Journal Instructions

Choose one of the Poems below:

Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl”

How might you read this poem differently if it was titled “Mother” rather than “Girl?” Since the poem consists mainly of a list of expectations that are being placed on the girl, it might be read as a criticism of forced conformity. But a more sympathetic reading is also possible, in which the speaker is trying to protect the girl from very real concerns. Argue for one of these readings, supporting your interpretation with details from the text.

Emily Dickinson, “Much Madness is Divinest Sense”

What does Emily Dickinson mean by “much madness is divinest sense?” Can you think of a historical figure who was viewed by society as mad, but might be argued to have exhibited “divinest sense?” Explain.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

Traditionally, readers have seen Tennyson as identifying with and being sympathetic toward the speaker of this poem, but others have detected an ironic distance between speaker and poet. Make an argument either in defense of the traditional reading of the poem or for a reading in which Ulysses is as much an object of criticism as an object of sympathy.

Jane Hirschfield, “The Fifth Day”

Hirschfield read this poem at the 2017 March for Science and in introducing it said that she began writing it on the afternoon of January 25th of that year, the day, in her words, “when the federal scientists were told to be silent.” Do a little online reading on the march and the incidents that led to it. How does Hirschfield’s poem respond to those incidents? Does the fact that it responds to a specific contemporary event limit it, or can it speak more broadly? Explain.

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