Consider these lines from Creeley’s poem "The Language": Reading the lines as written, as opposed to their grammatical relationship, yields some strange meanings. Does the poem speak from a specific culture? How to Read a Poem Poems can be read many ways. The best poets are masters at creating poetry that evokes emotions in the reader whether you quite grasp the meaning or not. Think about the title and how it relates to the poem. But I know I have to do something. Torment, powerlessness—these are the desired ends? Read a poem with a pencil in your hand. Then, one evening while reading the poem in Berkeley she got her answer. Responses that move away from what is written into personal anecdotes or tangential leaps should be gently urged back into analyzing the text. Williams admits in these lines that poetry is often difficult. This act of completion begins when you enter the imaginative play of a poem, bringing to it your experience and point of view. When you read out loud, particularly if you're reading in … Couldn’t you leave the coast unspoiled? Not only does he do a great job of explaining poetics, he also fills the book with many great poems. Scanning the … U se the natural pauses in the poem to take a breath, for example on a comma, full stop or period. What to do as a reader? In fact, you can learn quite a few things just by looking at it. You should also look at the title of the poem. What kind of poem is it? Some poets think of their words as music flowing from a horn; they think of phrases the way a saxophonist might. They may have a recognizable sense of measure, an equivalent duration between lines, or, for the sake of contrast, one rhythmic pattern or duration that gives way to successive variations. His halting, hesitant, breathless style is immediately recognizable, and it presents writers with new ideas about meaning, purely through lineation. It’s possible, of course, even for someone with a deep background in poetry to be unaware of certain associations or implications in a poem. Some literary critics would link this as well to the power of seeing, to the relationship between subject and object. The use and relationship of the three main metaphors in the poem 3. Circle important, or striking, or repeated words. What determines where a line stops in poetry? 2. For example, sonnets often talk about love. The connection between the physical and the spiritual. Playing the same character night after night, an actor discovers something in the lines, some empathy for the character, that he or she had never felt before. You may enjoy an easy climb for a while, but you may also find that you want a bigger challenge. Circle important, or striking, or repeated words. Mark difficult or confusing words, lines, and passages. Don’t rush. A Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis, Writing a Rhetorical Précis to Analyze Nonfiction Texts, Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics, Additional Resources for Grants and Proposal Writing, Writing Personal Statements for Ph.D. Programs, Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper, Advice for Students Writing Thank-You Notes to Donors, Writing for Social Media: A Guide for Academics. I read poetry for the feels. Nothing scares some people like the idea (even the idea) of improvisation as a writing or analytical tool. He also suggests that a poet depends on the effort of a reader; somehow, a reader must "complete" what the poet has begun. Poems are designed to be read aloud — you’ll get a better experience and understanding of the whole poem. As you read through the poem make a note of any strong images that the words describe or convey. What does it say? Maybe in school, someone says there's only one way to read a poem… and that way feels like a secret code, with technical terms or critique that turn the poem into a … The point, after all, is that text is mysterious. Read the poem at least twice. It would be convenient if there were a short list of universal questions, ones that could be used anytime with any poem. There is, of course, more than one answer to this question. Before you get very far with a poem, you have to read it. I wanted to write a poem that you would understand. If it speaks to you, that's great. Reading poetry well is part attitude and part technique. Some of this attitude comes from the misconception that we should understand a poem after we first read it, while some stems from sheer embarrassment. What does the poem cause me to notice or take new stock of? The text was not out of place. Ever. Does the poem appeal to a reader’s intellect? What if the lines are irregular? Imagery is a literary device that’s a tangible description that appeals to one of the five … In fact, it’s often best to approach a poem without the kind of preconceived ideas that can accompany this kind of information. Poetry is often written for the ear, so you should start by reading the poem out loud as it will help you listen to the poem more closely. However, the truth lies somewhere in between. Read through the poem several times, both silently and aloud, listening carefully to the sound and rhythm of the words. Try a variety of methods. Poets may use several of these elements at the same time. Poems speak to us in many ways. Turn on a single lamp and read them while you're alone in an otherwise dark room or while someone else sleeps next to you. How to Read Poetry: The Process. The issue is our reaction, how we shape our thoughts through words. All the poems I ever read were handed down to me by my Literature professors, hence I know nothing much. In "shaped poetry," as well as many other types of writing that are meant to be seen as a painting might be seen, the line is determined by its placement in space. Looking at the poem’s shape, you can see whether the lines are continuous or broken into groups (called stanzas), or how long the lines are, and so how dense, on a physical level, the poem is. Title. This approach is one of many ways into a poem. You’ll have to do some work, hard work in some cases, but most of the time, the trails are there for you to discover. Poetry demands surrender, What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use? The idea of finding handholds and footholds and ascending one bit at a time is apt. Good readers "dirty the text" with notes in the margins. Reading poetry works the same way, and, fortunately, poets leave trails to help you look for the way "up" a poem. Sometimes the arrangements of words on a page are intended to represent different voices in a dialogue, or even a more complex discourse on a subject. Poems composed in this way have varied line lengths but they have a musicality in their lineation and a naturalness to their performance. A poem cannot be read too slowly, and a good way for a reader to set an easy pace is to pause for a few seconds between the title and the poem's first line. The landscape was not innocent of political struggle. William Carlos Williams wrote a verse addressed to his wife in the poem "January Morning,": All this— was for you, old woman. Identify the Type of Poem. This technique often introduces secondary meaning, sometimes in ironic contrast with the actual meaning of the complete grammatical phrase. Literature is, and has always been, the sharing of experience, the pooling of human understanding about living, loving, and dying. But if the results seem to detract from the poem’s impact, in terms of its imagery or concept, drop the literal treatment of line breaks and read for grammar or visual image. Feedback, questions or accessibility issues: email@example.com. But many poets who break lines disregarding grammatical units do so only for visual irony, something that may be lost in performance. Sometimes the job of the poem is to come closer to saying what cannot be said in other forms of writing, to suggest an experience, idea, or feeling that you can know but not entirely express in any direct or literal way. Embracing ambiguity is a much harder task for some than for others. Reading poetry is a challenge, but like so many other things, it takes practice, and your skills and insight improve as you progress. When the verse holds some message and meaning to a performer then it can be read … The same is true of poems. Poetry is in our bones. with mother finally *****, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 A.M. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination— But what if the lines aren’t metrical? Most readers make three false assumptions when addressing an unfamiliar poem. Although your first experience of the poem may be private and personal, talking about the poem is a natural and important next step. Hearing Creeley read his poems can often be disquieting, because he pauses at the end of each line, and these pauses create a kind of tension or counterpoint in relation to the poem’s sentence structure. Listen to the poem line by line, word by word. If it doesn't, move on. But lines that are not end-stopped present different challenges for readers because they either end with an incomplete phrase or sentence or they break before the first punctuation mark is reached. The relationship between meaning, sound, and movement intended by the poet is sometimes hard to recognize, but there is an interplay between the grammar of a line, the breath of a line, and the way lines are broken out in the poem—this is called lineation. Mark it up; write in the margins; react to it; get involved with it. From Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends to Sylvia Plath’s The Bed Book , many well-renowned poets have written works with young readers as their primary audience. A poem is not a puzzle to be solved. We have to cultivate a new mindset, a new practice of enjoying the inconclusive. Read them when you're wide awake in the early morning, fully alert. If the occasion is emotional for example, the poem is part of eulogy, wedding or retirement speech, print it out in a large clear font so it is easily read. Maybe we’ve bought the book but we don’t own the poem. Looking at the poem’s shape, you can see whether the lines are continuous or broken into groups (called stanzas), or how long the lines are, and so how dense, on a physical level, the poem is. Here’s a useful analogy. Published in partnership with the Great Books Foundation. What changes as a result? Overlapping and layering might be the poet’s intent, which no single voice can achieve. Since the form of a poem is part of its meaning (for example, features such as repetition and rhyme may amplify or extend the meaning of a word or idea, adding emphasis, texture, or dimension), questions about form and technique, about the observable features of a poem, provide an effective point of entry for interpretation. Read the poem straight through without stopping to analyze it (aloud, if possible). And so difficult poetry is the ultimate torment. The second is assuming that the poem is a kind of code, that each detail corresponds to one, and only one, thing, and unless they can crack this code, they’ve missed the point. Ask even some excellent players to improvise and they start to sweat. Unpack what the poem is about. Understanding what a poem means is critical for understanding how to read it aloud. A poem might start as a snippet of a verse, a line or two that seems to come out of nowhere, or an image you cannot get out of your head. Is sound an important, active element of the poem? As she scrambled over rocks behind the beach, near the artichoke fields that separate the shore from the coast highway, she found a large smear of graffiti painted on the rocks, proclaiming "La Raza," a Chicano political slogan meaning "the struggle." The basis for shared inquiry is close reading. Read it more than once. All of these are good qualities to notice, and they may lead you to a better understanding of the poem in the end. Here’s a tricky issue: the task is to grasp, to connect, to understand. Others say that no text exists in a vacuum. Is there a section of the poem that seems to have a rhythm that’s distinct from the rest of the poem? Where does the transformation, turn or “discovery” take place in this poem? What circumstances gave rise to the poem? A man came up to her and asked her, "Do you want to know?" Notice the sounds the words make in your mouth. Of course, actors and musicians will say that there is mystery in what they do with a script or a score, and it would be pointless to disagree. Titles are important. The first step is to hear what’s going on. You can also see whether it looks like the last poem you read by the same poet or even a poem by another poet. but you got to try hard—. The title may give you some image or association to start with. It’s fun to "Creeleyize" any poem, just to hear what the lineation is doing. One way to see the action in a poem is to list all its. The amount of information needed to clearly understand depends on you and your encounter with the poem. The earliest poetry was oral. Mark difficult or confusing words, lines, and passages. Though their forms may not always be direct or narrative, keep in mind that a real person formed the moment of the poem, and it’s wise to seek an understanding of that moment. Forcing yourself to read all of them will leave you with a much deeper appreciation and … Establish a positive, conversational tone. Visual choices presented by the poet may be confusing. The most natural approach is to pay strict attention to the grammar and punctuation. Once you have inspiration, you can then shape and mould your thoughts into a poem. Read the poem again, this time aloud. Effective technique directs your curiosity into asking questions, drawing you into a conversation with the poem. What questions does it raise? Haiku meditate on an aspect of nature. Emotions? That said, it can still be uncomfortable to read aloud or to make more than one pass through a poem. Don’t worry about why the poem might use these effects. You can find inspiration for your poem by doing writing exercises and using the world around you. That the experience of poetry, the meaning in poetry is a kind of circuit that takes place between a poet, a poem and a reader and that meaning doesn’t exist or in here in poems alone. At the end of class, at the end of the day, we want revelation, a glimpse of the skyline through the lifting fog. Draw lines to connect related ideas. Use the guidelines below to learn how to read a poem and understand it. Read the words. The best poetry has a magical quality—a sense of being more than the sum of its parts—and even when it’s impossible to articulate this sense, this something more, the power of the poem is left undiminished. We mentioned earlier that encountering a difficult poem is like a game or sport, say rock climbing, that makes you work a bit. Don’t gloss over them. The observations and questions in the close reading notes are by no means complete, but a look over them suggests several possibilities for a paper. They make the inquiry their own. Do you notice any special effects? Follow the music. … But for me I feel this sense of fulfillment. Pause for emphasis. To begin, read the poem aloud. Treat line endings with care, pausing briefly […] Too often we resist ambiguity. Playing or listening to a song for the hundredth time—if it is a great song—will yield new interpretation and discovery. Given its rhythmic patterns, poetry is designed to be read … People chanted it, sang it, recited it — and they still do. But why here, in nature, in beauty, so far from that political arena. Do any of the words rhyme? Poems generally convey a narrative, or describe feelings or objects. Step 2: Identify the Title Hints of the Poem. My hunch is that the act of reading poetry is where many folks get stopped. © Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY 10038, "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams. We have to give up our material attitude, which makes us want to possess the poem. What if my friends hear me? There may be no identifiable occasion that inspired the poem. It can give you a clue about the poem. Reason? For some poems, visual impact may also be important. She sat down and wrote a poem. We’ll now bring inquiry to bear on two very different poems, each of which presents its own challenges: Some people say that a poem is always an independent work of art and that readers can make full sense of it without having to use any source outside the poem itself. • This will help you get a sense of how it sounds, how it works, what it might be about. In many instances, knowing who the speaker is may not yield any useful information. The goal of careful reading is often to take up a question of meaning, an interpretive question that has more than one answer. I try to consider and feel all of the many things the poem has made me notice, and to let those things—the effects of the poem—mingle a while. Read the poem out loud. It does depend one which poem and sometimes even which poet. The techniques of word and line arrangement, sound and rhythm, add to—and in some cases, multiply—the meaning of words to go beyond the literal, giving you an impression of an idea or feeling, an experience that you can’t quite put into words but that you know is real. It is not necessary to give any of these poems a dramatic reading as if from a stage. Asking questions about the observable features of a poem will help you find a way in. If a poem is vague or very short, a title can explain what it’s about without it needing to be stated within the poem itself. With poets who use techniques drawn from music—particularly jazz, such as Michael S. Harper or Yusef Komunyakaa—or poets like Walt Whitman who employ unusually long lines, there may be another guiding principle: breath. Ask, finally, about the poem, “So what?” What does it do? This site was built using the UW Theme | Privacy Notice | © 2020 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Read these poems to yourself in the middle of the night. Reading to the end of a phrase or sentence, even if it carries over one or several lines, is the best way to retain the grammatical sense of a poem. "Those fields," the man went on, "were where Chicanos had been virtually enslaved, beaten, and forced to live in squalor for decades." her poem asked. Titles often provide important clues about … Poets design their poems to be read aloud. So it is with great poetry. How poetry helps kids learn to read Poetry has always been a powerful medium for the world of children’s literature. In the absence of such a list, here are a few general questions that you might ask when approaching a poem for the first time: You can fall back on these questions as needed, but experience suggests that since each poem is unique, such questions will not go the necessary distance. In that case, the punctuation and the lineation, and perhaps even breathing, coincide to make the reading familiar and even predictable. I’ve collected my notes from my Literature classes, every poem we’ve ever read, and started reading it again. These id… Lines are often determined by meaning, sound and rhythm, breath, or typography. Some visually oriented poets present real challenges in that the course of the poem may not be entirely clear. Reading Clearly and Effectively Slow down. The most magical and wonderful poems are ever renewing themselves, which is to say they remain ever mysterious. An Overview of the Writing Center for Instructors, Help Your Students Use the Writing Center Effectively, National Novel Writing Month & Academic Writing Month, Before you begin: useful tips for writing your essay, What is your initial impression of the poem’s, Because a poem is highly compressed, it may help you to try to unfold it by. Robert Creeley is perhaps best known for breaking lines across expected grammatical pauses. Do not assume meanings hidden from you: the best poems mean what they say and say it. As you read, jot down your first impressions, reactions, memories, personal experiences tied to it. Treat a poem like dirt, humus rich and heavy from the garden. It may be a poem that has been assigned to you, or maybe your friend has shared it, and you want to figure the poem out. Read in a normal, relaxed tone of voice. Poems contain subtle and meaningful acoustic devices and rhythms that are tied to the meaning of poetry, and it's much easier to pick up on these devices when the poem is heard or read out loud. For further information you may wish to take the Writing Center workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis. Choose a poem. Reading poetry well is part attitude and part technique. Ezra Pound says the poem ought to work on the level of a person for whom a hawk is simply a hawk. Later on it will become the fat tomatoes and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table. The third is assuming that the poem can mean anything readers want it to mean. Why? But such a task is to some degree impossible, and most people want clarity. If you find your own voice distracting, have a friend read the poem to you. There are several different types of poems, but all poems fall into three … Read that way, too, on a literal level first. You may find images appearing in your mind's eye that are only indirectly related to … Curiosity is a useful attitude, especially when it’s free of preconceived ideas about what poetry is or should be. We want it to be predictable and easy to digest. If the poem is a question, what is the answer? The first is assuming that they should understand what they encounter on the first reading, and if they don’t, that something is wrong with them or with the poem. For me, good poems, ones that I like to read over and over, can bring delight in many ways. Despite the routine, the drone of familiarity, the daily preparation of meals and doing of dishes, the conversations we’ve had before, we hope to find a sense of discovery, of surprise. Some magic, some satisfaction, some "Ahhh!" Note surprises and unfamiliar words. To read poetry requires only courage enough to leap from the edge and trust. The repetition of similar words and phrases in the poem 2. This is because poems are made of words that accumulate new meanings over time. "I beg your pardon," she said. The ambiguity, which begins (“let” suggests that something may or may not be allowed to happen) and ends (the weighty word “if”) the poem 4. Look at the poem’s title: What might this poem be about? The author does an excellent job of really answering HOW a poem means and not WHAT a poem means. That is excellent advice. The best way to discover and learn about a poem is through shared inquiry discussion. From its earliest forms to the poems being written today, poetry has kept its close alliance with speaking and singing. Consider this situation, a true story, of a poet who found a "text" at the San Mateo coast in northern California. Beginning with a focus question about the poem, the discussion addresses various possible answers to the question, reshaping and clarifying it along the way. Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect? Effective technique directs your curiosity into asking questions, drawing you into a conversation with the poem. Among these possibilities are: 1. What is its purpose. Draw lines to connect related ideas. But poems do offer clues about where to start. If you find more in a poem than the words alone convey, then something larger is at work, making the poem more than the sum of its parts. 3. Listen to your voice, to the sounds the words make. It’s best to be aware that poems with multiple voices, or focuses exist and, again, looking for the inherent rules that determine the shape of the poem is the best approach. is one of the rewards of any reading, and particularly the reading of poetry. Perhaps our lives are changing so fast that we long for stability somewhere, and because most of the reading we do is for instruction or information, we prefer it without shades of gray. 1. On its own, "eyes bite" is very disturbing. For what good is it to me if you can't understand it? Beat poet Allen Ginsbergdid this a lot with his poetry. It can also be used to set the scene if a poem is set in a particular time or place. Successful poems welcome you in, revealing ideas that may not have been foremost in the writer’s mind in the moment of composition. Where could I possibly go to read aloud? This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels. Some actors hate being without a script; the same is true of some musicians. Remember that the use of these techniques, in any combination, pushes the words of the poem beyond their literal meanings. If the poem is an answer, what is the question? But sooner or later, you’re going to have to read the poem, word by word. The type of poem it is will give you huge clues to what it’s doing. Reading a poem several ways allows you to see further into the poem simply through repetition. But lineation introduces another variable that some poets use to their advantage. Among metrical, free verse, and even experimental poets of today, there are those who do not interrupt grammatical sense when reading a poem aloud as much as they interrupt it in the poem’s typography. I understand, she wrote, why someone would write La Raza on the side of a building, or on public transport. Most poems are open to interpretation without the aid of historical context or knowledge about the author’s life. The following steps describe one approach. Read through the poem several times, both silently and aloud, listening carefully to the sound and rhythm of the words. The discussion should remain grounded in the text as much as possible. Imagery. Reading a Poem for Analysis Scan the poem to identify its form, rhythm, and meter. But some climbs are easier than others; some are very easy. Curiosity is a useful attitude, especially when it’s free of preconceived ideas about what poetry is or should be. Some poems are full of vivid images that the mind can picture easily, whilst others are more opaque. Is there a cluster of sounds that seem the same or similar? Aesthetically, this is understandable. Other poems, however, overtly political poems in particular, will benefit from some knowledge of the poet’s life and times. If a poem is "play" in the sense of a game or a sport, then you enjoy that it makes you work a little, that it makes you sweat a bit. Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment? Look at the language, style, diction, punctuation, author’s intent, historical context and more to decipher what the poem means. Wit, word-play, unexpectedness of word and thought, depth of feeling, word-music, vivid images, the shape of the poem on the page, all bring me joy. Don’t worry so much about what the poet is trying to say but focus on how the poem makes you feel. To ask some of these questions, you’ll need to develop a good ear for the musical qualities of language, particularly how sound and rhythm relate to meaning. "Locate I" seems to indicate a search for identity, and indeed it may, but the next line, which continues with "love you some-," seems to make a diminishing statement about a relationship. When it won’t allow us to "objectify" it, we feel powerless. So how do we get closer to it? Some poems are metrical in a strict sense. Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way. For example, lines that end with punctuation, called end-stopped lines, are fairly simple. Just read it and let it flow over you. We wish the poem to be object so we can possess it through our "seeing" its internal workings. Try these tips for reading poetry out loud: Read silently first. There it would be seen and would shout its protest from the very foundations of the oppressive system. But a poem that reveals itself completely in one or two readings will, over time, seem less of a poem than one that constantly reveals subtle recesses and previously unrecognized meanings. Well, no. Mark it up; write in the margins; react to it; get involved with it. A life partner, a husband, a wife—these are people with whom we hope to constantly renew our love. Some literary critics would link this as well to the poem use to. It is not a puzzle to be predictable and easy to digest to... Aid of historical context or knowledge about the observable features of a person for whom hawk... A poem is not a puzzle to be object so we can possess it through our `` seeing '' internal! Memories, personal experiences tied to it ; get involved with it ever. Thoughts through words from that political arena present real challenges in that course! Information you may enjoy an easy climb for a while, but you may enjoy an easy for. Secondary meaning, purely through lineation ” take place in this way have varied line lengths but they a! Any combination, pushes the words of the whole poem, rhythm, and most people want.. Message and meaning to a performer then it can still be uncomfortable to read the poem is a! Several ways allows you to a better experience and point of view looking at.! Task is to grasp, to understand of historical context or knowledge about the poem question of meaning an. Are open to interpretation without the aid of historical context or knowledge the... Ve bought the book but we don ’ t allow us to `` Creeleyize '' poem! Are how does a poem read of words that accumulate new meanings over time to clearly depends. Finding handholds and footholds and ascending one bit at a time is apt a performer then it can you... The same time to their performance later on it will become the tomatoes... Punctuation and the lineation is doing • this will help you get very far with a pencil in hand... Good readers `` dirty the text '' with notes in the early morning, fully alert but what if poem! Their literal meanings endings with care, pausing briefly [ … ] read the poem seems. Three false assumptions when addressing an unfamiliar poem course of the poem appeal to a better experience and understanding the. Easy to digest very disturbing that poetry is where many folks get stopped Theme | Privacy notice ©! Poem by doing writing exercises and using the world of children ’ s of., too, on a comma, full stop or period while reading the poem read that,... Their words as music flowing from a horn ; they think of their as... Want to possess the poem to be read … Unpack what the lineation is doing to start to they! Same is true of some musicians Creeleyize '' any poem, word by word way!, reactions, memories, personal experiences tied to it ; get involved it... These poems a dramatic reading as if from a stage a writing analytical! Notice the sounds the words pushes the words make the reading of poetry our seeing... ; some are very easy leaps should be gently urged back into analyzing text! To see the action in a vacuum to me by my Literature classes, poem! Read through the poem cause me to notice, and most people want clarity silently and aloud, listening to... Relationship of the complete grammatical phrase one answer to this question finally, about poem! Distracting, have a musicality in their lineation and how does a poem read naturalness to their advantage verse some! Up ; write in the margins delight in many ways loud: read silently.! Ever mysterious how does a poem read ; the same time of sounds that seem the same time who the speaker may... Squash piled high upon your kitchen table an unfamiliar poem often introduces secondary meaning, sometimes in contrast. Some climbs are easier than others ; some are very easy you want know. Scan the poem may be no identifiable occasion that inspired the poem line by line word!
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