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Research Guides

Eastern Washington University Libraries

English 271: Introduction to Poetry


Hello, my name is T.J. Carter. I am a graduate of EWU's M.A. in English Literature and Writing program. I created this Guide to help students in 271.

Selecting a Poet

For books of poems, use the keyword "poetry" in your search.

If you are still looking for your poet, consider picking a motif or theme you are interested in, such as nature, love, courage, feminism, Marxism, mythology, etc.:

poetry “[theme/motif]”

To help with your search, you might try using a Boolean phrase. For example,

poetry “[theme/motif]” OR poems “[theme/motif]”

If you have two themes and you only want search results where both of those themes are present, you can use this form:

poetry “[theme AND theme]”

For example, the search poetry “[feminism AND nature]” yields results with both themes, including results on ecofeminist poetry.  

Finding a Poetry Collection

Once you have selected your poet, you will need to find one specific collection on which to focus. You can start by searching the EWU Catalog with:

poetry “[author’s name]”

Your search will yield results in a variety of formats. In the search sidebar, under “Format,” narrow down your query by selecting “Print Books” and/or “eBooks.”

This will limit your results somewhat, but you will still have to look at individual titles of books to determine if it is an actual collection of the author's poems, or a critique of the poet. Look for the words collected or selected in the title.

When you find a book of poems, pay attention to when the book was originally published. Ideally, you will want to find a collection that was published during the author’s lifetime, under the author’s own direction. It may take some biographical research to determine when and under what conditions a collection was published. For example, some research reveals that W.B. Yeats’s The Tower was written during his lifetime and with his supervision. In contrast W.B. Yeats’s Mythologies is a collection that was published several decades after his death.

Find Journal Articles

To help support your thesis, you should consult some journal articles on your poem. The following databases contain numerous journal articles on poetry:

Searching Article Databases

Here are some basic search tips that are applicable to any library database:

  • Exact phrases "in quotes" -- “Shakespearean sonnet”
  • Use or for synonyms if you want either term to be present -- theme or motif
  • Use and if you want all of the terms to be present -- "World War I" and poetry
  • Use an * on the root form of a word to find any version of the root word with different endings -- postmodern* to find postmodern or postmodernism

Searching MLA International Bibliography

MLA is the most comprehensive database for literary criticism. It indexes over 3,000 journals, as well as books, book chapters, and dissertations, back to 1923. However, it can be somewhat frustrating to search because the vast majority of the time, there is no abstract or summary of the work. You are keyword searching the title of the article/book and subject headings. (And for older articles and books, the subject headings are quite broad and not very helpful.)

Type in your search terms.

  • If you are looking for criticism of a particular short story, type in the name of the short story "in quotes" and the last name of the author.
    • If this does not work, then type in the name of the author and "short stories"
  • If you are looking for criticism on a particular theme or motif, think of all the synonyms for the motif, such as bucolic or nature or pastoral
    • Put one concept per box, with an or in between synonyms.
    • Type in one term or a “simple phrase”. Do not type in a string of words or an entire sentence.

Narrowing Results

The database wants to help you narrow down. Note the various limiters on the left side:

  • by Source Type: academic journals (scholarly) vs. book articles (think book chapters) or books, etc.
  • by Subject -- NOTE: narrow by subject one at a time, rather than checking more than one!

Reviewing Your Results

Get more info: For more information about the article/book chapter/book, click on the hyperlinked title, or hover over the magnifying glass icon next to the title.

Re-sort the results: These results are by relevance, or which ones have our keywords the most frequently. You can change to by date if you wish.

Finding the Full Text of Articles

When you are searching in one of the library databases and the article in question isn't available full text right there, look for this icon Check for Full Text iconor a hyperlink that says EWU - Check for Full Text. Click on the icon or link, and this will bring up a new window that looks similar to the one below:

screenshot of check for full text results

Step 1: If the article is available online, it will say Fulltext available at the top. (It looks like a hyperlink, but it is a link to take you to the page you're already on.) Under View It you will see links to the databases that have the article. In the example above the article is available in JSTOR.

Step 2: If the article is not available full text, it will say Check availability. To see if we have it in print or microfilm, scroll down to Find in a Library. If we do have at least one issue of the source, it will give you the holdings record for that source (date range held, location, and call number). In this case, we have print copies of the journal from 2000-current.

Step 3: If the article is not available full text, and we do not have it in print/microfilm, go back to the View It part and click the link Request this article using Interlibrary Loan (in the middle under Can't find it? -- see image above). You will need to log in using your NetID/SSO. Verify that the fields were filled out correctly and click the red Submit Request button. Articles usually take around 3-5 days. You will be notified via your EWU email that the article is available for you to download. (Directions are in the email.) 

Finding the Entire Book

MLA will also give you results found in books. Right now, the Check for Full Text button is not working properly to locate the book. Just copy/paste the title of the book into the EWU Library Catalog.

Save Relevant Articles

When you find results you would like to examine further, click the link Add to Folder. Once you are finished, click Folder View in the gold Folder has items box on the right side of the screen. You can email all the results to yourself.