages as a full group.

(Adapted from Danica Savonick’s Collaborative Close Reading guidelines.)

note on the “sestina”

I wanted to say a little more about the sestina form, as it appears in When Rap Spoke Straight to God, which I glossed over in class.

The sestina is a complicated form that goes back to 12th century Troubadour poetry. The form consists of six stanzas of six lines each, with the addition of a three-line envoi. (Envoi is a poetics term for a short, concluding stanza.) The “end words” of the first stanza are repeated in a fixed order, with the concluding envoy including all of the end words.

Dawson’s sestinas in Rap Spoke Straight to God follow an irregular order of end words. If you map out the six end words (swing, trump, skies, this, “K,” new) in the sestina beginning on page 11 (with the line, “For some, it don’t mean a thing without the swing . . .”), you’ll find this pattern:

1 2 3 4 5 6

6 1 2 3 4 5

5 6 1 2 3 4

4 5 6 1 2 3

3 4 5 6 1 2

2 3 4 5 6 1

(5 6) (1 3) (2 4)

This is just another way that Dawson works within “traditional” poetic forms, yet also audaciously remixes them.

For more on the sestina form, check out this page:

“Exploding” a poem

Understanding a poem always requires multiple readings. Let’s practice!

We’ll read a few passages from Erica Dawson’s When Rap Spoke Straight to God three times each. Each time, you’ll approach the poem slightly differently.

  • The first time, just listen to the poem.
  • The second time, choose one line of the poem and “annotate” it with a short question or comment.
  • The third time, the class will “explode”—meaning, you’ll share aloud what you wrote after the line has been spoken.

We’ll then follow up with some questions:

  1. What did you hear during the explosion?
  2. What surprised you?
  3. What didn’t you understand?
  4. What patterns did you notice?
  5. Which lines drew your attention and why?

Not-at-all Professorial Mixtape

I thought it only fair if I also posted a playlist. Putting it together was harder than I expected: only six songs?! What was I thinking? I should say, “Another Brick in the Wall” isn’t quite my favorite Pink Floyd track (for my real answer, see “Time”), but I couldn’t resist the irony.

Also, I wanted to add a track from Yoko Kanno’s Cowboy Bebop OST, but alas it’s not on Spotify! So you get a Youtube link instead…

Your definitions of “Literature”

Literature is that which broadens your perspective on the human condition and experience by evoking feeling through the use of interpretive expression. — Dimesha, Rowan, Andres, Tyleshia, and Steffany (a.k.a. “The Romantics”)

Literary works reflect our experience and combine old ideas with new ones that further our culture. — Justin, Jason, Neyda, Adina and Natalie (a.k.a. “The Historicists”)

Literature is material that derives from popular culture and is studied by that culture, where it represents all the ideas, interactions, and phenomena of people at a certain period of time. — Albin, Mario, Kusang, and Christopher (a.k.a. “The Culturalists”)

Literature is written language used to encourage thinking, to persuade, describe and react to the world we live in. And also to entertain. — Maria, Kimberly, Serena, and Sheilah (a.k.a. “The Rhetoricians”)

Literature is your understanding of the text, while learning to analyze important details you’ve noticed throughout the author’s work. — Gabriel, Emily, and Joshua (a.k.a. “The Reader Response Critics”)

Mixtape blog

Careful readers of the syllabus will notice that on 3/22 we have no class, as I will be away at a conference. In lieu of class, then, we will have a “mixtape blog” assignment. Here’s what that entails:

  1. Choose one of the songs from your music mixtape.
  2. Write a 300-500 word “close listening” blog (that is, a careful critical analysis). In other words, demonstrate how the song makes meaning and elicits feeling. You might make reference to the song’s lyrics (in particular, their literary elements), the “sound” of the song (for example, instrumentation, tone, rhythm, and so on) and, if the music video is relevant, visual imagery.
  3. Post your blog here by Friday, March 22 @ midnight.
  4. Before our March 29 class session, leave a 2-3 sentence comment on one of your classmates’ blogs.

Posting your blog on time will count as “attendance” for the missed class session.



Welcome to ENG 102: Writing Through Literature—also known as LITERARY LISTENING.

At the very least, this site houses the course’s supplementary materials (in other words, the stuff you don’t have to buy) and an up-to-date syllabus.

Beyond that, we will use this site as a platform for sharing your work, research, and ideas.

Let me finish with a question to you: Do you have any ideas or suggestions for using this course site?