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Unseen Poetry

2. Binaries and Movement

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about two concepts that will help us to analyse unseen poetry – binaries and the idea of the ‘movement’ of the poem. In particular, we think about: (i) the difficulty of ‘comparing and contrasting’ poetry; (ii) the limitations of thinking in terms of ‘form and structure’, and the (potential) usefulness of thinking in terms of graphology and ‘shape’, i.e. what does the poem look like on the page; (iii) the idea of binaries, their prevalence in poetry, the kinds of questions we can ask about them; (iv) the idea of the ‘movement’ of the text, i.e. what has changed (if anything) by the end of the poem compared to the beginning?; (v) an application of these concepts to the poem ‘You Ask Me’ by Mutabaruka; (vi) the usefulness of concentrating of individual parts of speech, i.e. only the nouns, only the verbs, etc.; and (vii) the importance of punctuation marks.

Poems included in this module:
– Abdul Ghafar Ibrahim, ‘The Wall’ (1972)
– Mutabaruka (Allan Hope), ‘You Ask Me’


In this seventeen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) provides a step-by-step guide for approaching unseen poetry. The first three modules introduce key concepts (e.g. the ‘movement’ the poem, ‘binaries’, etc.) as well as the more concrete approaches (e.g. compare the first and last lines, look at the verbs, etc.). In modules four to eight, these concepts and approaches are applied to five unseen poems. This is followed in the ninth module with a discussion of the eleven features of poetry that can provide useful starting points for analysis – lexis, syntax, graphology, semantics, etc. In the final eight modules after that, we demonstrate the same approach with eight more poems – four of them very famous, and four of them less so.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2020, October 12). Unseen Poetry - Binaries and Movement [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Unseen Poetry – Binaries and Movement." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Oct 2020,

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