PostedOctober 09, 2009
Shmoop.com is a digital textbook publisher and, as the site describes itself, "every teacher's and student's new BFF." Shmoop covers poetry, in addition to an expanding repertoire of subjects that includes literature, US history, civics, and music. It provides reading guides to canonical works of literature in a format that is immediately accessible and conversational.
This supplemental resource is aimed at anyone studying poetry, particularly anyone who might be initially reticent toward the subject. Shmoop goes out of its way to contextualize its content in a smart and consistently humorous tone. It draws from biographies, bibliographies, pop culture and new media—in addition to the poem itself.
Shmoop also draws from a highly-educated pool of writers in some of the top English Ph.D. programs in the country—including Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Harvard. In addition to their academic qualifications, all of the site's writers have taught at the undergraduate or high-school level, giving them a good sense of their key audience.
One of the goals of Shmoop is "to demystify poetry and help make it more fun and relevant to students' daily lives." Currently, they have close readings of over 70 poems, with a continually expanding library. Popular features include analyses of:
1. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot
2. "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" by Samuel Coleridge
3. "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain" by Emily Dickinson
This excerpt from a summary of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" provides a good example of Shmoop's style:
Meet Prufrock. (Hi, Prufrock!). He wants you to come take a walk with him through the winding, dirty streets of a big, foggy city that looks a lot like London. He's going to show you all the best sights, including the "one-night cheap hotels" and "sawdust restaurants." What a gentleman, he is! Also, he has a huge, life-altering question to ask you. He’ll get to that later, though.
Their introduction to Modernism is similarly illustrative:
For most of history, most people lived really far away from one another in small villages. They didn't travel much or interact with one another. This is the pre-modern world. Then, along come all these new technologies—everything from sewer systems to railroads—and suddenly lots of people are living close together in cities, and even those who aren't living close together are able to find out what's going on with the help of (from oldest to most recent) telegrams, newspapers, telephones, cell phones, and the internet. Welcome to the modern world—but, of course, you were here already, Mr. or Mrs. Internet User.
The San Francisco Chronicle says Shmoop.com "makes the learning process fun" and the School Library Journal says "the language is totally student-friendly...A very cool site." Shmoop has received a Webby award as well as praise from PC Magazine, the Librarians' Internet Index, the Wall Street Journal, and more.
While it does not (and does not intend to) cause a reader to "feel physically as if the top of [her] head were taken off," it does make for an interesting read and a good jumping-off point for any student of poetry.