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Times Writer

How to Annotate a Poem

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Some of you might be asking, what is annotation? Annotation is the act of adding notes. There is a lot of things that you can cover while annotating. My favorite thing to annotate is poems. They usually have less lines than a story. But tell a deeper story. Today I will use the following poem as an example and walk you through the steps I take to annotate a poem. (I'm not quite sure who the author is, but we used it as practice in my English class and I fell in love with it.)

Black Valentine

I don't know how my mother got my father
on their bed, or how
she stood over him and cast the fishing
line of her voice in the dark
and hooked him with the barb
of her question, or how
he managed to swim up
out of the bourbon lake in his blood
and slur something like language
from his mouth of stones,
or how that small quiet woman
got the courage to raise her arm
and wade into the rot
and sink knee-deep in the ooze
and hit my father hard-
sternum, cheek bone, an eye
for an eye, I can't say
for sure, all I remember
is pressing my face to the cool
wall, as if to squeeze through,head
first, and stand, a five-year-old
child between them and say
stop. But I couldn't do anything, so I pulled the lake
blue covers over my face
and closed my eyes and saw my first grade teacher cutting paper
hearts, and how
I took them home and taped them
To my parents walls, knowing
Mother would hold her tears
when Father didn't come home
and after t.v. I'd curl inside
the lukewarm hollow of my bed sheets
until I'd wake hearing my mother's
voice tearing the air to pieces,
my father stumbling into the bathroom
to throw his body over the toilet
and I smell the sharp pungency
of his drowning, Mother
dives into save him, quiet
lapping of her voice against
the wooden boat of my bed,
my baby my baby,
that rocking takes me under in sleep.

Wasn't that a good read? We are not done yet! That's why I love this poem; it's a strong read without any looking into the meaning. In my English class we use TPCASTT so that is the method that we will be using today. Before we start try writing your first impression of the poem after reading it once through. After you analyze it you can look back at your first thoughts and see if they have changed. Remember, you can use this method on ANY poem.

Step One: The Title (the "T" of TPCASTT)

The title might seem minuscule compared to the rest of the poem. But the title, quite often tells you a lot about the entire poem. Take your time with each word and write what the connotation of that particular word is. The literal meaning is important to take into consideration. In the poem you just read, the title is "Black Valentines". The first word is black, which brings ideas of death, mourning, and despair; paired with love which brings thoughts of love and happiness.

Step Two: Paraphrase (the "P" of TPCASTT)

Paraphrasing is making a line shorter and it will help you in the long run to write the literal meaning of the important lines; such as "and hooked him with the barb of her question". An example of a unimportant line would be "on their bed, or how". There aren't any keywords in the second one, and there's no metaphors or similes to explain. It's important to write the literal meaning in your own words, so that you can understand it when you read over it. Sometimes this is very difficult to accomplish and takes some work. Example: "and slur something like language" paired with the "bourbon lake" in the line above shows that the boys father is an alcoholic. There is also an extended metaphor throughout the poem using lakes and water.

Step Three: Connotation (the "C" of TPCASTT)

Connotation is stating the literal meaning of the poem, beyond the abstract. This time it will be for the poem. Sometimes this is an overwhelming proposition to accomplish. But if you take it piece by piece, it wont seem like such a terrifying job. An example in the poem above is "and hit my father hard- sternum, cheek bone"; which means literally that the mother and father hit each other.

Step Four: Attitude (the "A" of the TPCASTT)

The attitude or the feeling of the poem is probably the easiest steps of them all. All you have to do is write what the feeling is or what the tone is of them poem. Such as "the small quiet woman got the courage to raise her arm"; they were angry. So, by that line of text you write "angry". Told you it was easy!

Step Five: Shifts (the "S" of TPCASTT)

The shift is where the author changes direction or attitude overall. Sometimes there is several shifts and changes in the poem. In this particular poem the shift is when it says "between them and say stop". You would circle the word "stop" because it signals a change. This is the only shift in this poem. It is the shift because the first half of the poem is focusing on the parents and then in the second half of the poem focuses on the child and his feelings. When looking for shifts look for a difference in the writing style or the words "but", "then", or any other word that would be emphasized with change.

Step Six: Title Interpreted (the "T" of TPCASTT)

This is where you look beyond the literal and see the abstract meaning of the title. Once again the title can mean many things. Using the ideas of the first step to help you put the literal and the abstract together to make the "title interpreted". Both of them together says death and happiness, two things that don't usually go together. Together they make a oxymoron.

Step 7: Theme (the "T" of the TPCASTT)

The theme is what the poet was trying to say with the entire poem. To find the theme put everything you have written together and come out with a conclusion. There is many different conclusions most of the time because everyone thinks differently. My conclusion for "Black Valentines" is: That the dad was looking back on his childhood and that the person who is looking back killed his own child because he hit his wife. There is many allusions to the bible and the womb. The cycle continues and he regrets being like his father.

Thank You For Reading,


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