Tutor profile: Michael T.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I believe that writing is a form of magic. No, I really do. I was reading Stephen King's memoir On Writing, a book I would highly recommend to the aspiring writer or any fan of King, and he offered this simple thought experiment: Imagine there's a stage. On the stage is a table and on that table is a cage. In that cage is a white rabbit with a red number 8 painted on its back. That's the end of the thought experiment. Now, without knowing anything else, I know that you're thinking about that red number 8 painted on the bunny's back. Why is it there? Who put it there? I didn't tell you that the stage was made of fiberglass, or maybe it was made of steel, you didn't think of that, all you just pictured a cage. I didn't tell you if the bunny was 4 pounds or a genetic mutation left the bunny 28.3 pounds in a much larger cage. The magic of writing is that I was able to produce an image in your mind, and direct your focus to a single part of that image: that red number 8 painted on the rabbit's back.
How do you do a close reading?
A close reading of a text is essential prior to your analysis of that text. Before I go about analyzing anything I follow a few simple steps. First, I read the passage a few times. To some students, this can be tedious and dull but I guarantee you that each read through, if done thoughtfully, will produce new insights into the text itself. I also recommend trying to paraphrase the text. Putting something into your own words is one of the best barometers for testing to see if you really understand what you're reading. Next, define every word you don't know. Another arduous task for many students, but after a while, this becomes second nature. Any word I encounter these days I look up and I am always surprised at how quickly I run into that same word again and am grateful for knowing its definition. This is just the first few steps of performing a close reading. What follows is noticing structure, sound, syntax, irony, tone, none of these are easy or obvious elements but something we can work on together!
What do we lose and what do we gain when we read poetry aloud?
Though there are many poets who claim that their work is best experienced auditorily e.g. Gerard Manley Hopkins, it is worth noting what is often lost when the poem is exclusively experienced in this manner. I think the most obvious and important loss is the punction of the poem, however, there is also the significant possibility of missing words purposefully written in a different way, but that phonetically sound the same. To give an example of what I mean, consider a line that reads "Birth; Death." If this line was purely an auditory experience then it would sound as if the speaker merely paused. However, a reader of this line discovers the semicolon. From this discovery a great deal of analysis can be done, an example of which would be to say that the poet distinguishes birth and death as independent events and that all life is a pause between these events. Next, consider the line "I have holes in the souls of my shoes." Phonetically, this sentence sounds exactly the same as if "souls" was instead spelled "soles" and therefore this double meaning would be entirely missed by the listener of the poem. However, the reader would easily be able to pause and reflect on this spelling. Often, though, what is gained from reading poetry, is to experience the cadence of the reader's voice. This can be particularly helpful when listening to poems written as dramatic monologues. As an example, I would invite you to first read T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and then listen to it, on Youtube, read by Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins.
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