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Ishmael Reed “Beware Do Not Read This Poem

Write an essay that examines the metaphor of poetry as a mirror within this poem and the ironic way that Reed uses this metaphor to make a statement about the role and meaning of poetry in people’s lives.  In addition to the poem, USE AT LEAST THREE of the CRITICAL RESOURCES LISTED BELOW under Resources.

Things to Consider:

Review the definition of irony on page 485 of The River Reader.  How serious do you think Reed is in presenting the “dangers” of poetry?

Reader-response criticism is a

[c]ritical method that examines the reader and the act of reading rather than the text being read. The reader-response approach evolved out of phenomenological (experiential) and interpretive analyses and is closely related to reception theory; it analyzes the reader’s role in the production of meaning when engaged with a written text  (“Reader-Response Criticism”).

What is Reed saying about a reader’s response to a poem?  In what ways do poems (or other forms of literature) become a mirror to readers?  What does Reed mean by saying “this poem is the reader & the / reader this poem” (Reed 42-43)?  Why does he end the poem with the statistics on missing persons, and what does he seem to be suggesting about the role of poetry (and literature, in general) in our lives?

Dark Mirror is a 2007 movie that is based on the plot of the Thriller episode described in “Beware: Do Not Read This Poem.”  Visit to see a feature for the film.  Why do you think Reed makes a connection between a horror story and reading poetry?  How is reading poetry “horrible” from Reed’s perspective?  How does this relate to Reed’s own life and experience as an African-American male in a world dominated by “white” culture?  Based on the movie trailer, what is the symbolism of the mirror (and photography) in the movie Dark Mirror?  What connections can you see between the symbolism of the mirror in the movie and in Reed’s poem?

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