Are you terrified or bored by the thought of reading poetry? Do you want to learn more techniques and tips for reading it? This post talks about the first things you can do when you start to read a poem.

As you get into the minute details of reading a poem, you may want to have a guide first on poetic terms with you if you encounter terminology that you don’t know.

Remember, each poem is different. So, you may need to skip some steps or switch the order of the steps below. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t “get it” the first time. Center your attention on what you do understand and take it from there!

How To #1. Take A Glance. Since poetry is a visual form of writing, you can learn from your first look. Before you even begin to read, glance over the entire poem.

Is it a free verse or a formal poem? You’ll usually tell the difference because traditional poetry has regular-looking line stanzas and lengths, while free verse can be a mixture of long and short lines and stanzas.

Is the poem short or long? It usually has a plot and things if it’s a long poem. It may also take longer to read and understand.

You may also want to check out the book entitled The Color of Love written by Raymond Quattlebaum since you can get many insights from it that stick out to you visually. 

How To #2. Read It Out Loud. The second “how-to” in reading a poem is to read it! A good suggestion is to read it out loud first. Most poems are written with many sounds that make them fun to read aloud. Plus, free verse poetry often uses spoken rather than written grammar; this is so you’ll be ahead of the game in making sense of it.

How do you read a poem out loud? First of all, relax! Poetry isn’t a secret code, although some poems might look like they are!

When you read a poem, please read it in your normal conversational voice. Using your normal voice will make understanding the poem much easier.

Next, follow the punctuation, not the line breaks. Don’t pause at the end of the line unless there’s a punctuation mark.

Enjoy any special sound tricks the poet has included: rhymes, alliteration, repetition, or rhythm. Please pay attention to these moments because the poet often uses repeated sounds to call our attention to the essential parts of the poem.

Don’t worry too much about pronouncing unfamiliar words as you go along. If there’s something you don’t know, see if you can figure out what the word means from the context or move on unless you think it’s essential to know that word. We’ll have a chance actually to look up words later on.

Last but not least, re-read the poem. Poems pack so much meaning into every single word. Try reading it again silently or reading it one stanza at a time as you move on to the next few steps.

How To #3. See The Big Picture. An excellent way to understand a poem is to describe the big picture of the poem in just a few words.

Most poems can be boiled down to “What Happened” or “What Is.” A “What Happened” poem has some action that takes place. These types of poetry focus on change, whether in a plot with a beginning-middle-end of the poet’s choice to do something or avoid something. A “What Is” poem describes something. It might express an object, a feeling, or another person. The most important thing about a “What Is” poem is the “what” doesn’t change. However, you learn more about it as the poem goes on.

How To #4. The Poetic Language. Poetic language (a.k.a. poetic devices) are the tools of meaning or sound that a poet can apply to make the poem more vivid, surprising, interesting, or complex. Poets don’t add poetic language because they want to make their poems sound complicated to understand. Instead, they use these tools to aid you in paying attention, waking up, and looking at the world in new ways.

How To #5. So What?! While it’s beautiful to understand and appreciate what the poem says, its form, and its language, that’s not the end of the story. What’s the point? Why does the poem matter? First, think about the options the poet made.

  • Why do you think the poet wrote about this subject?
  • Why might they have chosen the form and poetic language that they used?

As a reader, think about how the poem affects you.

  • How does it make you feel?
  • Does it change the way you see yourself or the world?

And that’s it! Remember that each poem is different, so you don’t have to follow every step every time you read a poem. Only use the steps that help you understand the poem better. Now read some poetry!

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