LITR 4338 American Renaissance

Poetry reader / discussion leader

"Great Star Flag" popular in antebellum USA

Length: 8-12 minutes for presentation; Discussion may continue indefinitely.

In nearly every class meeting LITR 4232 American Renaissance presents and studies one of three major poets from its period: Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. If you continue to study or teach early American literature, you can count on these poets always reappearing and commanding attention.

The instructor leads early poetry presentations. Near the end of the semester students may lead poetry presentations according to the format and purposes described here.

These poetry presentations are designed to familiarize students with Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson, with standard poetic terms and techniques, and with some ways to discuss these poets in relation to each other.

The course's final exam will feature a question requiring an overview of the three poets and a comparative analysis of their characteristic styles and themes.

The broadest formal approach to comparing these poets' works is in their commitment to traditional formal or fixed verse (Poe), to modern free verse (Whitman), or to poems like Dickinson's that work from traditional formal patterns but vary them in more modern ways.

Beyond these comparative analyses, students should be able to identify the particular poetic subjects and styles associated with Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson. Each poetry presentation must include at least one specific reference to the poet's "style sheet" featured with each poem or syllabus listing.









introduction / set-up


  • Announce author, title, date, basic info on author's life, place in history or course.

  • Preview themes, contexts, etc. in terms of course objectives.


  • Don't attempt complete coverage of poem's every possibility; prioritize according to course objectives & class response.

  • Don't focus on author's biography or force the text to conform to external facts.

  • Don't spend too much time talking about anything before reading the poem.


  • Distribute paper copies of poem or use web projector. (Instructor can help with photocopies.)

presentation & "performance"

(order may vary)


  • Identify idea, theme, problem, issue, or literary feature in the poem to be emphasized; preview poetic technique(s).

  • Briefly relate to a course objective or to other readings (poems or main texts)

  • Read poem aloud

    • practice pronunciations, know terms (don't stop to ask; communicate before)

  • Highlight 2-3 passages, connect to interpretation

  • Identify  poetic technique(s) & example(s) in poem


  • Don't read the poem flatly or haltingly--make it sing! give it rhythm! make it sound like it matters!

  • Don't talk too long after reading the poem--students are ready to discuss immediately but lose focus quickly if presenter keeps on.



  • Ask a question to start discussion. Question should follow from your interpretation or appeal more broadly to challenges in the text or intertexts with other class readings.

  • Lead discussion. You may follow up or re-start discussion with follow-up questions as prepared.

  • Conclude discussion by highlighting major points from discussion + relation to course objective


  • Panic if students don't respond. Keep asking questions or refocusing on passages in text.


  • Posting or Summary for Web Page--email ahead of time to instructor for posting, or bring file on thumb drive.

Single biggest aid to a good discussion: Start discussion as soon as possible after reading the poem. After hearing and sharing the poem, the class is ready to jump in and discuss. Usually the only discussions that "die" are the ones where the students have to wait too long to start talking.

Next biggest aid to a good discussion: Don't save questions and discussion for end, but mix in questions and discussion as presentation proceeds.


Examples from 2007 Student Poetry Presentations

Examples from 2006 Student Poetry Presentations

Examples from 2003 Student Poetry Presentations