Cover image for Thematic guide to American poetry
Thematic guide to American poetry
Burns, Allan (Allan Douglas)
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiv, 309 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS303 .B87 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
PS303 .B87 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



This unique poetry resource offers interpretations of 250 poems, representing the work of 86 poets from a wide spectrum of historical, contemporary, ethnic, and canonical writers. Organization of this volume facilitates easy access to information on poetry for users' individual purposes. The main section of the guide contains narrative essays on 21 alphabetically arranged themes that recur throughout the rich history of American poetry.

In each section, the explications of individual poems are arranged chronologically to trace the evolution of a particular theme over time. Educators teaching thematic units will find relevant essays here appropriate as either background presentation, discussion ideas, or student assignments. Following each entry, the poems are listed with information about the anthologies in which they may be found. Most of the abbreviations used here correspond to the codes used in The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry in Anthology , familiar to most librarians. This guide is ideal for librarians and teachers who need to identify and locate poems on a given theme, and for students and lovers of poetry who wish to enrich their understanding of the thematic meanings of poems.

Author Notes

Allan Burns is Assistant Professor of English at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The latest addition to the Greenwood series of thematic guides to literature for students features 21 narrative essays on such broad themes in American poetry as "Art and Beauty," "Family Relations," "Loss," and "War." The essays are arranged alphabetically, and each begins with a theme-related quotation followed by a chronologically arranged discussion of how the theme is treated differently across individual poems. On average, chapters are 12 pages long and discuss 12 individual poems. Each chapter concludes with a list of anthologies in which each poem appears (abbreviations correspond closely with Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry in Anthologies). Brief biographical sketches of all the poets covered appear in the back of the volume along with a further reading list and an index. The aim of the guide is to "help students better understand what poems are saying, specifically against the wider backdrop of American poetic traditions." The narratives for each poem are pithy and clear, discussing only generally how the poem portrays the theme under discussion. Although author Burns, an English professor, tends to favor some of the same poets (250 poems are represented, but only 86 poets), the only criteria for inclusion is high-quality poetry of the U.S. that is readily available in standard anthologies. The limited space in a single volume necessarily requires somewhat arbitrary exclusiveness, but the poems that are chosen are well explicated. In essays that allude to poems discussed in other chapters, a referential note is made. Currently, although plenty of explication is available for individual landmark poems, guides that discuss American poems through broad-based thematic essays are scarce. Indexes like Columbia Granger's only have very literal subject indexing and cannot be solely relied upon. Thematic Guide to American Poetry provides a valuable outlet for students or teachers looking for poems on a given theme and is recommended for high-school, academic, and public libraries.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Well-organized, easy-to-navigate, authoritative volumes. Each book discusses more than 20 themes including "Life and Death," "Obligations and Choices," "War," "Duty," "Marriage," and "Nature." These topics are explored in detail in lengthy essays with references to specific poems. Historical context and biographical sketches offer insight into the poets' lives as well as the time periods in which they lived. Works included range from the 1700s to the present and, depending on the scope of the book, include authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe, William Wordsworth, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Philip Larkin. The selections are discussed in chronological order so that, according to Glancy, "-readers can trace the development and decline of interest in themes over the centuries." Works are referenced at the end of each chapter. Author, title, and subject indexes make access easy. Also included in each volume is a list of anthologies in which the referenced poems can be found. Because of the length of some chapters, the complex discussions of some subjects, and the many literary references, these titles would be most useful to advanced students and their teachers.-Julie Webb, Shelby County High School, Shelbyville, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Burns's useful guidebook approaches American poetry through 21 literary themes (e.g., family relations, nature, suffering and joy, war). For each theme, a narrative essay traces the theme's development over time, discussing about a dozen American poems in chronological order, along with brief references to other works of literature and to relevant historical events. In all, Burns explicates some 250 works by 86 American poets. The selections are judicious: renowned poets (Dickinson, Frost, Whitman) are well represented, as are major American literary figures better known for their prose writings (Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau.) Coverage of contemporary poets is necessarily highly selective, but commendably diverse. All the selected poems are found in one or more of 32 standard anthologies; those in which each section's poems can be found are listed at the end of the section, using the abbreviation codes in The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry in Anthologies (12th ed., CH, Oct'02). A substantial appendix offers biographical sketches of the 86 poets, and there are indexes to authors, titles, and subjects. Like four other thematic guides recently published by Greenwood (on the American novel, British poetry, popular short stories, and Shakespeare's plays), this one is well organized, fills a niche in the literature, and will be especially useful for educators and librarians. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate readers. W. P. Hogan Eastern Michigan University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Anthologies of American Poetry and Abbreviations Usedp. xiii
Art and Beautyp. 1
Civilizationp. 11
Family Relationsp. 25
Freedom and Slaveryp. 33
The Individual and Societyp. 43
Innocence and Experiencep. 55
Life and Deathp. 65
Lossp. 83
Love and Sexp. 101
Memoryp. 113
Naturep. 121
Obligations and Choicesp. 135
Poetryp. 143
The Selfp. 155
Skepticism and Beliefp. 165
Suffering and Joyp. 179
Thought and Perceptionp. 187
Time and Changep. 199
Tradition and Heritagep. 215
Truth and Appearancesp. 227
Warp. 235
Biographical Sketchesp. 247
Further Readingp. 291
Title Indexp. 293
Name Indexp. 301
Subject Indexp. 307