Seventh Circle of Earth

by Ocean Vuong

Photo by Peter Bienkowski

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Structure

Step 1

Start by reading “Seventh Circle of Earth” by Ocean Vuong. When you’re done, briefly discuss how the structure or visual appearance of the poem contributes to its meaning. Then show them the brief analysis on the following slides

Step 2

Say, “Take a few minutes to think of a topic that you’d like to write about. Then think of some ways in which you can reinforce the message of your poem through the visual aesthetic of it on the page. Think about spacing, line breaks, word arrangement, etc.”

Step 3

Have your students write a poem which, like “Seventh Circle of Earth,” utilizes its poetic structure to help reinforce the meaning of the work as a whole.

Step 4

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Structure

Step 1

If your students are not familiar with the general concept of a poem’s “structure,” go through the introductory lesson.

Step 2

Start by showing your students the following image of Ocean Vuong’s poem “Seventh Circle of Earth.” The image is a screenshot of the poem with the text blurred out. Have your students look at the image and have them jot down three things they notice about the poem’s structure, what they notice about how the poem visually appears on the page. Then briefly discuss.

Step 3

Tell your students the context behind the poem. Say, “On April 27, 2011, a gay couple, Michael Humphrey and Clayton Capshaw, was murdered by immolation [burning] in their home in Dallas, Texas. Ocean Vuong’s poem, “Seventh Circle of Earth,” pays homage to these two victims and provides social commentary about their “place” in American society.” After you reveal this information, have your students reexamine the image of the poem again. Then have them try to predict how the mere structure/visual aesthetic of the poem could be used to create meaning or underscore a message about the two men’s murder.

Step 4

Have your students open the following document and go over the introduction and instructions with them. In this assignment, your students are going to have to analyze how the visual and textual structure of the poem works to reinforce its meaning. Then give your students time to work on the assignment.

Step 5

When your students are done, have them share their responses and have them discuss how close their predictions were to their actual analysis.

Step 6

If time permits, share the exemplar essay.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Structure


  • Appreciation
  • Class
  • Community / Culture
  • Death / Grief
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Love
  • Violence

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Sound Devices
  • Structure
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone

Content Warning

  • Death or Dying
  • Homophobia
  • Violence