Monday, October 15, 2012

On reading poetry

The following questions are designed to help your reading and understanding of poetry. Be careful when you use them: they are intended as guides only and may not all be applicable. While the questions are general in nature, you may wish to make them more specific to the poem you are reading. In addition, the questions are not value-oriented until the last section. It’s important to remember that one poem may not necessarily be better than another because it contains more imagery or its language is more colloquial.

One final point – there often is no “right” answer to these questions. What counts is YOUR RESPONSE, supported by quotes from the poems. Beware of reading too much into a particular poem by second-guessing the poet’s intentions. The best sources for commentary on poetry are the poets themselves; second best is thoughtful and well-informed literary criticism.

  • To whom is the poem addressed? 
    • Is the poet talking to someone in particular?
  • Who is writing the poem? 
    • Has the poet taken on another voice, other than his/her own?
  • What does the poem describe? 
    • An experience? An emotion?
  • Is there a conclusion?
How does the poet use language...
  • What level of language is being used?
    • Informal vs. Formal
  • Are there any comparisons in the poem? 
    • Look for figurative language
  • Are there any symbols used in the poem? 
    • What do you think they stand for?
Poetic techniques

The poet’s use of form
  • What form does the poem take? 
    • Stanzas? 
    • Irregular lines? 
    • One continuous passage?
  • Can you see any reasons for the form or division?
  • Is there a rhyme scheme?
The poet’s use of sound
  • Does the poet make use of any special techniques: 
    • Rhythm 
    • Patterns of similar vowels or consonants 
    • Alliteration 
    • Assonance 
    • Consonance
The poet’s use of tone
  • What kind of mood does the poem have?
  • What kind of language is used to create the mood?
    • Quote directly from the poem
  • Does the poet use irony?
  • What does the poem say?
  • How does it say it?
Some final thoughts
  • What does the poem make you see?
  • Is this a new idea?
  • Is this presentation of the idea new?
Some terms
Ballad one episode in poem, often tragic
Concrete poetry makes the shape of the topic on the page
Free verse doesn’t have to rhyme, but has to have a rhythm
Lyric poetry poet’s feelings or thoughts
Narrative tells an exciting story
Rhyme scheme pattern in the poem
Stress and unstress Where stress is placed on words, usually nouns, “concrete words”
Sonnet Form of 14 lines, particular rhyme scheme, old form made popular by William Shakespeare

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