Mentor Text Wednesday: Leading us to Revelation

Mentor Text: Leading Us To Revelation: On Rita Dove by Jericho Brown


  • Analysis
  • Introduction & Conclusion
  • Titling


I’ve had a subscription to POETRY Magazine for a few years now.


And I almost never finish an issue. Issues travel with me in my school bag. Issues are lugged to dance and swim practices in my satchel. Issues can usually be found on my desk at home, my desk at school, on my nightstand, in the car, in my reading nook… everywhere.

And maybe that’s why I never finish an issue. There’s almost always an issue within reach, but it’s often not the same issue.

But as a lover of poetry and a high school English teacher, I’m not giving up that subscription. I always find something that moves me, or strikes a chord in my Teacher Heart. Every issue.

April 2023’s issue is titled ‘Legends,’ and although I’ve only made it a third of the way in, I’ve found some gold to share with you. As the title suggests, this issue celebrates legendary poets, their work presented with essays from poets singing their praises.

How we might use this text:

Analysis – I really could have picked any of the essays in this issue. Each one (so far) is a wonderful expression of appreciation of the work of the chosen poet. The fact that the poets writing the essays are trying to speak of the “big picture” impact of the poet they’re writing about is significant. It is a specific kind of analysis, focused. They serve as brief essay responses to the question “Why does this poet matter?”

I think this kind of focus in a good thing to show our students. Instead of pages extolling every virtue of Rita Dove’s work, Jericho Brown is focused, looking at a couple of reasons. In actuality, the reasons he explores at length are actually connected. It is her empowering voice as a Black poet that matters, that encourages him in his own work.

That’s also the reason that I chose this particular essay to share with you, the fact that it’s a personal analysis. Because analysis can be challenging, we, as teachers, give our students lots of strategies and tools to guide their analysis. Sometimes, that means that analysis can be a technical feeling writing exercise, and we’re given pieces that are more cerebral than emotional. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the technical aspects of poetry, but that’s not the stuff that makes me curse under my breath as I read an issue of POETRY. It’s the emotional impact that makes poetry matter. Their analysis should reflect that, and Brown’s essay shows how that can be done. (As well as showing how you include the stuff that influences our feelings about a poet outside of their poetry.)

Introduction and Conclusion – I know I’ve expressed here before that often, our work with mentor texts is influenced by the things we’re seeing, and working on in our classrooms. This year, it feels like we’ve really been discussing how we begin and end our pieces.

Brown’s intro echoes the work my writers have been doing, using background and narration as elements of our introduction through our use of the 5 part essay structure. He includes a narrative element in his introduction, as well as discussing her craft. We know that both are important, and will be the crux of his essay.

Conclusions are hard for students. They’re either restating everything, or working too hard for that “mic drop” closer. Jericho does both of these things so succinctly and wonderfully. I know our less motivated writers might use this kind of conclusion as a crutch to finish faster, but how awesome would this model be used effectively?

Titling – Titling pieces is going to be the next thing that I really dial in on in writing instruction. It’s a space where so many of my writers place no effort – were I reading a class set of essays about Rita Dove’s poetry, a distressingly large portion of them would no doubt be titled some variation of “Rita Dove Analysis Essay.” This model Brown uses, “Creative Expression of the Thesis of the Piece: Identifying the Task” is a nice model.

I’ve really been thinking the last few years about how we get writers to express their exploration of another writer’s craft. The analysis essay is an easy one to over assign, and an easy one to make a joyless feeling task, for the writer, and for us, the reader. Jericho Brown’s essay, and the others in (what I’ve read of) this issue of Poetry provide a valuable way to elevate this task.

Do you have good mentor texts for analysis? What are the aspects of writing that you’ve been exploring with your writers? What are the ones you’re thinking will be your focus next year?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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