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Citing a Poem in the MLA Format – What You Need to Know

What is MLA?

During the course of your education, you’ll have to learn how to cite poetry in your written assignments. The most frequently expected format is the MLA. MLA is the abbreviation for Modern Language Association. It’s a popular style that is not hard to master and makes quoting poetry very easy.

There are set rules that you have to follow to comply with the format. If you follow them, you’ll have no difficulty about how to cite a poem in a paper. Failure to comply with the guidelines on how to cite a poem in MLA means that you could be accused of plagiarism.

The MLA format teaches you how to cite poems directly and indirectly in your written tasks. It’s critical that you understand the conventions for the use of the format so that you’re quoting poetry with ease.

Who needs to know how to cite poetry?

Students are required to write essays for many different assignments. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only a literature student needs to know how to cite poems. You can cite poetry in many different subjects in many different types of essays. That’s why it’s a good idea for all students to learn how to cite a poem MLA compliantly.

Why do you have to know how to cite a poem in MLA?

Just like any other source, a poem is the property of its poet. The ideas are his/hers. That means that you cannot use them in your writing and pass them off as your own. You have to make use of citations to show that you acknowledge the poet’s ownership of the work.

Be selective when citing a poem. Too many citations make it look like you’re trying to add to the word count without doing too much work. In the end, the work does not come across as authentic or belonging to you. Keep your quotes relevant to the context and content of the essay you’re writing.

How to cite a poem in text MLA compliantly

How to cite poems with direct quotes

If you are quoting short sections directly from the poem, you need to use quotation marks. You also need to cite the source of the poem. A short quotation should be made up of 3 lines of poetry. Quote the poem exactly as it appears. To indicate a line break in a poem, insert a ‘/’ with a space on either side of it. This denotes the end of one line and the beginning of another.

Indicate the name of a poem in quotation marks. In your citation, refer to the line number of the poem as well in brackets if your source provides it. If your source doesn’t provide it, it’s worth your while to work it out for yourself and quote the line number.

If the portion you’re quoting does not end with a punctuation mark, fill in the quotation marks and then add the punctuation mark after. If you put the punctuation mark before closing the quotation marks, you are attributing that punctuation mark to the poet in error.

When you want to quote a longer section of a poem, make use of block quotes. Now you can quote the poem as it appears going onto a new line each time. Indent the beginning of each line of the poem as you quote it. You do not have to use quotation marks when making block quotes. Refer to the line numbers of the poem that you’ve quoted if your source makes provision for this.

How to cite a poem in MLA when you want to leave words or phrases out

If you look at the poem, and you feel it’s appropriate to leave some words or phrases out, you can do so. But you need to indicate where in the quote you’ve left the words or phrases out. Do this by means of adding ellipses. This is encouraged to avoid unnecessary block quotes. Be selective about what you quote.

It shows that you’ve put a lot of forethought into writing your paper. You can even leave an entire line out of a blockquote. Between the line before the omitted line and the line after it, add a line of ellipses.

Quoting poetry indirectly through paraphrasing

You might not want to quote from the poem directly. You can paraphrase the poet’s words. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to give credit to the poet. You must put an in-text citation at the end of the sentence you wrote.

It’s better to err on the side of caution and make frequent citations. You want to make it clear to the reader that you acknowledge the work of the poet as not being your own.

How to cite a poem in MLA – the bibliography

Another element of knowing how to cite a poem is how you include it in your bibliography. You must make sure that you refer to the name of the poet, the poem, and the line numbers. It’s a good idea to make an effort to include the line numbers to allow your reader quick reference access.

The correct way to reference your work is as follows:

Poet’s surname, name. “Name of Poem.” Title of the book it appears in. The city where the book was published: the name of the publisher, and the year. Page numbers on which the poem appears in the book. The medium of publication (e.g., book, magazine, journal, etc.)

Proofreading your work

It’s never a bad idea to proofread and edit your work when you’ve finished writing. You’ll come across errors that you made ‘in the moment’ when your fingers were moving faster than your brain! Handing in work that is full of errors is bound to leave your reader less than impressed. It reflects poorly on you.

At the same time that you’re checking your work, be extra thorough when it comes to the quotations and citations you’ve made. Double check every word, every space, and every punctuation mark.

Go through your bibliography and make sure you’ve referred to the correct books and page and line numbers. The slip of a finger can have an expensive price that impacts on your future, so it’s worth it to be meticulous when it comes to checking your sources.

Knowing how to quote poems in your written assignments will set you apart from your peers. If the institution you’re studying at has criteria for quoting and citing poetry, make sure you familiarize yourself with them.

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