Short Blog Post 3, Weeks of 2/17 and 2/24

In short blog posts 1 and 2, you selected increasingly localized parts of a text to think about, first a single line/sentence and then a single word. In blog post 3, you’ll still select some small part of the text to think about (a word, a phrase, 1-3 lines of poetry, a sentence, a rhyme pair, etc.), but you’ll do so to make some point about the form or style of the text at hand.

Form is often opposed to (and interlinked with) content in literary studies. Roughly, content is “what a text says” and form is “how it says it.”

Consider these lines from Langston Hughes, for example:

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

When someone talks about the immediate, literal-level content of this passage, she means what’s represented–the man playing piano, and the particular ways in which he is playing it. Figurative-level content would be similar, but it’s more about a second-level meaning of what the man playing piano represents.

When we talk about form, on the other hand, we’re considered with the way it’s put together: the alliteration on d sounds in the first line, the way the rhythmic stresses fall in each of these lines, the way the poet begins with two subordinate clauses before offering a short, simple sentence in the third line, the rhyme on tune and croon, the way “Rocking back and forth” feels like it rocks back and forth, the way the third line seems cut off compared to the first two lines. With poems, we often have very specific ways to talk about form. I might say, for example, that the second line begins with trochaic feet and ends up feeling rather iambic–a shift that might explain the rocking feeling of the sentence. For these first posts on form, however, don’t get too bogged down in the proper terminology. It’s more important to show how some formal choice adds to the meaning/experience of the poem/text.

We can talk about form in prose, too–here, the word “style” becomes useful. If you’re writing on a prose writer, you should again pick some small aspect/piece of the text and write about how it’s put together–what choices does the author make? What’s particular about her style? Style is a bit more elusive as a term–but think about how different Charles Chestnutt’s writing is from Henry James’s. That difference is in content, but it’s even more overwhelmingly in form/style.

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