Reading as a Writer

The activity of reading is a complex process involving the formation of and testing of inferences about the internal relations of the work and about the external relations between the work and the world. Much of the activity of reading remains tacit; that is, we do it for the most part without being conscious of what we are doing.

Reading as a Writer most often involves putting the process of reading to work in writing. The process includes comprehension (summary), analysis (recognition and use of features of text), interpretation (construction of meaning from a text and recognize ways of reading), and evaluation (identifying and analyzing assumptions and judgments)


Marginal notes and annotation on section XLVII of Ezra Pound’s Cantos

Summary: the reader formulates a brief restatement that omits concrete details, in the case of a narrative, in order to isolate the significant actions and formal divisions in the work. We summarize a text so that we have a sufficient understanding of the character(s) and action(s) of the work.

e.g. (exempli gratia or for example) here is a schematic summary of Hart Crane’s The Bridge (a seventy-six page poem): The poem begins with an introductory proem and then is divided into eight parts. In the poem, a young man awakens at dawn, gazes out over the harbour and city, and then spends the day wandering in the metropolis, gradually becoming involved in its corruption, and, after agonizing disillusionment and drunkenness—a kind of spiritual descent into Hades—comes, in the final part of the poem, to an apparently illuminating vision of order or transcendence.

Marginalia: the reader is focused on her response to the work—what springs to mind and into body in the course of your reading. Its purpose is to register your feelings and thoughts as you read to examine, deepen and perhaps change them. We respond to texts in the mode of marginalia when we draw on our own emotions, life experience and intellectual competencies


Isaac Newton’s marginal notations

Annotation: the reader brings to the work factual information from an external source. Its purpose is to clarify apparent ambiguities, obscurities and references. We annotate—or at least we should—when a term or reference in the text slows us down, confuses us or presents an interpretive problem


marginal notes and annotation

Explication: the reader proceeds word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, line-by-line, with the intent of describing the work’s formal features—the lexical, grammatical, syntactic and sequential choices of an author. Its purpose is to generate awareness of the formal features of a work so as to be more accountable to how the work is put together. We explicate to make explicit the immediate indices of our attention—the lexical, grammatical, syntactic choices of an author; we analyze, relying on all the previous modes—marginalia, annotation and explication—to communicate to your reader something interesting and significant about the passage(s) under discussion

Address the following short poem by Emily Dickinson using marginal commentary, annotation, and explication:

“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see—
But microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

Analysis: the reader isolates one or more elements of the work for closer attention. We use analysis to separate the work into parts, or into cause and effect relations, in order to probe different relations, to generate questions, and more fully understand the whole.

Now consider this annotation and explication or this Explication of “Etymological Dirge annotations

Interpretation: the reader sets forth one or more meanings of a work according to a programmatic set of assumptions or ideological beliefs. We interpret in order to make a persuasive case for a meaning of the work.

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