Poetry sometimes has a reputation for being difficult; difficult to read, difficult to understand, difficult to deliver aloud. Unlike a novel or short-story--where you can drift in and out without consequence--reading a poem demands your undivided attention. It is much shorter in length but packed with just as much (if not more) meaningful content and intense emotion as a 300 page book, and the reward is that much sweeter. So without further ado, read on to find our top 5 tips on how to read poetry.
Top 5 Tips on How To Read Poems
1. Erase Prior Assumptions
Don't assume you will understand the poem on the first reading.
Don't assume the poem is written in some sort of cryptic code.
Don't assume the poem has no actual meaning and is "whatever the reader wants it to be".
2. Explore The Surface of The Poem
Look at the poem's title; what does it mean? How does the poem look? What form is it written in? How are the stanza's structured? Has the author used any special styles or patterns? All of this information will give you an solid first impression into the poem.
3. Let Your Ears Be Your Guide
Before you can begin to dissect a poem, you have to read it. Read the poem to yourself. Read it again out loud. Repeat. How does it sound? Does it have an even flow? Is it slow or fast? Do the words rhyme? Consider the sound and rhythm of the poem. Hearing what's going on is the second step in reaching an understanding of it.
4. Put Your Detective Hat On
Most poems don't require an introduction but it doesn't hurt to get some background information such as the time period or political/social events of that time, to better understand the context of the poem. Once you have a solid portrait of the author, discover his words by asking some important questions: Who is the main speaker? What is the tone of this piece? Who or what is the audience? Where does it take place? What is the presented situation? Does the poem use imagery or metaphors or figurative language? Are there any traces of other poems or historical references? Does the poem use unusual words or any words in an unusual way? With every layer you peel back, a clearer understanding of the poem will immerge.
5. Find The Message In The Bottle
Once you have finished dissecting the poem, read it again, but this time with enlightened eyes and ears. Rediscover it as you read each line and then, at the end, ask yourself, "So what?". What does it all mean? What is the purpose of the poem? Was there a message and were you able to uncover it?
Reading poetry, like most things, will get easier with practice. The more poetry you read, the easier it will be to break down the words and find the true meaning of the poem. For more information or help with reading poems, visit our poetry forum to discuss this topic with other poets.
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