Reading and Notating the Poetry Selection for AP English Literature
Read the poem. Depending on your style and comfort level, choose one of these approaches to your reading:
- Read quickly to get the gist of the poem.
- Reread, using the highlighting and marginal notes approach.
- Read slowly, as if speaking aloud. Let the structure of the poem help you with meaning. (See the terms enjambment and caesura in the glossary at the back of this book.)
- Reread to confi rm that you understand the full impact of the poem. Do your highlighting and make marginal notes.
Note: In both approaches, you must highlight and make marginal notes. There is no way to avoid this. Ignore what you don't immediately understand. It may become clear to you after reading the poem. Practice. Practice. Concentrate on those parts of the poem that apply to what you highlighted in the prompt.
There are many ways to read and interpret any poetry. You have to choose your own approach and which specifi cs to include for support. Don't be rattled if there is leftover material.
We've reproduced the poem for you below so that you can practice both the reading and the process of deconstructing the text. Use highlighting, arrows, circles, underlining, notes, numbers, and whatever you need to make the connections clear to you.
Do this now. Spend between 8–10 minutes working the material. Do not skip this step. It is time well spent and is a key to the high score essay.
On the Subway
by Sharon Olds
- The boy and I face each other
- His feet are huge, in black sneakers
- laced with white in a complex pattern like a
- set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
- opposite sides of the car, a couple of
- molecules stuck in a rod of light
- rapidly moving through darkness.
- He has the casual cold look of a mugger,
- alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
- red, like the inside of the body
- exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the
- whole skin of an animal taken and
- used. I look at his raw face,
- he looks at my fur coat, and I don't
- know if I am in his power—
- he could take my coat so easily, my
- briefcase, my life—
- or if he is in my power, the way I am
- living off his life, eating the steak
- he does not eat, as if I am taking
- the food from his mouth. And he is black
- and I am white, and without meaning or
- trying to I must profi t from his darkness,
- the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
- nation's heart, as black cotton
- absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
- no way to know how easy this
- white skin makes my life, this
- life he could take so easily and
- break across his knee like a stick the way his
- own back is being broken, the
- rod of his soul that at birth was dark and
- fl uid and rich as the heart of a seedling
- ready to thrust up into any available light
Now compare your reading notes with what we've done below. Yours may vary from ours, but the results of your note-taking should be similar in scope.
After you have marked the poem, review the prompt.
In "On the Subway," Sharon Olds brings two worlds into close proximity. Identify the contrasts that develop both portraits in the poem and discuss the insights the narrator comes to as a result of the experience. Refer to such literary techniques as poetic devices, tone, imagery, and organization.
When you look at your notes, certain categories will begin to pop out at you. These can be the basis for the development of the body of your essay. For example:
- Light and dark imagery
- Speaker's insights
- Contrast in status
- Animal imagery
- Implied violence
- Shift in middle of poem
Here's how we saw one category develop in the poem. Notice that we have ignored notes that did not apply to the prompt.
Today on Education.com
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- The Homework Debate
- Social Cognitive Theory
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- First Grade Sight Words List