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Proper Citation of Poems in MLA


Correctly citing poems using Modern Language Association style can make a writing project truly shine. Whether you're using in-text quotes in an essay, shortening excerpts from the material or adding a works cited entry for a collection or anthology, it doesn't take much to master MLA guidelines for poetry. MLA style for poetry is much like citing prose, but a few subtle differences exist that every author should know.

Short In-text Quotes

Notate shorter quotes from poems -- three lines or less -- using slash marks between lines of verse. Following the quoted line(s), notate the author's last name in parentheses along with line numbers. All punctuation should follow the parentheses. For example: "First verse / second verse / third verse" (Author's last name, line numbers).

If the author's name is used to introduce a quote, don't include it in parentheses. Include punctuation and capitalization from the poem in your quote. For example: In "Title of Poem," (Author's name) wrote, "First verse / second verse / third verse" (line numbers).

Long In-text Quotes

With longer quotes of four lines or more, indent the text and put it into block form. The block quote should appear exactly as it is in the original poem, with the same line breaks, punctuation and capitalization. Following the quote, include the author's name and line numbers from the poem. The block quote shouldn't be enclosed in quotation marks. For example:

In "Title of Poem," (Author's name) wrote: First verse, Second verse. Third verse Fourth verse. (Line numbers)

Shortening Quotes

It's entirely possible to shorten an excerpt with MLA style. Common reasons for shortening quotes include not needing every word to get the point across or simply shortening them for length. To shorten a quote, use the ellipses (...) to signify missing words. For example:

In "Title of Poem," (Author's Name) wrote, "First verse... / second verse / third verse" (line numbers).

Poetry from Collections and Anthologies on Works Cited Page

Many poems appear in larger collections and anthologies, and if this is the case, on the works cited page, make a note of it. For a poem in a collection, include the author's name -- last name first, the title of the poem, the title of the collection in italics, name of the collection's editor, publication city, publisher, year of publication, page numbers and the medium of publication. For example:

Last name, First Name. "Title of Poem." Title of Collection (italicized). Ed. Editor's Name. City: Publisher, Year. Page number(s). Medium.

Note: The editor's name is introduced with the Ed. abbreviation.

About the Author

M.H. Davis is a writer based in San Francisco. He has worked for newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado and covered environmental issues for NewWest.net. Davis also writes a weekly blog for Edutopia.org.

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