Research in progress for ENGL 2333: World Literature II
Faculty Mentor: W. Scott Cheney, Ph.D.
In an 1870 letter, Emily Dickinson described poetry this way: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” During the twentieth century, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova wrote poetry that embodies Dickinson’s intense definition. My World Literature students read Requiem, Akhmatova’s most famous long poem, and grapple with the suffering it vividly depicts under Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. Akhmatova’s unique voice and veiled purposes capture their attention, and I ask students to make sense of the poem by writing a Bibliographic Trace. This short paper pushes them into the library databases to find three academic articles that are in conversation. In other words, they find a recent article and explore its bibliography to find a second article. They must then use the bibliography of that second article to find a third article and explain how all three critics interpret the difficult poem over time. The connections between articles are not always tidy and linear, but students learn to see how academic research is a collaborative negotiation of ideas that develops with each new reader and critic.
Marie Peteuil’s Bibliographic Trace deftly opens up the dialogue between three literary critics (Sharon Bailey, Susan Amert, and Boris Katz) whose articles on Akhmatova’s Requiem were written over the span of seven years in the 1990s. In doing so, two words characterize the path Marie’s paper traveled to reach publication: revision and dedication. When she first started working on the assignment in class, Marie reached out for my feedback before the draft was due. She then further improved the final paper by revising it after getting detailed comments back from me. Then before submitting it for publication after our class ended, she revised again to be sure it was in its best possible form. After submission, the publication process took at least two more rounds of revision before it became this finished manuscript. Because Marie was dedicated to her project, she was able to dig deeply into the source material and add supplementary sources to augment her points. The many hours she spent with the poem and secondary material allowed her to uncover a unique reading of the text: that Akhmatova’s poem ultimately retells the story of the crucifixion while describing the Great Purge in Russia. Being dedicated to the craft of revision is difficult and time consuming, but Marie is now an emerging expert on Requiem and its corresponding research.
"Requiem: Heart-Wrenching “Mass Song” or a Smoke Screen?,"
Quest: Vol. 7, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.collin.edu/quest/vol7/iss1/4